Wednesday 21 February 2024
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Airport chaplains who support passengers and once exorcised haunted building celebrate 25 years

A chaplaincy service offering support to passengers and staff at East Midlands Airport (EMA), whose origins are linked to the death of Princess Diana, is celebrating its 25th anniversary next week.

Princess Diana’s death in 1997 prompted a packed multi-denominational service to be held in Castle Donington Methodist Church near the airport the night before her funeral. Attending clergy decided that the next day, when the funeral was being shown on screens at the airport, some people at EMA might welcome the presence of clergy.

This idea grew into the launch of the East Midlands Airport Chaplaincy team at the end of January 1999, led by local ministers Father Anthony Dolan, Rev Roy Monks, Rev Rob Hawkins, Pastor Tom Rob-Ronald and Rev David Heslop.

From the outset the chaplaincy was, and remains, available for the benefit of staff and passengers of all faiths or none, to provide support at any time, not just in a crisis. Over the years, it has offered prayers, a listening ear, friendly advice and practical help to many.

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The team has been called on to provide solace when loved ones have died on holiday and on board planes, helped people with a fear of flying, provided support throughout the pandemic and was even asked to perform an exorcism on a reportedly haunted building on the airfield.

They take part in special events, marking religious festivals, Remembrance Day, 9/11, the Queen’s death and the King’s Coronation among others, as well as carrying out their first wedding between two members of staff in 2000.

The chaplaincy team also supports charities and good causes in the UK including the Treetops Hospice, alongside using EMA’s global cargo connections to help provide international aid.

This includes medical aid to Romania during the Kosovo crisis; blankets, tents and other items for flood victims in Pakistan; and last year, aid to the survivors of the earthquake in Turkey.

In 2006 a Prayer Room was opened at EMA which is a quiet and calm space anyone can use, not just for prayer, but as a refuge from stress, somewhere to grieve or for quiet contemplation. Members of the chaplaincy team are available if needed, with support from members of the Sikh and Muslim religions.

Senior Chaplain Rev Roy Monks – part of the current team which includes Rev Dr Moira Biggins, Rev Dr Juan Carlos Valer and Major John Parrot – has been involved for the whole 25 years.

He said: “People come in all shapes and sizes, and many carry personal and emotional baggage that no security device could ever detect. While we all like to think of the airport as an exciting and forward-looking place, which for many it is, for some people it can also be a place of sadness, stress, heartbreak, fear, loneliness, sickness and even death.

“For the past 25 years we have been there for those people who need to offload their pressures, problems, hopes and fears to someone they can trust and feel at ease with. I’ve no doubt the service will be here for another 25 years and beyond, as we continue to seek to serve all the people who come into our orbit.”

EMA’s Managing Director Steve Griffiths said: “The chaplaincy team offers a really important service to some of our staff and passengers who may need support while at the airport. Marking this significant milestone is testament to the role they play here and for those people in the UK and abroad they have supported through their charity work.”

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