Above: Jackie and Jonathan Woodhouse, Chaplains at Moorlands College.
Reverend Jonathan Woodhouse CB and his wife Jackie are Chaplains to the student body and staff team at Moorlands College. With contagious joy, inspirational stories and a passion for supporting others, Jonathan and Jackie have travelled far serving Christ.
Sarah White had the privilege of chatting with them both, to hear their testimonies and how God used their time in the British Army as part of the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department.
Sarah White: How did you both become followers of Jesus?
Jackie: When I was eight, I moved to what is now called Zimbabwe and went to boarding school. I lived by Victoria Falls during the country’s conflict and had all of my schooling there. Our Matron at school offered us Scripture Union notes and prayed with us. I used to read those notes in my bedroom and was gradually very aware of Christ. I didn’t make a full commitment until 2 July 1971, which was actually in the same year as Jon was converted. This was during a YWAM mission at school.
Jonathan: I had a conversion experience on 23 November 1971. I was at a coffee bar in Cardiff and I was led to Christ by a friend of mine. I had seen a change in his life because he was a pretty intimidating and mean rugby player. I noticed that his conversion changed his behaviour. He was still a big rugby player, but he was playing more fairly. He had the privilege of leading me to Christ that evening and it was a very moving, joyful and emotionally-charged occasion. He said to me, “Now you must go and witness at home and say something to your parents”, which I did that night, but my father’s response was, “What on earth are you on?” The conversion was very powerful and, of course, God turned my life around. It changed my life from considering going to Southampton to study marine engineering to then declining this opportunity to go to London Bible College to study theology instead.
Above: (Left) Drumhead Service at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Armed Forces Parade at Windsor, 19 May 2012.
(Right) Jonathan with Rangers from the Royal Irish Regiment on exercise in Wadi Rum, Jordan, 1994.
SW: How did you two meet each other?
Jackie: We were both 21 and met each other on a Christian holiday. It was a four-week long trip to Russia in 1976 where we visited 13 or 14 countries. Back then, the holiday was £98 in total!
Jonathan: We’d been through places such as West Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Russia, which was the Soviet Union back then. We saw missiles on the backs of trailers and we were moved on whenever we stopped by the road to make a meal. The coach was stripped at the Finnish/Russian border but thankfully we were allowed to have our personal Bibles. Jackie and I also got lost in Moscow together having a Bible study outside of the Moscow State Circus…
Jackie: …we did!
Jonathan: We really did! We were having a Bible study and nobody believes us! We were being so spiritual and were looking at Psalm 34. Then, we went back to the car park by the circus, and the coach wasn’t there!
Jackie: Everybody had gone!
Jonathan: The leader had got so frustrated by people not being on time and he said, “The next time someone is late, I’m just going to go!” And he did. Jackie and I prayed together and said “Lord take us back please!” With our passports, we flagged a taxi down with our last bit of money, then went to an ‘Intourist’ hotel in the centre of Moscow and told a lady in the Reception that we were lost. We didn’t even know the name of the campsite we were staying at. The lady rang around the different campsites that Westerners were allowed to stay in and found the campsite further out of Moscow. She described how to get there via public transport, but we didn’t have any money to use it. So, she left her work and took us out into the Moscow streets and onto the underground—it was a beautiful underground, always wanted to see it, it was fabulous! She paid for us and took us onto the mainline around 11pm. It was dark and no-one wanted anything to do with us as Westerners. The lady sat with us until the first stop, then gave us instructions and we never saw her again. Was that an angel or what?! When we got off at the station we were instructed to and found our campsite over the bridge; it was guarded and fenced off. It was quite an adventure.
“The lady sat with us until the first stop, then gave us instructions and we never saw her again. Was that an angel or what?!”
SW: What then led you to continue such an adventurous path in the form of Army Chaplaincy?
Jonathan: Well, after then studying at Spurgeon’s College, I first spent ten years serving in civilian Baptist churches as a Baptist minister in Eastbourne and Selsdon, before joining the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department (RAChD) in 1990. A place opened up for me either within the Royal Air Force or the Army and I chose the Army. I then did the crossover training to be an Army Chaplain which was a big family risk, but I just knew it was what God was leading me to do. Two people helped me make this decision. The first was a former Army Chaplain and Baptist minister who came into Spurgeon’s College and talked about Army Chaplaincy. The second was my brother-in-law who was a Sergeant in the British Army; but not a Christian. He simply just said to me, “You should be an Army Chaplain.” Therefore, God used two people; one Christian and one non-Christian.
