You arrive at you unit along with other members of staff and cadets. It’s been a busy day for you doing what you usually do and it’s great to be at a place where for the next couple of hours you can switch the phone of and just spend some time with people.
Depending on the evening you might turn up ‘as is’, wearing what you had on last. You do have a Chaplains uniform which you can wear and today you put it on as everyone gathers together. The cadets and staff notice you there - hello Padre they say. Your uniform looks like theirs - You are ‘one of them’.
There are all sorts of people there from younger ‘Junior’ Cadets aged 10-12 to older ‘Senior’ cadets aged 12-18. There are some members of staff in uniform and some non-uniformed who help the unit in sorts of ways from admin to teaching. Some of them have had a good day, some of them a bad day. It’s quite a mix..
As the evening begins with the formal process of colours, you stand on the main deck and wait. As part of the colours process it is your task to lead the unit in prayer as the ‘church pennant’ is raised. You read a few verses from the bible offer a short reflection on it and then close in prayer, often using the Sea Cadet and Lords prayers to finish. When done the Commanding Officer completes the colours process and then tells the cadets what lessons or games they will have that evening. The cadets are then dismissed to classes.
The lessons vary from Map Reading to Seamanship to Drill to Cook Stewarding. They take place all over the unit. As chaplain you can go to one of the lessons, or drop in for a bit to all of them, or even hide in the ward room and chat to any spare members of staff if they need. Occasionally you can teach a lesson yourself - there are a few dedicated Chaplains lessons called Core Values looking at loyalty, commitment and the like - but you can also teach any subject you have a specialism in.
The lessons last for about 45 minutes and then from the main deck you hear a pipe being blown signalling the start of ‘Stand Easy’ - when chocolate sweets and fizzy drink is bought and consumed in great quantity. Cadet relationships are formed, broken and reformed as the combination of adolescence and sugar does its thing - most of the time you'll join the rest of the staff in the wardroom to have 20 minutes peace and quiet and to catch up with one another over a wet. One of the staff might have quiet word with you about their job or family or an ill relative. Most kind of get what the chaplain is there for and really value their presence and will share with you the most surprising and moving things.
The noise of the pipe summons everyone back to classes and after that the pipe once more brings everyone back to thew main deck for evening colours. The Commanding Officer reflects back on the evening, often will ask for volunteers for one of the many training weekends or camps which seem to come along all the time and then dismisses us all. You might loiter for a bit of needed afterwards but usually will head home.
A typical evening? Well kind of - for in reality every unit is quite different and every evening different again. But that’s kind of what makes chaplaincy so rewarding and interesting - the people young and old that you find at the unit and the amazing lives that they bring with them ever time they join together at Sea Cadets.