The path to my becoming the first Sikh Chaplain in the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom has been neither a planned nor a predictable one. I feel that I have been brought to this point only through God’s Grace. My educational background is in Agricultural Engineering, having completed both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees […]
The path to my becoming the first Sikh Chaplain in the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom has been neither a planned nor a predictable one. I feel that I have been brought to this point only through God’s Grace.
My educational background is in Agricultural Engineering, having completed both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in India. I came to England to do my Ph.D. in the same field.
I was intrigued by the job description of a Sikh Chaplain when I first saw it advertised in the newspaper, because of my interest in community work and my previous experience in projects involving youth. I liked the concept and the job description, and therefore applied for the position.
Some time later, I was informed that I had been short-listed and was called for an interview. It lasted almost two hours: I was questioned extensively on, inter alia, my knowledge of Sikhism and on general faith issues.
But, out of the blue one day, and to my utter delight, I was offered the position. Sometimes I think that my journey to England has been guided for the very purpose of doing this Seva. I feel great honour and immense humility in being chosen for this task.
I joined in October, 2005 as a Sikh Civilian Chaplain to the military. Although being administered by the British Army, my duties are tri-service: that is, my responsibilities are not only to the Army, but equally apply to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
I was appointed at C1 grade, which is equivalent to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
The role of a Chaplain is an interesting one.
The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department was founded in 1796. Since then, and until 2005, the faith needs of all British soldiers were in the bailiwick of the Christian Padre.
But times have changed, especially with the United Kingdom now being a multicultural society: a substantial portion of the population in every sector now hails from ethnicities, faiths and backgrounds which are different from the historical demographics.
The mission statement for the Chaplaincy states that it is to be responsible for the “Moral, Pastoral and Spiritual care of all serving personnel”.
The Ministry of Defence has now taken steps to provide different faith Chaplains to meet the needs of the variety of religions now practiced within the rank and file of the Forces. This includes the needs of all the Sikhs who have committed themselves to serve their country in this fashion and are doing so in various capacities – the current enrolment is at approximately ninety.
I believe this is a vitally important development, and am glad to say that it has been warmly welcomed by all the Chaplains in the department. It bodes well for our hope that we will be able to offer a more comprehensive Chaplaincy service which will benefit all serving personnel.
As the Sikh representative in the Forces environment, I feel proud of my religion, and the rich heritage and values with which our Gurus have blessed us. I am therefore particularly heartened by the fact that I also have responsibility towards the chain of command at the Ministry of Defence and Chaplaincy headquarters for any guidance needed about my own faith, and for a mutual sharing of the values of different creeds.
Though with only less than two years of experience in doing this to date, I can see how important a Sikh Chaplaincy is in every Armed Force where Sikhs serve anywhere in the world. It is good for the morale. It really makes a difference when a soldier and his or her family can speak to others in the same milieu who share a common background and belief system. Issues relating to various religious requirements or cultural traditions, including those related to the turban or the Five Ks, thus get easily sorted out.
I am fully cognizant of the fact that, in addition to having received an honour, I now carry a heavy responsibility and a basketful of challenges that come with it. I seek the blessings of the Guru, and the support of the sangat in this great seva, so that I can fulfill my duties and obligations in Chardi Kalaa.
~ Source: SikhChic