The General Assembly gave unanimous agreement yesterday to establishing its own Armed Forces Covenant so the Kirk can offer practical help to service personnel, veterans and their families.
In practical terms the covenant would include offering job interviews for employment within the Kirk for those with service-related injuries – providing they meet the job specification – and looking favourably on leave and flexible working requests for those with relatives in the armed forces, including attendance at military inquests.
The 2011 Armed Forces Covenant, which operates UK-wide, ensures those with military connections are not disadvantaged in terms of rights such as housing, health and education. Rev Gordon Craig, convener of the committee of chaplains to HM Forces, said that in the year in which the Battle of the Somme was being commemorated many former military personnel were in great distress.
“You only need to walk down Princes St to realise that there are numbers of homeless ex-servicemen living rough”, Rev Craig said.
“The Battle of the Somme is now part of the history of our nation and the survivors and bereaved are no longer with us. However in every town in Scotland there are families living among us who are still affected by conflicts from the Second World War to the wars of this century.
“There are thousands of families in this country coping with loss, living with injury both physical and mental.”
As well as a plea for more ministers to volunteer as forces chaplains, there were calls for closer working relationships between the services and parish ministers.
Rev Geoff Berry, army chaplain from the presbytery of Lothian, said that there were many service personnel, including young soldiers who were already combat veterans, who were worried about family members and that parish ministers were a vital resource for visiting extended families.
“The military have an amazing welfare unit. However, sometimes that is not enough.”
Former forces chaplain Rev Alan Cobain, Tyne Valley parish church, Pathhead, Midlothian, said parish ministers could use their skills to help veterans who had suffered in combat.
“My concern is particularly for veterans of conflict who’ve written their numbers on sheets of cardboard, even in this city.
“They really appreciate being able to talk to those who understand their world.”
Later, Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock, Second Sea Lord, voiced support for the Kirk’s Covenant and detailed Royal Navy rescue operations involving migrants and refugees.
“It is more important than ever before that we work with our partners to allow nations to prosper and survive,” he said.