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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Various Victoria locations were hit with a slew of anti-bylaw graffiti Wednesday. This image has been altered to cover up profane language. (Submitted photo)
UPDATED: Slew of anti-bylaw graffiti an ‘unacceptable’ form of communication says Victoria mayor, police

Downtown businesses, bylaw office and Ministry of Finance vandalized Wednesday morning

This rendering shows plans for the new “flyover”overpass connecting northbound traffic on Highway 17 heading west on Keating Cross Road. Plans currently seeking public input propose two options for the median along Keating Cross Road. Option 1 will prevent left turns onto Tamany Drive and Buena Vista Road. Option 2 (seen here)will allow for left turns onto Tamany Drive and Bujena Vista Road. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Public asked for comment on proposed overpass for Pat Bay in Central Saanich

New flyover overpass proposed for Highway 17 and Keating Cross Road

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

A pedestrian pushing two children in a stroller was struck by a driver while crossing a Highway 1 off-ramp at Burnside Road West on Feb. 24. (Google Streetview)
UPDATED: Pedestrian with two children in stroller struck in Saanich crosswalk after driver failed to yield

No serious injuries reported, driver issued $167 ticket under Motor Vehicle Act, police say

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
PHOTOS: B.C. celebs take a stand against bullying on Pink Shirt Day

‘We need to let young people know they are not alone and they can reach out to others for help’

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Mowi Canada West salmon farm in B.C. waters. Conservative MPs have backed an industry call for further discussions on the timeline for closing Discovery Island farms. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada)
Conservative MPs back B.C. salmon farmers’ call for transparent discussions

Farm owners requested consultations, more time to leave Discovery Islands

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

Most Read