[Church of England Press Release] Church of England parishes have been reminded of the vital role they can play in helping support the Armed Forces, veterans and their families at a training day aimed at promoting the Armed Forces Covenant.
More than 80 people including representatives from 34 dioceses, chaplains, serving personnel, Ministry of Defence officials and speakers from the Royal British Legion and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund attended the event on Friday at Lambeth Palace.
Those also attending included the Bishop to the Armed Forces, Nigel Stock, Bishop of Lambeth and the Church of England's lead bishop on defence, Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth.
Defence Minister Earl Howe, in a keynote address to the conference, spoke of the 'enormous' support given by the Church of England to the Armed Forces with clergy acting as 'Good Samaritans' to local service and veterans' families.
"With your vast grass roots knowledge of the local community, your understanding of the needs of local Armed Forces men and women, you are undoubtedly the people best placed to identify the gaps in provision, and to help plug them," he told the conference.
"You know that veterans might be struggling to get into work or make the transition to civilian life. You know that mothers may be finding it hard to get children into school. You know that young families might feel isolated in a strange area with little support.
"And you know that injured ex-service personnel may find their altered circumstances hard to bear - as indeed may their families. And if you see a need of that kind, I know that you can make a big difference."
The training day follows the signing earlier this year of the Armed Forces corporate covenant by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York committing the Church of England to recognise and care for Armed Forces personnel, veterans and families.
The commitment includes seeking to support the employment of veterans, looking favourably upon employee requests for leave and flexible working by spouses with partners on deployment and support for employees who are also members of the Reserve forces.
Conference speakers included Rev Bill Blakey, team rector of Carterton and Brize Norton, in West Oxfordshire, who spoke about how his parish applied for funds from the community covenant grant scheme - now succeeded by the Covenant Fund - for work including improving the access to his church.
Bishop Nigel said: "This has been about delivering on our commitments made in the corporate covenant signed earlier this year by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York through practical action including developing networks of diocesan champions who are equipped and resourced to help parishes and dioceses take the necessary steps locally to respond to the needs and challenges facing the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.
"This year has been an extraordinary year for ceremonial memorials including the end of operational duties in Afghanistan, VE Day and VJ Day. Meeting people at the VJ Day service in their mid 90s who had either fought in Burma or had been prisoners of war of the Japanese made me more acutely aware than ever of the debt that we owe to our Armed Forces, not just for past service but current service."
Bishop Christopher said: "No diocese is untouched by the contribution of the Armed Forces - from those serving currently, to cadet forces, and an increasing numbers of reservists as well as veterans. The role of our parish churches and our ministers, lay and ordained, is immense and increasingly significant as more families live beyond the 'wire' and settle in our communities.
"This conference has been a reminder of the need to continue the work of building diocesan and local networks to support the Armed Forces community and for the Church to use its local knowledge to be alert to need and aware of access to the Covenant Fund."