May 29, 2023 by Alec Charles
Twenty-three years ago, the British government established the Armed Forces Covenant. It is a commitment from the nation to treat fairly those who serve or have served in the armed forces and their families.
It’s a pledge to ensure that members of the armed forces community should not face disadvantage in the provision of public and commercial services and to offer special support, where appropriate, particularly to those who have been wounded, injured or bereaved.
It is a promise made by the state which businesses, charities and communities are also invited to join.
On 20 May, the Diocese of Truro’s Synod, meeting at St Martin’s Church in Liskeard, voted overwhelmingly that the Diocese of Truro should also commit to that covenant.
The motion had been introduced by the Right Reverend Hugh Nelson, Bishop of St Germans and Bishop for the Armed Forces, and was addressed in a speech to Synod about the work of the church in the armed forces, by the Reverend Raphael Duckett, the chaplaincy team leader at HMS Seahawk, the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose near Helston.
Known fondly to his fellow servicepeople as the ‘Bish’, Raphael offers Seahawk personnel a mixture of pastoral care and the occasional bacon roll. He even provides a vegan option.
“It’s the calling I feel I’ve been given by God,” Raphael says. “Helping people in the military with ethical and moral decisions and pastoral support – it’s about valuing the role of people in the armed forces, along with what they’d call the top cover of spiritual sustenance.”
Raphael stresses the real practical and moral value of the Armed Forces Covenant.
“It brings people to the understanding that life is different in the forces,” he says. “Some expectations have to be adjusted. It also acknowledges that people leaving the forces mightn’t have all the civilian qualifications that a role entails but will have significant military experience to make up for that.
“From a church perspective, it reminds us that there are different difficulties and pressures experienced by people in the forces, and that this should be a topic of our prayers. As Christians, we should consider that to be fairly vital.”
He describes the Diocese of Truro’s decision to sign up to the covenant as a significant symbol of commitment and understanding.
“That’s an important signal to send,” he says. “It offers positive reinforcement for our people’s morale and spirits.”
That’s a point which Bishop Hugh echoes.
“The covenant is an invitation to the nation to honour the service of the people in the armed forces,” Hugh says. “It’s important for us because it’s a way for the Anglican Church in Cornwall to show that it recognises that the service of armed forces personnel is a very particular kind of service with particular demands. We want to show that we honour that service in practical ways.”
Bishop Hugh observes that, for example, the professional lives of armed forces personnel involve the regular relocation of their families, and that this can impact negatively on the education of their children. In this context, the covenant seeks to ensure fair prospects for school placements for those children.
The practical actions that can be undertaken may also include guaranteeing job interviews to veterans injured in the line of duty who meet a role’s essential criteria, as well as providing pastoral support for servicepeople and appropriately marking Remembrance Sunday and other related occasions and events.
Bishop Hugh speaks with great passion about his responsibilities as Bishop for the Armed Forces.
“My honest and overwhelming feeling is that it’s an enormous privilege,” he says. “It’s such a privilege that the core of this role is to offer pastoral support to chaplains who support those people who are both figuratively and literally on the front line. It’s an enormous privilege to support them to do what they do.”