Then, as now, we are in this together

Members of the Sunday service group pose on the bridge wing of HMCS Nanaimo as the ship transits off the coast of Vancouver Island. Left to Right: LS Ramsin Zaro, LS Randy Klausnitzer, LS Kathy Sanchez, SLt Jessica Pelletier, OS Amy Acosta, Lt(N) Mark Herrick, and OS Jesse Roberts.

Members of the Sunday service group pose on the bridge wing of HMCS Nanaimo as the ship transits off the coast of Vancouver Island. Left to Right: LS Ramsin Zaro, LS Randy Klausnitzer, LS Kathy Sanchez, SLt Jessica Pelletier, OS Amy Acosta, Lt(N) Mark Herrick, and OS Jesse Roberts.

Lt Chelsea Dubeau, Public Affairs Officer ~

In times of uncertainty some people turn to faith, others to each other.

In these times of uncertainty where we are at war with COVID-19 and isolation and illness is rampant, it makes sense that we crave the company of others and perhaps the company of whatever higher power we might feel called to.

It felt appropriate then, that on a chilly Sunday morning in April, a small group of sailors on board HMCS Nanaimo took part in a most naval and human tradition: Sunday service. But this Sunday service wasn’t like the others.

Ship and crew had just returned to sea after a week’s rest following two months away from home. During this brief respite, the sailors returned to a world much different from the one they’d left in February when they deployed on Operation Caribbe – an operation from which they had to return early due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The world they returned to was isolated, restricted, and fearful.

The closures, lineups, masks, and death tolls – things that folks isolating at home since the beginning of the pandemic had time to assimilate into their lives – were thrown at them immediately. They were briefed on what was expected of them. Stay home. Stay healthy. If you must go out, let it be only for essentials.

Many sailors on board are reservists whose home is elsewhere and some were unable to visit home to see loved ones because of travel restrictions. They coped, as all military members do, in the face of uncertainty and returned to their ship, their work family, ready and willing to rise to whatever challenges they may be called on to face.

They left on a deployment to assist government partners in the fight against drug trafficking and returned to join a war being fought by the whole world.

So it was fitting that on this Sunday service, the passage bookmarked by the Navigating Officer Lieutenant (Navy) Mark Herrick was Psalm 1:44, a Prayer for National Deliverance and Security.

Even more fitting was the setting: Yorke Island through the windows, the site of a Second World War coastal fort only a short distance away from the ship as it sat in Johnstone Strait.

The island is now home to empty buildings, bunkers, and gun emplacements. Nature is in the process of reclaiming the area. The terrain, seen through the binoculars, is rocky cliffs and rugged outcrops; the island providing a beautiful backdrop for the ship. Johnstone Strait is inherently solemn in its beauty, a natural place of solace in which to come together in fellowship and worship. The Sunday service was open to all denominations and all were welcome, even the seagulls circling the ship overhead.

With the ship sitting sentinel over the island, Lt(N) Herrick read Psalm 1:44. Religious or otherwise, there was relevance in the message. Words where we see our struggles reflected back to us can be a balm to the soul, and so it was for the small congregation.

On that island nearly 80 years ago, the Canadian Forces established a garrison to protect Canadians from the threat of Japanese forces. That’s where our soldiers of that time waited. Where they trained and stayed ready to respond to whatever challenges they might be called on to face.

It was also where they did battle with the inner demons that only extended periods of isolation can bring forth. There were discipline and morale issues because of it. Humans need each other. They need hope. Even the most resilient among us may come to find that waiting is the hardest part. Waiting and hoping for an end to the war.

It’s a familiar refrain for sailors and their families, as the Royal Canadian Navy needs forces that are available to respond to requests for assistance from civil authorities and our fellow Canadians. Our friends. Our neighbours. Our family.

That means keeping healthy ships at sea until the threat is past. To keep at it, day after day, until we are out of the woods.

Another familiar refrain, and one that finds its roots, yet again, during the Second World War is Sunday, May 3, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, known to sailors as the Navy’s Remembrance Day.

The Battle of the Atlantic brought Canada’s Navy and Air Force to bear, united against a common threat as the battle waged on for nearly six years. Six years of fighting. Six years of uncertainty. Of countless sacrifices and waiting and hoping for an end to the war. It was our Dark Night of the Soul, and when the sun rose again we were united in our identity, our fellowship, our struggle – a collective victory alongside our allies.

Lt(N) Herrick closed his bible and took a moment to reflect. He calls upon the others to speak should they wish. Each person takes a turn to say something from the heart. They are hopeful. Resilient. Like so many other soldiers, sailors, and air men and air women who came before them – grateful. Grateful to be in a position to help in spite of the challenges. Grateful for each other, for their loved ones, and for the chance to come together in fellowship in this very small but solemn way.

War is the same, though our enemies may change. On the other side of the waiting for it to be over is the part where we get to go home – to a world changed, perhaps – but home all the same. The place where we find our loved ones, our hopes for the future, our memories. The place where we may sit in solace, in thanks to whatever got us through that dark night, whether it was a higher power or a kind word from a colleague. The place where we remember those who maybe didn’t get to go home.

The group finished the service and all but Lt(N) Herrick went about their day. The others chide him as shipmates will do and commiserate at the burden of his upcoming watch. They all understand. Everyone must take their turn.

That’s our final refrain, and one that we’ve heard echoed throughout this unprecedented period of time that will certainly go down in history: We’re all in this together.


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  1. BC85 says:

    Next time you folks are in the area, reach out for a tour of Yorke Island 🙂

    -BC85, Yorke Island

  2. Bradley says:

    There is no Psalm 1:44, as Psalm 1 only has 6 verses, you are probably looking for Psalm 144 which is a prayer for national deliverance

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