OTTAWA – His job is to offer spiritual strength to the country’s men and women in uniform, regardless of their backgrounds.
And when newly-appointed Chaplain General John Fletcher speaks about diversity in the Canadian military – he speaks from experience.
“The Canadian military is Canada’s military, and we want to be reflective of the nation and the people that we serve,” he says.
Fletcher would know.
He is the country’s first openly gay chaplain general.
In charge of some 335 spiritual leaders in both the Forces and the reserves, Fletcher understands first-hand the importance of acceptance.
He has been with his partner, Nelson Usher, for 16 years.
“There’s so much energy that becomes wasted in life when we’re not able to live who we authentically are,” he says.
“I’m just so grateful that we live in [a] place, and that I work in a military and in a church, where those issues don’t need to preoccupy the energy.”
Fletcher, who began his career in 1980, says coming out “is not something new to me.”
“I’ve been serving in this chaplaincy and in the church for a long time,” he says.
But he admits his openness about his sexuality may cause concern to some.
“ I will expect there will be people who might be challenged by the appointment of an openly gay chaplain general. I also know there will be people who will be encouraged by that,” he says.
“And my hope is whether they’re challenged by it or whether they’re encouraged by it, that we can all agree to work together at the things that are important in the mission that we’re called to.”
After graduating from the Royal Military College in 1984, Padre Fletcher, as he is known, began his full-time work as a military chaplain in 1989 as an Anglican priest.
Since then, he’s served in Calgary, Halifax and Toronto. One of his most challenging times occurred 15 years ago, when he accompanied military members to the Swissair 111 crash on the south shore of Nova Scotia, which killed 229 people in September 1998.
In his new role, Fletcher will lead a team of chaplains who each serve on a military unit. As well as representing 20 Christian denominations, there are also Jewish and Muslim chaplains.
“We go and work alongside the military members wherever they go and work. Once you’ve established a rapport with them and they get to know you as their padre, you become a real vital resource when they’re facing any particular need, because it’s easier to first talk to someone you know.”
Fletcher admits times have changed – for everyone.
“ I was a student at the Royal Military College in the very first year that women students were allowed to be students there, and what a remarkable change that was, and long overdue,” he says.
“But celebrate it, that those doors are open and should be open for all, and that the Canadian Forces does not discriminate on any of the gender, religious, ethnic origins, background, sexuality.
“It’s a real testimony to the great country we live in and the great military we serve in.”
© 2013 Shaw Media