I then spent 25 years serving all over the world and in lots of places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Falklands, Hong Kong and Cyprus. Particular highlights include me baptising people in full-length outdoor swimming pools in both Cyprus and Germany. Both places had to have guards on duty for health and safety reasons, and so they had to listen to the testimonies and witness the baptisms! It was fantastic. Following this, I was Staff Chaplain to the Chaplain-General and then Senior Chaplain 16 Air Assault Brigade, with the Brigade entering Iraq in March 2003. I found myself in a desert, leading a team of nine Chaplains and having to go into a war setting. This was quite formative.
Jackie: From my point of view, I have always worked with women who are on the fringes. For example, during Jon’s postings, I gathered in the Army Chaplains wives who have been left behind when all of the men went away. We supported each other in small groups, I started an Army Chaplain’s wives conference and we went on outings. I’ve always been involved in smalls groups and Christian support groups.
“Both places had to have guards on duty for health and safety reasons, and so they had to listen to the testimonies and witness the baptisms! It was fantastic.”
Above: (Left) With Jonathan’s team of chaplains from 16 Air Assault Brigade, outside his ‘Church in the Sand’, Al Amarah, Iraq, May 2003.
(Right) Jonathan lounging in his first dug shell-scrape after experiencing ‘incoming’, March 2003.
SW: During Jonathan’s postings, was there ever a time where you couldn’t speak to each other?
Jonathan: During the invasion of Iraq, we had no contact whatsoever for three and a half weeks. Just before launching north into Iraq, I had a good inkling as to when we’d be going, but couldn’t say that on satellite phone. We had a phone call once a week that only lasted for 20 minutes. I knew the phones were going to be switched off and that I couldn’t say it over an open line. So, instead I had to say, “I probably won’t be in touch for a little while,” but Jackie didn’t understand it.
Jackie: No, I didn’t… and it was our 25th wedding anniversary!
Jonathan: I celebrated that in the Rumaylah oil fields in Iraq when we should have actually been in Kenya going on safari to celebrate!
Jackie: And I was at work…
Jonathan: …whereas I was digging a hole in the ground to live in.
Jackie: I spent the day at work and cried in the toilet. It’s sad, isn’t it?
Jonathan: But I ordered flowers before I left and they did arrive for you on our anniversary! Anyway, after that, around 2005, I was appointed as the Senior Chaplain at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. I was the first Baptist to go to an Anglican place and have a team there. This was during the period where Prince William and Prince Harry were training at Sandhurst. So, Prince Charles and other Royals attended events and services, and I preached when they were there. That was an interesting period of time!
“I spent the day at work and cried in the toilet. It’s sad, isn’t it?”
SW: You must have moved a lot during your service. What was particularly challenging about this?
Jonathan: My first post as a Regimental Chaplain was in Germany and we were there for three years. Our children, David and Becky, had to go to boarding school because of the number of moves we were making. We lived in 16 houses in the 24 years in the Army and you never know where you’re moving to. When I was out in Germany, I asked to be posted back to the UK to be with our children but we were posted to Cyprus. It wasn’t because the Deputy Chaplain General was being unkind; it was because in the end, that is what they had to do and it’s where I was needed.
Jackie: I’ve always taken the view that as a minister’s wife, you should go with your husband. There are some people who would prefer to stay at home unaccompanied, but I always travelled around with Jon. Sadly, that meant the children had to go to boarding school but it hasn’t made us any less close as a family and they thrived at the right school.
Jonathan: There were big changes and I think it’s taught me a lot about what it means to be a servant leader. There are many Christians who don’t want to be directed by anyone else and actually the aspect of being a servant is about being directed. Sometimes, you are told what you have to do and obedience is about saying, “I will do it” rather than, “It doesn’t suit me.”
Jackie: We had to believe that God was in every posting and that they were all planned by Him, even though sometimes they were inconvenient. There were often postings that we, or I, didn’t want to go on. In the one before last, we were sent back to Germany when our daughter had just finished university and she had nowhere to live. That’s the closest we’ve come to being unaccompanied as it was really difficult for her. She had to find somewhere to live and set up on her own.
“Sometimes, you are told what you have to do and obedience is about saying, ‘I will do it’ rather than, ‘It doesn’t suit me.’”
SW: How did you then become Chaplain General of the British Army?
