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The forgotten origins of RAF Chaplaincy

by Michael Ford last modified 28 May, 2021 07:45 PM

The highly-regarded Journal of Religious History has published an article jointly written by one of our Rectors and her former university supervisor.

The forgotten origins of RAF Chaplaincy

Church on the Western Front, WW1.

View two short clips here.

Salisbury Plain's Eleanor Rance has been in parish ministry in this Diocese for over 7 years, but before that she served for a decade as a Chaplain in the Royal Air Force. During her service she was surprised to find that very little had been recorded of the ministry of her predecessors.

She says:

"It was partly down to a bit of gentle inter-service rivalry, to be honest.

"Every time we sat in the chapel at Amport House, which was at the time the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre, I would see this memorial to army chaplains who had died on active service and wonder ‘What about us?’

"The RAF gets plenty of banter for being such a young service, and the Chaplains’ Branch likewise is only 100 years’ old. But surely we too had learned from our experiences in the many conflicts that had peppered that last century? Surely we too had a tale to tell, colleagues to acknowledge?"

The forgotten origins of RAF Chaplaincy- Eleanor Rance leads a service in Iraq, 2004
Eleanor leads a service in Iraq, 2004

In response, Eleanor began a PhD research project into RAF Chaplaincy in the first half of the 20th century, and was delighted to collaborate with her former supervisor, Durham University Professor Mike Snape, on a lecture and article intended to mark the branch’s centenary in early 2019.

The article ‘Anglicans and Aviators: The First World War and the Forgotten Origins of Royal Air Force Chaplaincy’ has just been published in the internationally respected Journal of Religious History.

Read it here.

Eleanor says:

"What it explores, really, is how at a time of phenomenal turmoil and change, young men continued to find comfort and wisdom from their faith and their chaplains.

"The chaplains who served those young men captured some insights into ministry which still speak; not only to inform military chaplaincy, but all forms of ministry in whatever context we find ourselves today."

Her research continues, focussing next on Bomber Command during the Second World War.

Eleanor during repatriation, 2004

The forgotten origins of RAF Chaplaincy- Eleanor Rance, repatriation 2004

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