Neil Galloway, who is to be ordained as a Permanent Deacon in St Mary’s Cathedral at 12.00 pm on Saturday 30th June, reflects on vocation. On that same day, James Benfield will be ordained Deacon at Oscott College as he progresses towards ordination to the priesthood for our Diocese in due course. Please pray for both James and Neil.

I am 42, and I have proudly served in the Royal Air Force for the past 25 years and am now going to be Ordained as a Permanent Deacon in Middlesbrough Diocese.

There I said it, strange but true. It’s still a little hard to believe, even now as the date for my Ordination draws near. I am on my terminal leave from the service and my life is about to change out of all recognition.

How did I get here? What brought me to this point in my life? I was brought up as a child in a Catholic School in Dundee, my family were never churchgoers but I was lucky to always have faith. I thought of going to junior seminary as a lad, however with the breakup of my family while I was still young, my focus changed. I was to be honest, no saint, and was recently reminded by my best friend’s father of how much a “wee toe rag” I could be.

I joined the Royal Air Force at 17 as my best chance of a career, adventure and escape.  Even then going through basic training I was the odd one who went to Mass on a Sunday morning. I grew up in the Service and had the adventures I sought, I met and married my wife and we have travelled the world together with our daughters, living in Cyprus, Germany and all over the UK. We have always been deeply involved in our small service Church communities and have been very blessed in the Chaplains we have had serve us over the years. Many became very close family friends and it is they who have helped me recognise and accept the calling I have. I served several operational tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the experiences I had brought me even more firmly to the belief that my calling was real and it was time to accept it.

It’s not been easy; there is no sure certainty, no blinding light, no booming voice from the clouds. In truth it’s that wee small voice, the niggle, the itch that won’t go away no matter what you do. I have tried to ignore it, I have hidden from it, enveloping myself in my career and service life. I have tried to fill the hole where it was with excitement, adventure, even charity work. But in the end I faced it, I turned to it, listened to it, I let it in and asked the questions I think we all have. “What do you want from me?” and “Why me?” I tried the “it can’t be me” and the “I’m not good enough” excuse, but when you do finally stop, the only question left really is “who am I to say no to you!” With the help of Chaplains and friends, I came to a decision, it was very scary but once you just learn to accept and let go of the fears, it all seems so natural, seems to make so much sense and you end up asking why you avoided it for so long.

Now I suppose that at first the thought of someone from the Military joining the Church seems somewhat of a contradiction in terms and to some people, it would seem to be a rather Politically Incorrect idea. However, as one who has served his entire adult life in the Military before now coming to Holy Orders, I can fully appreciate both roles and say that the Clergy and the Military have much more in common than might first appear.

From Soldier to Soldier of Christ, both are a vocation, a way of life, not merely a career path or job, both deserve serious consideration and place heavy demands upon their members. Both have an ordered and formal way of life, a hierarchical and regimented structure. Both steeped in history and tradition, ceremonials and uniforms. But most importantly, at their heart both exist to serve. True they serve in what at first glance may be totally different ways but, at their core, is service for the greater good.

This service is at the heart of the Diaconal calling, a ministry that is most often described as one of service to the Word, the Altar and to Charity. Historically Deacons served, in practical ways the communities in which they lived. In the current day, Deacons fulfil a wide variety of roles within both the Church and community, some working as full-time ministers of the Church, while others maintain their secular employment while living their ministry.

For myself as a combatant member for the armed forces, I must, before my ordination, relinquish my current employment, status and way of life. This is indeed an unusual situation if not unique; however it affords me the opportunity to fully explore my Diaconal Ministry during my first two years after ordination. Coming from an armed forces background, my hope and intent is to return to the military as a Chaplain after an initial two year period of formational experience within Middlesbrough Diocese.

I have already witnessed the wide range of Diaconal Ministry both in the UK and abroad through my service work and that of my position as a delegate to the Apostolate Militare International. I have seen Deacons at work in all manner of roles and responsibilities, from parish work, charity outreach, international relief, school teaching, seminary lecturing, even Chaplain in Chief of the Dutch armed forces, but most prominently in hospital, school, military and prison chaplaincy.

This breadth of Ministry is by no means the full extent of Diaconal work and it is this multi skilled, multi faceted, extent of the Diaconate that I find so exciting. Wherever there is need, wherever and whatever the role or situation demands, there is a deacon with the skills and the will to fulfil the role and this is the true strength of the growing Diaconate. That each and every new Deacon brings with him his skills and experience in the world, which he can use and bring to bear for the good of the community in which he serves.

My own skills and experience are those of one who has served 25 years in military service, not only do I have military skills and technical trade abilities but also and more importantly those of leadership and management of both resources and people. I look now to use and develop these skills while attaining new ones in the unfolding of my Ministry.

I have new and exciting challenges ahead of me and as I am quickly learning, you just never know where the Lord is leading you. The work is great and the labourers are few, so what are you being called to do? What is that wee quiet voice saying to you? What skills can you bring to the aid of your brothers and sisters? We all have our place, our work to do, our calling, our part in the work of the harvest. All you have to do is “listen with the ear of your hearts” so that you too can do the Master’s will. You too can be Soldiers of Christ. After all, “I am not good enough” and “I am too busy” are just another way of saying No! And who are we to say No to him.

Neil Galloway will be Ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by The Right Reverend Richard Moth, Bishop to the Forces, in the presence of the Bishop of Middlesbrough at 12.00 pm on Saturday 30th June. All members of the Diocese will be very welcome to attend the Ordination to support Neil with their prayers. Neil Galloway has been appointed by Bishop Terry to serve as Deacon for two years jointly in the Parishes of Stokesley and Osmotherley. In addition to parish work, Neil will be supporting chaplaincy work at RAF Leeming and RAF Linton-on-Ouse as well as prison Chaplaincy at HMP Kirklevington Grange.