At the end of November I was invited to visit the RAF and to meet with some of the chaplains, to learn about their work and to share with them. I was accompanied by Doug Swanney (Chair of the Methodist Forces Board) and Revd Robert Jones (Secretary of the Methodist Forces Board & Chaplaincies co-ordinator). We arrived at RAF Brize Norton and were met by the Methodist Chaplain, Padre Melanie Reed. We spent time talking with Melanie and with the Senior Chaplain and their dedication to this ministry was evident. As I met with others in the course of the visit it was very clear that the presence of the chaplains is highly valued and essential to the well-being of the whole community.
Melanie took us to the repatriation centre on the base. Those who fall in action are brought back to Brize Norton and the chaplains support the families throughout the repatriation process. They also support others from the base who are involved, all of them volunteers. I am thankful that our chaplains are able to be there for people at times like this and hope that we will all remember them in our prayers alongside the families when we hear news of a repatriation.
At Brize Norton we were able to see a C17 aircraft at close quarters. These huge aircraft can carry a Chinook helicopter but can also be transformed into a fully operational and staffed Intensive Care Unit when needed. Doug, Rob and I were able to go into the cockpit and look down on the airfield from a great height without leaving the ground!
|Dave showed us the aircraft|
|With Robert in the cockpit|
|Doug and Robert in the cockpit|
The second day of the visit began with a meeting with the Chaplain in Chief at High Wycombe, after which we went to RAF Halton. Here we began by visiting St George's Church. One of the main features of the church is the Apprentices Windows. RAF Halton was once the base where apprentices were trained and each of the panes in the stained glass windows represents one group of apprentices.
Today RAF Halton is a place where recruits (Other than officer recruits) come for their initial training. We were shown around the facilities before sharing lunch with some of those working here. After lunch I was able to meet with some of the recruits and it was good to talk with them about their experience of training. They too spoke warmly of the chaplaincy and their good relationship with the chaplains was evident as we spent time together.
Whatever our personal feelings about military action we can and should be grateful for the work of the chaplains to the forces as their presence is a continual reminder of the love of God to all those with whom they have contact.