The quality of a doctor or a clergyman is an extremely difficult thing to assess. A doctor may have a huge practice, be able to command extremely high fees, and yet not be a good doctor. The same thing can happen in religion: a clergyman may be extremely popular and draw large congregations and yet fail lamentably in his duty, for it is possible for a man with certain gifts of personality to treat the truth with an unscrupulous or unconscious disregard and proclaim a gospel which is at once attractive and shallow to the point of barrenness. There has always been this danger, and the New Testament gives an uncompromising warning: ‘Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.’
When assessing the value and quality of the New Zealand chaplains there are four different opinions to be heard: firstly, that of the Army authorities, and secondly, that of the Church leaders at home. But perhaps the most important opinion is that of the soldiers for whom the Department primarily existed; and lastly, of course, there are the thoughts of the chaplains themselves.
When senior officers are asked to express an opinion on the work of chaplains they must always face the temptation of taking a sub-Christian view. It is so easy for them to be blinded by the more material things. For example, if a chaplain was brave in battle, popular on Church parade, zealous in his care for the welfare of the men, and likely to help promote good discipline and morale, then he might be termed a good chaplain, and no one would complain very much if he were disloyal to his own Church and some essential Christian principles. Besides able chaplains, the Army authorities wanted to have an efficient Chaplains' Department with its purpose, privileges, and duties clearly defined so that it could fit easily into the Army framework. Thanks to wise Senior Chaplains this hope was largely fulfilled in the latter years of the war. Many of the senior officers were sincere practising Christians. well qualified to pass judgment on the work of the chaplains, and their many generous tributes to the Department gave great pleasure page 134 to the chaplains and may be taken as evidence of warm official approval. If more proof is needed the number of awards and decorations can be mentioned. Roughly 150 chaplains served in the Pacific and in the Middle East, and of that number twenty-four received decorations and eighteen were mentioned in despatches.
The civilian Churches were pleased by these marks of appreciation and the many tributes paid to their men. but they did not fail to remark that though many returned soldiers were loud in their praise of chaplains, this praise was not accompanied by a very marked increase in Church attendance in civilian life. This is fair criticism and points to the lack of sufficient doctrinal teaching by the chaplains, but on the other hand the first requirement in the Army was to satisfy the immediate spiritual needs of the soldier, no small task in itself, and in the hard conditions of war the needs of the post-war Church had to take second place. Certainly the chaplains were disappointed when many of their good churchmen in the Army failed to rehabilitate themselves into the civilian Church, but with the failures there were notable successes. At the end of the war a number of men came forward to offer their services in the Christian Ministry, while many others discovered and accepted Christianity through their experience in the Army.
If anyone should want to know what the soldiers thought of their chaplains he could find the answer more satisfactorily by asking returned men than by reading a chaplains' history. The inquirer will receive many different answers which will come from conflicting memories. There is bound to be mention of one or two bad compulsory Church parades, and perhaps of some silly action or saying of a chaplain, probably offset by the more powerful memories of a good chaplain. The happy informality of Church services in the field will be remembered, and perhaps the soldier will speak of some special occasions when he was deeply aware of spiritual forces.
Chaplains remember how often they failed in their high calling: those occasions of physical and moral cowardice, those opportunities missed and those failures caused by too feeble a faith and inadequate prayer. But they have happier memories: the amazing comfort of the Psalms when things looked desperate, and the times when they were conscious of being filled with a power that was not their own. supported by the invisible Communion of Saints and the prayers of the faithful. Above all, the chaplains remember the friendship of the Army, for the comradeship of arms is no empty phrase, representing as it does the most beautiful and enduring fruit of war. It is a harvest that should not be neglected for it is the possession of every returned serviceman, and it will be a tragedy if the cares of civilian life separate the chaplains from active par ticipation in those organisations which bind ‘old comrades’ to gether. The life of the nation could benefit much from this friendship, which transcends age and class and has a certain endur ing quality due to the circumstances of its birth, when hardship and danger were faced together and heartbreak and grief bravely shared.
Whatever failures there were in the life and work of New Zealand chaplains it must be recorded that they were constantly with their men and took their full share of suffering and hardship. Indeed it was by suffering that their work was ennobled, and it is by their suffering, perhaps, that they can claim fellowship with that great Apostolic band of Christian missionaries throughout the ages whose glory and purpose have been described for ever by St. Paul:
In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, inmuch patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; page 136by pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by theHoly Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the powerof God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and onthe left; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and goodreport; as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet wellknown; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened and notkilled; as sorrowful and yet always rejoicing; as poor, and yetmaking many rich; as having nothing and yet posseessing allthings.