On February 27, 2014, a major fire broke out in the engine compartment of the Royal Canadian Navy supply ship, HMCS Protecteur. For the next eleven hours, the crew worked without power, in smoke and darkness, amid rough seas, to save the ship. The situation was especially critical given that, as a supply ship, Protecteur was carrying fuel and ammunition. Had the crew lost control of the fire, the result would have been catastrophic. Once the fire was extinguished, Protecteur was dead in the water, 600 kilometres from the nearest port, Pearl Harbor.
I was very pleased to see the United Church of Canada website tell the story of Protecteur‘s chaplain, Padre Mike Gibbons (a United Church chaplain serving with the Canadian Armed Forces). All of us in the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service are especially proud of Mike’s service during the fire and in the days that followed. As Mike told me the story, in the days following the fire, with much personal kit lost and the ship’s laundry unusable, the crew worked in ragged, smoke-stained uniforms through many difficult attempts to establish a tow line and get the ship safely to port.
His ability to make connections with the US Navy chaplains at Pearl led to the Protecteur‘s crew getting much-appreciated bedding and other comforts on their return, a reminder of how the networks between chaplains of allied nations can significantly benefit the mission.
In his sardonic and self-effacing manner, Mike dismissed the commendations and decoration (Meritorious Service Medal), joking that there may be a connection between the fire and his need to get rid of his mess bar bills.
His padre colleagues are very proud of Mike’s service and example, which are in the very best traditions of the Chaplain Service. It is also very gratifying to see a Canadian denomination recognizing the work of one of their own clergy in the military.