One of the many great things about priestly ministry is the sheer variety. So often I have found myself in a situation and thought: "On the day I was ordained I never imagined I would be doing this".
Part of my ministry has been spent in the army. This involved lots of travelling, spending time "in the field", in the desert, dealing with all ranks, teaching, listening lots, conducting memorial services and funerals for those who died early, baptising soldiers' children, conducting marriages, setting up "church" in a tent in Jordan, in a semi-derelict building in Iraq, in a hut in Kosovo, in a factory in Bosnia, in the open air in many places...
Serving as a priest in the army has brought home to me in a very concrete way the universality of the Church: concelebrating Mass in Bosnia and Kosovo even though I do not speak Serbo-Croat - but whispering in English and being absolutely at one with priests and congregation. Although they use the Chalddean Rite in Iraq, I was still able to concelebrate with the Archbishop of Basra and with the priest in the church in Al Amara - our local town.
Much of my army service was spent in Germany where I traveled lots of miles going from church to church to celebrate Mass for soldiers, their families and the support agencies in our care.
Serving in Germany also gave me the opportunity to make friends with the church there - especially in the archdiocese of Paderborn where I still have many friends. I often went to Michaels Kloster - a community of Augustinian Sisters - and celebrated Mass and the Divine Office with them. They became proficient at Mass in English and I at joining vespers in German!
Although the setting is different, the priesthood and the ministry are the same no matter what the situation or setting: hearing a soldier's confession "in the field", celebrating Mass in the church in Maryport, leading an ecumenicalAnglo-German Carol Service in Paderborn Cathedral or celebrating Mass in the sweltering heat of the desert. In all of these situations we have the privilege of being a priest and of serving the people to whom we are sent.
The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways .
Thirty four years down the line, after lots of experiences and many ups and downs, I am still grateful to the Lord for calling me to serve Him and His people in ministerial priesthood