A week before the February group of sessions of the General Synod, I had a chance to take part in a refresher training for ordained ministers in the Finnish Navy. You are probably aware that some armed forces have special personnel called army chaplains who minister to soldiers and their families. And, of course, there are Navy Chaplains and Chaplains to the Air Force. All of these chaplains have the same task and duty: to offer pastoral care, spiritual support and moral guidance. Finland still has compulsory national service for men and since I am a Finnish citizen, I have served as a conscript in the Finnish Air Force. As part of being in reserve, one gets called back to receive further training or updating one’s skills.
Ordained ministers, both men and women, who have accomplished their conscription service, are usually in reserve and are called time to time receive further training and rehearse their role as chaplains in the time of crisis. The Finnish Defence Forces have regular Chaplains, in the Army, Navy and Air Force, who minister to the personnel and their families as well as to the conscripts. Also Finnish troops serving in the UN peace-keeping operations have chaplains. Reservist Chaplains are called to active service to support the regular Chaplains, if needed. While in many countries military chaplains do not hold a military rank, in Finland priests hold their personal military rank and are in the rank of ‘Chaplain’ when in active service. This rank equals with senior Lieutenant in the Navy.
The Anglican Church in Finland, Chaplaincy of St Nicholas in Helsinki, has been part of this country’s history since Finland became independent in 1917. There have been Anglicans serving in the Finnish Defence Forces before but perhaps for the first time there is a Church of England priest serving as a Reservist Chaplain in the Finnish Navy. This is possible because of the Porvoo Agreement in which the signatory churches have agreed to recognize each others ordained ministers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland, our partner in mission and service under the Porvoo Agreement, is the established church of the country and the sending church for regular chaplains. This link has made it possible for an Anglican priest to be called to serve in this unique way. We are glad that the Finnish Navy has been willing to explore how the Porvoo Agreement could be implemented.
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