CAF welcomes first Muslim female chaplain and chaplain candidate

Private Kelly Croft, Sergeant Kristin Kuschnereit-Coursol, Pte Aram Lotfi, Captain Barbara Helms, Bombardier Adalaine Ostrom, Capt Derek McLellan, Warrant Officer Eric Hansen
Left to right: Private Kelly Croft, Sergeant Kristin Kuschnereit-Coursol, Pte Aram Lotfi, Captain Barbara Helms, Bombardier Adalaine Ostrom, Capt Derek McLellan, Warrant Officer Eric Hansen. Photo: Melissa Kehoe

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By Captain (Padre) Suleyman Demiray, with contributions from Captain Barbara Helms and Lieutenant Serap Bulsen

Captain Barbara Helms and Lieutenant Serap Bulsen have become the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF’) first female Muslim chaplain and chaplain candidate, respectively.

The occasions mark a turning point in CAF history, and help fulfill the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service’s (RCChS) initiative to increase diversity and improve gender balance. Lt Bulsen enrolled under the Subsidized Education for Entry Level Masters (SEELM) program in August 2016, and Capt Helms as a reserve chaplain in October 2017.

Military chaplaincy is an emerging career path for Muslim women who wish to engage in leadership roles in the CAF while pursuing an exciting career providing spiritual support, pastoral care and religious leadership.

Capt Helms has extensively studied theology and counselling, and is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program jointly offered by the University of Toronto, the Toronto School of Theology, and Emmanuel College. She has been involved in teaching, community outreach, youth ministry, hospital pastoral care, and interfaith dialogue. She is a professional psychotherapist, a chaplain at the Ottawa Muslim Association, the Muslim Spiritual Advisor at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, and the Chair of the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership.

Capt Helms says she is grateful for this opportunity, finding that military chaplaincy draws on her previous training and experience, while providing a context in which she can serve and become part of the “regimental family.”

Lt Bulsen has studied Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. As a SEELM student, she is finishing her Master of Pastoral Studies Program (Muslim Stream) at Emmanuel College. For the past ten years, she has held various roles in a non-profit Islamic organization before applying to join the CAF chaplaincy.

“I am so excited, humbled and honoured for being in this position. I would be happy if my experience inspires and paves the way for other candidates, members of minorities, and especially women who are looking forward to fulfilling their dreams and having a great career in the CAF,” Lt Bulsen said.

As the first non-Christian, senior Muslim military chaplain in the CAF, I am pleased to welcome these two pioneers into the CAF Muslim community.

Image gallery

  • geon, Captain Suleyman Demiray, Lieutenant Serap Bulsen and Warrant Officer Eobhann Bruce
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