A day in the life of a deployed Padre…
Revd Dr [Flt Lt] Chris Hodder is an RAF Padre and you’ll often see his inspirational pieces in Envoy magazine. He’s currently deployed in the Falklands and here he shares a little about what life’s like out there for him.
A major problem with any kind of “a day in the life a Padre” article is that there is no such thing as a “typical” day – which is one reason why I love the job so much of course. This is compounded by the fact that as I type, COVID-19 is affecting many aspects of life across the world and making even the familiar strange.
HMS Forth and its personnel as well as guests from Mount Pleasant Complex in the Falkland Islands arrive in South Georgia as part of routine patrols in the South Atlantic.
Here in the Falklands, as in other parts of the world, we have been engaged in social distancing measures, and Mount Pleasant Complex – where I am based – is currently in lockdown from the rest of the Islands. The issues all these measures, as well as uncertainties about tour dates have of course, affected morale – but in a way, that brings the role I am in even more sharply in focus for some people. Although the traditional levers of chaplaincy – gatherings, hospitality, shared worship etc. – are not possible at the moment, I have been able to continue seeing individuals and also engage with different sections whilst maintaining social distancing. Welfare remains a high priority here, especially with people away from their loved ones.
To that end, for me, part of what resources my ministry is a foundation of prayer and scripture, and each day I begin that by getting myself a mug of tea and then praying Morning Prayer at 0800 in St Cuthbert’s, the station church here next to the Oasis Café. Another mug of tea and a quick check of email and messages follow, before heading out on some rounds to different sections on station with some cookies from the café.
RAF Voyager aircraft sit in the snow at Mount Pleasant Complex, Falkland Islands while personnel work to ensure the snow is cleared.
The Oasis café exists to give personnel a space in MPC where they can retreat in a quiet, rank free and alcohol free environment. Our conservatory in particular has been a popular space for people to sit and chat or read the papers, especially on a Sunday. At the moment, with COVID-19 preventing social gatherings, the café has been reduced to a take away service only so – adapt and overcome – we are taking the café out to people in the form of cookies which Rosie our café manager and her team of volunteers have baked.
The cookies go down well with different sections – the Griffin, MT, SCAF, BSW and then further afield to the ATC, Met Office, 905 HQ and the famous 1435 flight with their Typhoons; and finally a visit to the Med Centre, whose staff are working so hard caring for others at the moment. I have never known a nurse or medic turn down food morale… I love being out and about meeting people, and it is funny how when I do that such a mix of encounters take place. Sometimes it is just about the banter, sometimes people want a friendly face to chat about their work, how things are going, or chat to about their families, and sometimes people want to go a bit deeper, debating out questions of meaning or taking the opportunity to see whether they can fix a time to come and chat about a welfare issue or something of significance to them. I always have to remember to have a notebook with me, or else I end up coming back to the chaplaincy office with a pocket full of random stick notes, and then it is a challenge unpeeling them all and emailing people with information so I can follow them all up.
Although Padres do come from a faith background, most of the time people who come to see us are not really looking for spiritual advice and guidance, they just need help with practical challenges, relationships, mental health etc.
I had grabbed lunch on the far side at the airfield before visiting the Med Centre, so on my return it is time to say hello to Rosie, who is here in the café doing some of the background admin needed to keep it ticking over until it can reopen properly, and then I am into a couple of pastoral appointments with individuals, as part of the team who support people’s welfare. We are here for people of all backgrounds with whatever need they have. I have to be careful how I schedule these, as if you do too many back to back – with a mug of tea for each – it can get uncomfortable…
The end of the day offers a chance to be at my desk, connecting with SSAFA to follow up on a case we have been working together on, and also to begin thinking about the Sunday service – we have moved over to Zoom for this to play our part with social distancing efforts as well as trying to provide a space to worship and connect – and later on, I will be part of a WhatsApp Bible study that is part of the life on the base here at present. Like many of you, I miss the face to face aspect of meeting with people, but it is what it is for now, and we will do whatever we can to try and make sure we connect with as many people as we can in as many ways as we can to support them whilst they are overseas.
Images taken during an air to air refueling sortie out of MPA envolving an Airtanker from 1312Flt and Typhoon aircraft from 1435Flt.
Please do always feel free to contact the Padre from wherever you are if you ever have a concern about someone on operations – it is what we are there for, and your local chaplain will always be able to find you the details of the deployed chaplain and put them in touch with you or your loved one. You never know – they might have a batch of cookies handy…
Find your Padre through the RAF Chaplaincy pages online.
Imagery: © MPC Official