Queen's regulations and orders for the British armed forces define the navy chaplain as ‘the friend and adviser to all on board’.
While there are no sea-going duties involved for the Rev Martin Poll (pictured left), that’s exactly the role he plays as chaplain at Portsmouth Naval Base. Martin leads an ecumenical team of three chaplains at the base and they also work with five seagoing chaplains, who regularly accompany ships on tours of duty.
He joined the Navy as a chaplain 20 years ago and has worked on board aircraft carriers such as HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious. “It’s just like being a vicar in any parish,” he said. “But your ‘church’ is the ship.”
Portsmouth dockyard is a busy place. For the chaplains, there are regular Eucharistic services at St Ann’s Church, plus baptisms, weddings, funerals, prayer meetings and all the activities you would expect in a normal parish.
They often find themselves working with people who, for various reasons, are having difficulties in life.
As well as looking after Navy personnel based in the dockyard, Martin’s team covers the Royal Marine School of Music and HMS Temeraire. One chaplain also visits local people who have been sent to the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester, often following up with family visits.
In war or conflict situations the role is especially challenging. Chaplains accompany senior officers to inform families when a member of the armed forces is killed or seriously injured. “It’s never easy,” admits Martin. “But I am always humbled by how much sympathy relatives express for us in having to be the bearers of bad news.”
“Nobody believes in war and our armed forces are trying to establish peace.
“It’s important that the Church is not sitting on the sidelines judging but that we are involved in supporting them when they have to make difficult moral decisions.”
(Article taken from the Pompey Chimes, May 2010)
The Rev Martin Poll can be contacted on 023 9272 4231 or by email.