It was at the 2019 Diocesan Synod that the Rev. Capt. Mike Caines had a conversation with the Rev. Stephen Harnish. Mike and the other military chaplains had worn their uniforms to Synod, and Mike was passing out information, trying to recruit more military chaplains.
“The swearing-in ceremony is the culmination of that conversation,” said Mike.
The swearing-in he speaks of took place Sept. 21, and the Rev. Stephen Harish in now the Rev. Captain, chaplain of the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, the oldest artillery regiment in the British Commonwealth, dating back to the Loyalist era.
He succeeds Mike, who is a major and now serves as the 5th Canadian Division Deputy Sr. Chaplain, responsible for all chaplains in Atlantic Canada.
The Field Artillery regiment has locations in Saint John and Woodstock, and every Thursday evening, Stephen will be among them, participating and acting as a listening ear.
The military is not exactly new for Stephen. In the 1980s, he served in the reserves in Halifax. Then he joined the regular Armed Forces and did three years in Gagetown with the 2nd Battalion (Royal Canadian Regiment).
Stephen’s meandering career path took him back to Halifax, specifically as a member of the Halifax Police Department, where he rejoined his reserve unit.
When he was studying to be a priest, a Regular Forces chaplain tried to recruit him, but he didn’t want to return to the regular army. But maybe the Reserves, he thought.
“I started the process, but then parish life was busy,” said Stephen, adding he felt it wouldn’t be fair to his parish, or to his family.
“Then I got talking to Mike,” he said. “The more he talked about what he does with the troops, well, I felt there was a reason. I came home and told Cathy, who said, ‘I think you should go for it.’”
A few days after his swearing-in, Mike and Stephen attended a change of command parade at Gagetown. As Mike approached a group of soldiers, Stephen watched their reaction — one of respect and camaraderie — and knew he had made the right decision.
Mike has helped Stephen understand the new role. A chaplain spends his time with his troops.
“A good padre shares everything they do,” said Stephen, adding when the troops are weary and cold in the field, so is the chaplain.
But the chaplain’s main role is that of listener, and at times, advisor. While the effects of the job might seem intangible, the result is often a better soldier, more grounded in his role and in his life.
“Like Mike said, you’ll have hard-core atheists come to you,” said Stephen. “That’s not necessarily an obvious convert, but you’re doing something very important.”
Stephen still has to go through Basic Training. Unlike in other military roles, where you are not given the title and duties until you pass all the tests, in military chaplaincy, real-world experience counts, thus putting the chaplain right to work.
“It’s been a long time coming, and it’s great to finally see it come to fruition,” said Stephen.
There are several other military chaplains serving in the Reserves in the diocese: the Rev. Major Canon Chris VanBuskirk, the Rev. Captain Rob Salloum, the Rev. Captain Rob Langmaid, and the Rev. Lt. (Navy) Canon Greg McMullin.
“We’re well represented in chaplaincy in Atlantic Canada,” said Mike.
The Rev. Nicholas Saulnier is a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force and is in his second year of on-the-job training as a priest. Once that is complete, next summer, he will return to the Canadian Armed Forces to launch his career as a military chaplain.
1. The Rev. Major Mike Caines speaks to the Rev. Stephen Harnish at his recruiting table during the 2019 Diocesan Synod. The pitch paid off. McKnight photo
2. The Rev. Major Mike Caines, right, welcomes the Rev. Capt. Stephen Harnish to the world of military chaplaincy and his former regiment, the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment based in Saint John and Woodstock. Submitted photo