United Navy, Army and Air Force Board

From Baptist Pastor to Royal Navy Chaplain

Revd Neil Coulson

Military chaplaincy is a vocation that had been in my mind for many years.  After School I served in the Royal Air Force for five years and it was during this period that I first had the idea that one day I might like to serve as a Military Chaplain.  After several years working in Contact Centre Management I responded to the call to Christian ministry, studied theology and then trained to be a Baptist Minister at Bristol Baptist College

During my first pastorate I tried to put the idea of being a military chaplain to the back of my mind.  But God would not let go of me.  The desire to minister to those with a military background, many of whom would never go to church, combined with ‘chance’ meetings with Royal Navy chaplains, kept the calling strong!

I attended a Potential Chaplains Acquaint Visit in the Portsmouth Naval Base which included visiting the Aircraft Carrier HMS Illustrious.  This left me quite certain that this was a ministry I would enjoy. 

The formal application process took me through interviews with the United Board and the Royal Navy, medical tests, fitness.  The process was very thorough but ultimately I found it to be deeply affirming of my sense of calling.  After serious and prayerful consideration and believing this to be God’s will for the next season of my ministry, I decided to accept this commission and joined the Royal Navy three months later. 

I spent the first 6 weeks of my training shadowing the chaplain of HMS Sultan, a large training establishment in Gosport.  This gave me some brilliant opportunities to meet many members of the Naval Service and really helped me to begin to understand the culture of the Royal Navy.

New Entry Chaplains then undergo the same initial ten weeks of military training as other New Entry Officer Cadets.  To be honest, the first few days were a bit of a shock!  The training was intense and demanding. Being separated from my wife and children was also difficult.  It took me a couple of weeks to settle into the training but then I must say I began to really enjoy it.  Certainly the camaraderie that developed within the division I was part of was marvellous and helped to make the whole training experience enjoyable.  The end of my training was marked by my Passing Out Parade. I felt a great sense of achievement on this special day.       

 Over the following months I completed a number of short training courses including the New Entry Chaplains Course, Basic Sea Survival Course, Level 2 First Aid Course and two weeks Initial Sea Training in HMS Illustrious. The final stage of my training was my Fleet Board with the Deputy Chaplain of the Fleet in March 2013.  On passing this I joined the ‘trained strength’ of the Royal Navy and was assigned to HMS Sultan for a few months before being appointed as Ship’s Chaplain to a Type 45 Destroyer.