A Day in the Life of an RAF Chaplain
Revd Alasdair Nicoll, Baptist Chaplain, RAF Brize Norton
If I’d been asked, before I entered RAF chaplaincy, what I envisioned a "day-in-the-life" to be like, I don’t think my imagination could have done the truth any justice! That’s not to say, of course, that every day is wall-to-wall excitement and unpredictability - every ministry has its mundane moments and daily chores – but the sheer variety of the people and situations I meet keeps me on my toes and always looking to God for strength to meet the challenges.
The RAF Chaplains’ Branch motto is, “Serving the Royal Air Force community through Prayer, Presence and Proclamation”:
Every day starts with prayer, shared with the other chaplains in the team. Where I serve at RAF Brize Norton I minister alongside two Anglican priests, a Church of Scotland minister and a Roman Catholic deacon. Although we have a senior chaplain who co-ordinates the team’s ministry, each team member brings their own experience and distinctiveness to both the prayer life and the daily running of the chaplaincy. Prayer infuses all the work we do, whether specifically Christian (e.g. running a lunchtime prayer group or a church service) or the more secular duties like attending a station management board.
Our ministry of presence most frequently takes the shape of visiting the various working areas on the station. One day we might visit a flying squadron and join a crew on a training flight, flying on a Hercules transport aircraft through the Lake District. Another day we might be found walking the shop floor of an engineering hangar, administrative offices or joining in a “spinning” class in the station gym. Yet another day it might be running a post-deployment day for RAF Reserve force personnel. This ministry of presence amongst people day-by-day frequently leads to meaningful spiritual conversations and, because personnel have seen their padre around their workplace, they will often visit our chaplaincy centre to seek pastoral support. I am still astounded by the way in which personnel of all faiths and none seek out their padre as a first port of call in times of trouble. Of course, every two or three years we will take our turn to deploy for a few months to support our personnel on active service overseas. This affords the opportunity to support the pastoral, spiritual and moral wellbeing of our personnel where it is needed the most.
Our ministry of proclamation might include regular church services, an evangelistic course or working alongside the churches in the surrounding community. It might also include the prophetic ministry of the chaplain to personnel of all ranks, discussing moral questions, gauging the morale of the unit or providing specialist chaplaincy advice to commanders.
No matter what each day brings, I am always thankful to God for calling me to serve this community and for the strength He gives to meet each day’s new challenges.