Friendship Lessons from the Royal Navy

Friendship Lessons from the Royal Navy

It might be difficult to spot how investment in friendship can help your ministry, but it is worth its weight in gold.

I had a lazy half term earlier this year, somewhat forced upon us by the need to self-isolate. There was nothing much on TV, so I used it to catch up with some secular fiction reading, going back to a well-loved book series by Patrick O’Brian set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

These books are my ‘comfort reading’ – something I come back to again and again since I first read them as a teen. I got into them because my grandfather – a lifetime stoker in the Navy – had given my brother some similar volumes as a present, and reading them I was immediately enamoured.

I guess I first read these books as adventure stories – tales of derring-do from a bygone age, heroism matched by chivalry. But as I have got older, I realise that they are really nothing of the sort: the action comes remarkably spaced out and is often dealt with extraordinarily briefly.

Instead, they are books about friendship. In particular, about the friendship that exists between the two main characters Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

Profound friendship

When read in this way, I find these books incredibly moving. They are set in different times, of course, and O’Brian has a great knack of transporting you to the age where the captain’s steward manages to make you smile as he announces before a cheese on toast supper, “which I am saying, wittles is up, if you please.”

But the friendship lessons are more profound. Like any relationships, they have their ups and downs, misunderstandings, arguments, fallings-out, and so on. But the pair go to extreme lengths to keep each other onside, serve one another, and check their speech to avoid thoughtlessness and upset.

Friendship is, of course, a key Bible theme.

It is more than companionship - I might have many companions or even colleagues. Friendship seems to fall into another category completely.

It is so significant that it approaches something of a covenant relationship with all the commitments and responsibilities that, say, a marriage commits someone to.

Tending friendship

Like in the novels, such friendships need care, thought, and time if they are to flourish. That’s a challenge for us in ministry because we live in a careless and thoughtless world and – to be perfectly frank – finding time for such an intangible thing as a friendship seems a little inefficient.

But we need to get beyond this.

It might be difficult to spot how an afternoon spent with a friend will deliver in terms of ministry output or productivity but, in reality, it is exactly the kind of investment we need to make.

Aubrey and Maturin have the advantage of being cooped up together in a small wooden frigate for weeks and months on end. Most of us will have to work harder, with God’s help, to sustain and benefit from meaningful friendships that will bless us and allow us to bless others.

Let me encourage you: the investment is worth its weight in gold.

So, who could or should you arrange to catch up with today?

HMS 'Victory' Anchored off the Isle of Wight by John Wilson Carmichael (1799–1868). Photo by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth (CC BY-NC-ND).

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