God beats orderly retreat from garrison

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 February, 1996, 12:00am

GOD will be making his own tactical withdrawal from the Prince of Wales Barracks in Central before the People's Liberation Army moves in.

The Holy Trinity Chapel at the British garrison's headquarters will be stripped bare following a final service and all its fittings - including the stained glass windows - will be spirited back to Britain.

After June next year, the chapel, a prominent feature on a corner of the barracks, will be left for the PLA to do with as they please.

Given the limited options, the prospect of table tennis or karaoke looms likely. Indeed such facilities are to be incorporated, at China's request, into the naval base under construction at Stonecutters Island.

But thoughts of ping-pong or Cantopop replacing religious contemplation and psalms do not unsettle the garrison chaplain, the Reverend Christopher Cook.

'We will just have a final service and leave,' said Mr Cook, who has seen it all before, having served with the British Army of the Rhine in Germany.

'Army life is fairly transient, so it's not wise to consecrate new churches, which is a legal procedure and fairly complicated to undo. Instead, when we set up a church, we dedicate it. This means we only have to have a final service before closing it down.' The purpose-built chapel, with a cross set into the outside wall, has been a fully fledged Anglican church in every other sense since the barracks was built in 1978. Apart from regular Sunday services, baptisms, bible classes, and weddings are also held there.

Mr Cook, 46, who arrived last November, said: 'It's an attractive chapel, one of the nicest I have served in.' His job ranges from counselling marriage problems, attending service schools to recording his 'Pause for Thought' slot every three days for the British Forces Broadcasting radio.

But as a uniformed soldier he also has to pass the annual British Fitness Test, a 4.8-kilometre run.

Given the barracks site was formerly HMS Tamar, all the chapel's plaques and artefacts are to be handed to the Royal Navy and will probably become museum pieces. These include the blue stained windows commemorating the ship Tamar, scuttled in Victoria Harbour during the Japanese invasion in 1941.

Mr Cook said: 'Once we have had the last service and taken the cross away, it ceases to be a church.

'What the PLA decide to do with it afterwards is nothing to do with me.' He added: 'There's nothing inherently sinful in karaoke.'