An address given at a Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication on Battle of Britain Sunday 2019

Within all searching and reaching out, there lies a motivating factor, and that factor is hope.

The Venerable (Air Vice-Marshal) John Ellis QHC RAF Chaplain-in-Chief and Archdeacon, The Royal Air Force

Sunday, 19th September 2021 at 11.00 AM

I recall as a young boy getting my first bicycle as a Christmas present. It was red and blue with a white saddle. For so long, I had watched with envy my friends on their bikes riding off down the street. Oh, how I longed to be able to do that. What adventures might lie ahead? How far could I go in a day? What would such independence offer? What was out there?

The fact is that, even from a young age, it is a very natural human trait to long for something, to reach out for something, indeed, as humans, we seem to spend a great deal of time searching, reaching out for things. Some of these things are ‘tangible’ things we can see or taste or hold but often they are intangible, nevertheless, we know they exist. For some it might be a truth, for others it might be fulfilment or perhaps happiness. Alongside this it is also important that we look beyond that which is directly in front of us and trust in the promises of God. Within all of this searching, this reaching out I believe there lies a motivating factor, and that factor is HOPE.

We all need this; we all desire it and in turn there are both purveyors and receivers of this somewhat intangible thing.

This notion of hope is something that we are witness to in our readings today. Jeremiah tells us of God’s promise and how celebration will replace mourning and of how we will be his people and He will be our God. Our reading from Hebrews goes on to help us to understand how to live as people of hope. It is important to focus on the right hopes and on Jesus who went to the Cross that we might have such hope. And it is to him that we must turn when the chips are down, and we become weary.

Throughout our history there have been times when ‘hope’ has been paramount in the hearts and minds of our nation, a collective hope that brings people together regardless of status or background.

September 1940 saw a continual onslaught of enemy planes in our skies and still, even after weeks of fighting, they were continually met by the pressure and resistance of the Royal Air Force. A Force that was very much carrying the collective hope of a nation that faced losing its freedom particularly in light of unfolding events in Europe. This collective hope was being shouldered by those who served in the air, on the ground, in factories, those who came from across the world to serve and combine their strengths in an effort to fulfil the hope and set us on a path to freedom.

Of course, we must acknowledge that none of this comes without cost and often that cost is to the individual. Sadly, for so many that cost came in the form of the ultimate sacrifice. For some others it would result in life changing injury, both mental and physical.

As humans, we live future-focused lives, and to do that effectively, again we need hope. For many in 1940 and subsequently, such hope came in the form of Sir Archibald McIndoe’s pioneering work at East Grinstead Hospital. He, together with his team treated aircrew who had burns injuries and laid the foundations of a medical enterprise which continues to thrive.

McIndoe’s was a vision of a healing that involved more than the physical. This facility in East Grinstead involved giving its patients the confidence to return to society, to live and thrive in their undoubtedly changed lives. It was very much vision of hope. From this was born the famous ‘Guinea Pig Club’. Sir Archibald Mcindoe’s ashes are interred at the Central Church of the Royal Air Force, St Clement Danes maintaining that connection with us.

Collective hope is something that remains with us as a constant. We only need to look at the pandemic that has affected all our lives. Even here that ‘future-focus’ is apparent in the self-giving sacrifices that have been made and the advances in medicine that have been prompted by the pandemic.

Even more recently, we were witness to the largest Royal Air Force airlift since 1948. An effort that highlighted the skill, courage and resilience of everyone involved. A life changing event that has given new hope to thousands.

All of these recent events, just as with that we commemorate today, have seen sacrifices great and small made and often quite humble ones but all of them so important to our humanity, service and value. Commitment, dedication, courage and sacrifice are both very human and yet divine and to acknowledge them is so important.

As a child, I longed for that new bicycle. A tangible thing that held so many possibilities for me. As a nation, the Battle of Britain gave us hope. Sir Archibald Mcindoe and the staff at East Grinstead were able to positively change the future of so many.

As each of us face the challenges of the present and those of the future, I pray that we may find the hope that lies in the promises of Christ.