The Vicar of Sleaford was part of a first for the Royal Air Force and the British Military, when a Sikh and a Muslim were among five RAF Chaplains graduating last week following basic training.
Rev Philip Johnson of St Denys’ Church has been preparing over the past year to be commissioned as a chaplain in the RAF Reserves (the Air Force equivalent of the Territorial Army).
He has been awarded the ‘relative rank’ of Flight Lieutenant, although having none of the leadership duties of other officers and, as a chaplain, did not carry a sword on the graduation parade at RAF College Cranwell.
The 49-year-old was the one of oldest graduates on the parade ground on Thursday, having undergone various courses at Cranwell and RAF Halton, training alongside nine other specialist reservists who were doctors, nurses or from the media, as well as the first Sikh Chaplain, (Flight Lieutenant) Mandeep Kaur and Muslim Padre, Chaplain (Flight Lieutenant) Ali Omar.
Two other chaplains - a female Church of England priest and a Methodist Minister also graduated alongside 140 Officer Cadets commissioning as Regular and Reserve Officers.
VIP guests included the Chaplain-In-Chief, the Venerable (Air-Vice Marshal) John Ellis. They were inspected by Reviewing Officer, Air-Vice Marshal Bruce Hedley.
They will assume the pastoral role and duties of an RAF Chaplain and commissioned officer, providing spiritual, pastoral and ethical support to RAF personnel.
For Rev Johnson this will be a part time role of 27 days a year, with the blessing of the Bishop of Lincoln, while continuing his regular parish duties, which still take priority.
Rev Johnson said: “It will have huge advantages because so many people in my parish are serving in the RAF or ex-RAF.”
He said he could be called upon to provide his services anywhere in the UK or overseas - if convenient - but expected much of his time to be providing cover at the many local bases.
He said: “It started a year or so after I arrived here and had a chat with a chaplain at Cranwell. Then I realised how unfit I was as we still have to meet the levels of fitness.”
It saw him and his fellow trainees going on 100-mile marches over four days, camping out, learning battlefield first aid and using a respirator in the ‘gas chamber’ at RAF Halton.
He said: “I have always had an interest in the military. My father was a civilian working with the Royal Navy and my last parish was near Colchester garrison, but this has grown since coming to Sleaford.”
The new chaplain believes the more involved he gets, the better he can understand his ministry and the RAF language.
He said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed it, having nights bivvying out in woodland in November, getting up at 4.30am and cooking breakfast from a ration pack before a day’s march. I think my family is bemused about it all, but proud.
“The graduation parade and ball were absolutely superb and one of those days I doubt I will ever forget.”
Chaplain (Flight Lieutenant) Ali Omar added: “My role in the RAF as a flagbearer of the Muslim Chaplaincy will see me work with the RAF Chaplaincy branch to negotiate and establish the place of World Faith Chaplaincy within the RAF.”