Lt.-Col. Angela James serves as a Chaplain at CFB Esquimalt. Here she stands next to her favourite panel of stained glass at the base chapel, which shows an exerpt from “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The hymn is often read to navy personnel. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Lt.-Col. Angela James serves as a Chaplain at CFB Esquimalt. Here she stands next to her favourite panel of stained glass at the base chapel, which shows an exerpt from “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The hymn is often read to navy personnel. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Breaking boundaries: Canadian woman serves the military and God

There are only 235 chaplains in regular Canadian forces. Forty are women.

In a heritage office at the CFB Esquimalt sits a woman who is anything but traditional.

Lt.-Col. Angela James wears a pressed blue uniform that might see her pass for any other Royal Canadian Airforce member, except for a silver cross pinned to the right side of her shirt. While her uniform reads “James,” she is known more commonly by another name: Padre.

While some female chaplains might fight for a more feminist version of the name, she is happy being called Padre, the Latin word for father.

“I like to be mindful that there are many people who fought in the wars and reached out for the Padre, and asked for their support,” she says. “To know that that heritage was there, and that people reached out with that word and called for help, makes me think that I stand on the shoulders of those people. And I never forget the history of those who’ve gone before me.”

James grew up in London, Ont. in a family devoted to the United Church. She recalls helping her father set up a sound system in their church so sermons could be recorded and sent out to people unable to attend. While she initially never intended to work for the Church, she says God gave her direction that prompted her to attain a Master of Divinity through Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. She later worked in the North, then enlisted in the military.

At first it was not easy to convince the United Church, which focuses on pacifism, to allow her to join the armed forces, James says.

“One of the key things is chaplains do not carry weapons in the Canadian Armed Forces, that’s how I could reconcile that,” she says. “I don’t hold judgment on anyone who does, but those people are doing a difficult job and need someone to hold the hand that holds the sword.”

When asked how she could condone a military member’s legal right to take a life, James says it has taken a lot of reflection.

“I am grateful for people who will stand and do something that I am not capable of doing.

“I see that once in a while these things have to be done, and I’m wanting to make sure that for those folks that have the gifts and skills to do it, that they also have the spiritual resiliency to face what they’re facing.”

ALSO READ: Navy monument unveiling an emotional moment for retired vice admiral

As a chaplain, James isn’t neutral when it comes to the opinions of her military, but her services are available to anyone who needs them, regardless of faith or nationality. That can result in chaplains being called across borders to serve prisoners of war or even enemies.

“The insight and guidance of Padre James enriches the lives of everyone within Maritime Forces Pacific. Chaplains serve at the crux of the Canadian Armed Forces by tending to the moral and spiritual needs of military personnel and their families during times of conflict and peace,” says Capt. Jason Boyd, CFB Esquimalt base commander.

“Padre James embodies that dedication to care. Whenever I get the privilege and pleasure to hear her speak, her words always inspire me and give me cause to reflect.”

ALSO READ: Base command changes hands at CFB Esquimalt

As a female chaplain, she is part of a small group. In the Canadian Armed Forces there are 68,000 serving members, of which 15 per cent are women. Of the 235 padres in the regular forces, 17 per cent are women.

Despite the fact she stands out, James says she’s never faced any problems in the military, and actually feels safer and more welcome than in her civilian life. She also notes that sometimes being a woman has an advantage.

She recalls a time serving in Bosnia, where long-time military members who’d seen a lot of war and genocide came to her to share their experiences for the first time and shed tears.

“They would often say ‘I feel like I can do this because you’re a woman and I don’t have to be tough,’” she says. “That’s not always the ideal, we want to believe that people are equal across the board. But at that moment, the way that God had set it up in this form … I thought, what a gift.”

James is always pushing for more equality and hopes her two sons don’t think twice about it as they grow up.

“My hope is that that 17 per cent continues to increase in all trades, so by the time my boys look at the world they can see all the things they can do,” she says.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

CFB EsquimaltDND

Just Posted

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The Victoria woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Anita Troop officially turns 100 on Sunday and cards are pouring in from around the world. (Courtesy Marina Miller)
Cards roll in from around the world for West Shore 100 year old

About 100 cards have come for the woman who turns 100 on Sunday

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
UPDATE: Search suspended for angler missing between Port Angeles and Victoria

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

A cardboard man bearing Queen Elizabeth II’s royal cipher has been placed in a window at the Royal Theatre for at least several days. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)
Mysterious cardboard figure appears in Victoria’s Royal Theatre window

The identity of the figure, which was moved there amid cleaning, remains unknown

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Most Read