Jonathan: I was promoted to Assistant Chaplain General at 1st (UK) Armoured Division in Germany before being made a Queen’s Honorary Chaplain in 2008 on becoming Deputy Chaplain-General. I was then appointed Chaplain General in July 2011 by the Army Board. I was responsible to the Professional Head of the Army for the delivery of Chaplaincy to the British Army and I managed 155 full-time and 70 part-time Army Chaplains. I was involved in national events at Westminster Abbey, Canterbury, York, Windsor and Buckingham Palace. I also consecrated the Regimental Colours, uniquely once in Afghanistan. The best thing we ever did was participate in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, preparing a service that went live on the BBC. I also preached in places that I never thought I’d preach in such as York Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle in the presence of the Queen.
“I also preached in places that I never thought I’d preach in such as York Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle in the presence of the Queen.”
SW: What was your aim as Chaplain General?
Jonathan: My vision, given to all Army Chaplains, was lead by the phrase ‘trusted to bring the hope of God’. The mission statement of Army Chaplaincy is to bring spiritual support; pastoral care and moral guidance to soldiers and their families whether they were at home, overseas or on operations. Regarding spiritual support, I could only come at this from a Christian perspective; I am not neutral. There is no neutral Chaplain, and any such claim to neutrality is a false one. Therefore, any spiritual support comes from a Christian perspective. Pastoral care is broad but came from Christian principles. Moral guidance is an area of values and ethics and that was an area we developed. During my time as Chaplain General, there was a move to think through ethical foundations, which is still reverberating now, and was centred on the discussion with the Professional Head of the Army. Originally, there was a lot of ethical training from King’s College in London but it was thought that a level of ethical training could be delivered from specialised Army Chaplains within the Army. The Chaplains don’t just talk about ethics, but do it practically on operations and in barracks all over the world. In a time of cutbacks, the Army agreed an Ethics post which a Chaplain filled in order to develop ethical thinking and training. That, for me, has been really important. This would influence the public space with an ethic that derives from a Christian perspective that is available for everybody. My interest in Chaplaincy and Ethics is what I now teach here at Moorlands College on the MA, and a little on the BA.
Jackie: That’s the importance of being a Christian in a public space. It’s about making sure your influence permeates through everyday life. That’s why it’s really important for Christians to be out there in the public space so that the Christian voice and influence is sustained and maintained.
Above: Laying on of hands and prayer at Baptist Assembly, Blackpool, 1 May 2011 before being appointed Chaplain-General.
SW: After retiring from Chaplain General in 2014, you then joined as Chaplains on the Moorlands College staff team in 2015. What’s your favourite aspect of working at the college?
Jackie: We feel very privileged to be part of Moorlands; we’ve spent years being quite isolated as there aren’t many Christians in a regiment. It’s been hard at times to find a home church as we’ve been on the move so much. It takes so long to get to know people and that’s been a lesson in itself actually. We haven’t really had a Christian community that we’ve been part of and we see it very much as a gift that we’re now part of this Christian community. I’m enjoying working with enthusiastic young people who are raring to go for the Lord. It’s lovely and very refreshing. It’s great to be part of their lives and to feel you have a little bit of influence and be a support.
Jonathan: We’ve been working with a community of an average age of 25 years of age for the last 25 years and so to come into a community which has so much potential is what drives it for me. It’s a brilliant opportunity to try and give a little bit back for the college’s young people and mature students. These individuals might not realise the massive potential they hold, but they have got massive potential. Moorlands College is such a positive place and there is a real sense of camaraderie that is quite special. It’s a great privilege and it’s all about the potential.
SW: What Bible verses encourage you the most?
Jonathan: The first is Ephesians 3:14–21 as it was written into my Ordination Bible when I was ordained as Baptist Minister in 1980. I have used this passage under pressure and I use it a great deal. The second is Mark 12:28–31. Both of these passages show the love and strength of God in Christ.
Jackie: My favourite verse is my conversion passage: “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20) I also love the whole of the book of James as it’s got fantastic teaching in there.
SW: What would you say to a Moorlands College student to encourage them?
Jackie: Make the most of every opportunity; no experience is ever wasted.
Jonathan: Be utterly determined and committed. Keep going when the pressure is on. In fact, embrace the pressure. Embrace the pressure, and in the Grace of God thrive.
Jonathan is a Lead Tutor of the Chaplaincy specialism on our MA course, and also teaches Professional Ethics across all the MA and BA courses. The course explores why Chaplaincy is a key leading-edge ministry, providing new opportunities for ministry in all kinds of places.