In one of the parishes I served in this Diocese of Islands and Inlets, I was honoured to get to know Douglas Kendell. Dougie, as I called him, had served in World War I with the Black Watch. By World War II he had become chaplain to the Montreal-based Black Watch. Dougie said to me one day, “Logan, you will have many titles in your life but the one that will mean the most to you will be Padre.” This title is given from the heart by a ship’s company, an army unit, air squad or the RCMP. The importance of having a padre attached to a unit can never be underestimated because it brings a whole new dimension to the group.
When living on Howe Street in Victoria, we had neighbours in a couple named Bert and Betty Cowan. Bert was a retired RCMP officer. He was a part of the retired group of RCMP veterans in Victoria. I was then the serving bishop of this diocese. He asked if I was interested in, or if I knew someone who might be interested in, becoming the chaplain to their unit. I suggested a young clergy of the diocese, who did an admirable job until he had to move out the area. The work then passed on to another diocesan clergy, Lon Towstego.
On Dec. 7, 2023, I was honoured to be invited to a luncheon at the Royal Colwood Golf Club. It was the Christmas gathering of the retired RCMP officers and the International Police Association. I was invited by Lon Towstego and Gill Shoesmith, who both serve as chaplains to the organization. Gill is a retired RCMP officer and a serving deacon in this diocese. Lon is an active parish priest and an archdeacon in this diocese. At the event, Lon was being honoured with the gift of a stole. The stole is an amazing piece of art that includes RCMP badges, RCMP tartan and First Nations designs. Within the church, a stole symbolizes a number of things, but the one I particularly like is that of being yoked to Christ. The image is that of two oxen yoked together and sharing their load. We are not alone in ministry, for Christ is with us, enabling, encouraging and assisting in the bearing of burdens.
The symbol also applies to the group that the chaplain ministers with. They are also yoked together, bearing the loads and the burdens. It is obvious that is how the RCMP veterans see Lon’s role with them. When gathered, we could watch Lon’s quiet presence touching many and conveying care. This past year has been a difficult time for the group, with many losses of members, and situations that have needed pastoral care. Lon’s ministry at these times impacted many. He walked with them, supporting, encouraging and consoling. Because of the importance of this work, they gave Lon the honour of “Veteran of the Year.” He was given a trophy that depicted a mounted officer on horseback. Lon’s name will be inscribed on a plaque, along with those who had been honoured before him.
As I sat at the luncheon and watched Lon ministering to this group of RCMP veterans, two things came to mind. The first was the importance of work for clergy outside the parish. We are not called to be administrators or building superintendents. Our call, primarily, is the care of folk. It is a call to offer pastoral care. Yes, we do this within our parish settings, but when we are participating with a group outside of the congregation, and with those of various faiths or of no faith, we are about a very important piece of work. We are doing what I believe God has called us to do.
Second was how much these folk appreciated and honoured Lon’s presence. I feel that sometimes in the church our ministry is taken for granted unless one experiences it first hand at times of illness, death or crisis. We do not become clergy for the accolades or praise, but it is good for the soul when we receive recognition outside of the organized church.
Dougie was correct. We can be called Deacon, Archdeacon or Bishop but the title of Padre is given from the heart by a very grateful people.