From parish to RAF – Chaplain Chris is flying high

Officer training beckons next month for The Revd Dr Chris Hodder – who is currently serving as vicar at St Paul’s Church, West Bridgford in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham – when he joins the Royal Air Force as an armed forces chaplain.

Chris, 42, has been ordained since 2001, and grew up in East Anglia. After a degree in History and Politics he worked as a youth worker in the Republic of Ireland before a short spell in stockbroking prior to ordination.

He has experienced Cathedral life, leadership of larger lively parishes in Loughborough and Derby, as well as leading a University Chaplaincy and serving in Southwell & Nottingham Diocese, where he is a representative on the General Synod.  He is a keen theological researcher, with a PhD that explores the relationship of branding to Christian faith, and also enjoys football and walking, although he will be swapping his usual rambling routes for combat boots for the next few months as he undergoes his training with other officer cadets from different RAF branches.

Talking about his excitement for his new role, Chris says: “Being a chaplain is brilliant and such a privilege.  It is a ministry that can touch the lives of people outside the church in special ways, and I loved my time as a University Chaplain a few years ago in Derby, and recently as the Mayor of Rushcliffe’s Civic Chaplain”

Chris actually has a familial connection to the RAF that goes back to both of his Grandads. One was a Halton apprentice and had a long career in uniform and then latterly with Marshalls of Cambridge, working his way up the ranks.  The other grandad had a quite different social background and went straight in as an officer during the war.

However, Chris’s motivation and family connection is also more recent, as he explains:

“My cousin Rob has also played a role in my growing sense of call – Rob is currently serving in the RAF as a Physical Training Instructor, although he had a terrible parachuting accident in January 2016.  This reminded our family of the risks of being in the military, but seeing the care he has received since then – from padres and others in the services – has helped reawaken a desire to serve in chaplaincy again.  As a country, we ask a lot from the women and men of the RAF, and they deserve a lot of love and good holistic pastoral care.  In recent months God also seems to have been putting all sorts of people from the RAF across my path – I felt he might be trying to say something to me, and here I am.”

Whilst Chris admits he is not entirely looking forward to every aspect of his basic training – being cold and wet, having kit inspections and all that comes with that – he has always enjoyed fitness and is also looking forward to new challenges.

“People can easily forget that the ministry of chaplaincy has its roots in the military career of St Martin, who was a Roman cavalry officer who had a vision of Christ.  As a chaplain I am technically a non-combatant – I will not bear arms, and that is an important principal.  Christian chaplains are not there to oil the machinery of war, but they are on hand to care for the people who get caught up in it.”