United Navy, Army and Air Force Board

From Pentecostal Pastorate to RAF Chaplain

Revd John Baptiste

Having left the RAF in 1995, after 15 years’ service, I studied theology at Mattersey Bible College before taking up my first pastorate. As far as I was concerned my military days were well and truly in the past and being a civilian pastor was my definite calling; besides, at that time the Assemblies of God (AOG) Church was not a ‘sending church’ into the military and therefore chaplaincy was not and could not be on my radar.

Then I saw an article in our denominational magazine – announcing that the AOG were sending pastors into the military. Much to my amazement, after checking on the RAF Chaplaincy website, I discovered that even at 48 I was still young enough to apply! With light blue running through my veins and the opportunity to combine my previous military experience with my current ministerial calling, it appeared an obvious call from God to at least nudge the door ajar and see where it led to.

I was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward it was to initiate the recruitment process – interviews by both the United Board and the Chaplains’ Branch; all in all a painless, exciting and scary prospect knowing that as I committed my way to God, the door would open or shut as necessary.

The RAF selection process followed – 3 days of interviews, aptitude and physical tests and medicals to I had what it would take to complete the 3 months of officer training at the RAF College, Cranwell.

Specialist officers complete a shorter, but more intense officer training course than other officers – it can be a culture shock for the unprepared and even disconcerting for those in the know. It consists of a challenging fitness regime, drill, room and kit inspections, military and leadership theory, and practical leadership exercises (chaplains are non-combatants and so don’t train with or carry weapons). The training was fast-paced and at times frantic, but within the blink of an eye, the parade square beckoned and graduation day dawned.

My first posting was to RAF Cosford in the West Midlands, home to the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering. There I served within a chaplaincy team of 4, learning from and being mentored by experienced chaplains.  Such an introduction to the various roles of a chaplain was a joy, and I was quickly able to embrace many of the extra duties which a military chaplain performs alongside the usual ministry of word and sacrament.  On any given day, I could be in my best uniform at a graduation of trainees, then teaching Basic Beliefs and Values, in the gymnasium or giving pastoral support and guidance. Days are exciting and varied and the contact with both military and civilian personnel, helping in a multitude of ways, means that I never know what may be asked of me when I answer the telephone.

Amongst the highlights of my first years in RAF Chaplaincy was my 3 month deployment to Afghanistan as part of the Joint Support Unit during the high operational tempo and high temperature summer period. I can definitely say that nothing in civilian life can come close to the challenge of serving those in the front-line of combat with the assurance that comes from the love and mercy of Jesus Christ!