10 January 2024
Joe Navoka became the first member of the armed forces to be admitted to the office of Local Preacher in the Methodist Church having participated in the new Armed Forces Local Preacher Scheme. He was admitted at a service that took place at Castle Methodist Church, Colchester in December. The new scheme recognises the realities of life in the armed forces that may be a barrier to becoming a local preacher within the Methodist Church. Joe was admitted alongside Sally Crafer from the local circuit who had followed the more traditional pathway to become a local preacher.
Joe is serving in the Army as a Company Quarter Master Sergeant in 16(VHR) Military Intelligence Company based in Colchester, part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade Headquarters.
He began his faith journey as a young man in Fiji. He was raised in a Methodist household and joined the British Army from Fiji in 2000. “I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to explore the world,” explains Joe. ”Coming to the UK as a ‘military migrant’ gave me the opportunity to write my own story by embracing the secular lifestyle that western society provided. However, I quickly realised that my calling was undeniable and that God had not allowed me to travel too far from the humble roots of my family’s faith.
“Our calling as Methodists is to respond to the gospel of God’s love in Christ by living out its discipleship in worship and mission. I decided that I wanted to do this through becoming a local preacher. Even though it was difficult to juggle employment, family, ministry, and studies, the Armed Forces Local Preacher Scheme provided me with a wonderful opportunity to answer my call as a disciple of Christ while still serving as a soldier.
“My faith has been well received by the Army. In the military, we are exposed to experiences and emotions that you don’t often find in civilian life. Soldiers are more spiritual than many people realise. Faith has played an important role in keeping my co-workers morally and ethically grounded when faced with some extremely challenging situations.”
The Armed Forces Local Preacher Scheme is coordinated by the East Solent and Downs Circuit in Hampshire. They maintain a section for the military local preacher applications as part of the plan for all students.
Joe’s tutor for the course was RN Commander Mark Barton, a Methodist local preacher himself who also sits on the Methodist Forces Board. He explained how military life can make becoming accredited difficult for those in the military. This is because service personnel frequently move location and many of the places and churches they attend are not in circuits, as no circuit looks after the ships at sea or those serving in bases abroad. Therefore, the practical parts of the course can be difficult to arrange. This new pathway allows the assessed services that all local preachers must undertake to be in garrison chapels and other military locations with the student able to undertake the elements in different places.
“The course uses all the same elements as the regular local preacher course with all the same materials and assignments. The circuit receives the relevant reports and the allocated tutor works with the student to ensure they have a mentor as they move around different garrisons, bases and ships.
“It has been a huge privilege to work with Joe and go on this journey together,” says Mark. “We come from very different backgrounds and worship styles, not least with Joe being Army and myself Navy but this has led to many great discussions.”
Revd Chris Preece is Superintendent Minister in the Colchester Methodist Circuit who supported Joe, “It is always a huge privilege to accompany people through their training to be a local preacher. For Joe, the Colchester Circuit facilitated the interviews and trial services as requested by East Solent and Downs Circuit, this has brought an important localised context to the armed forces scheme and a chance to involve him in the life of our circuit. We hope we can work with more candidates from the military community in the future.
“There are a number of pathways to becoming a local preacher in the Methodist Church and at the admission service, alongside Joe, we also welcomed Sally who had followed the more traditional local pathway.”
Sally Crafer describes herself as a “cradle born Methodist.” She felt that God was nudging her further and to share her gifts. “The Worship and Local Preacher Course is challenging and the assignments were soul searching and encouraged creativity,” commented Sally. “I had already made the commitment to serve God with faithfulness when I exercised my call to be a local preacher. The service was a moment to celebrate but it only represents a stage along my journey of learning as a disciple of Christ.”
Joe hopes that other members of the armed forces will follow him to become local preachers, “I am honoured and humbled to be a trailblazer in answering my call. This is an accomplishment that I hope will inspire others who are called to both a life in the military and to a life of Christian service.”
You can watch the service where Joe and Sally are admitted to the office of Local Preacher here.