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From patient to chaplain 


Baptist minister Ross Dilnot suffered life-changing injuries following an accident in 2016. He now volunteers and has become a chaplain for the Air Ambulance Service which saved his life

How does one say thank you to an organisation that saved your life? How can you repay the medical skill and kindness, without which you wouldn’t be here today? The answer? To become a volunteer!

Ross & Kevin

Meeting Kevin, the paramedic who saved Ross's life for the first time after the accident, in November 2016

On Friday, 8 April 2016 my life was dramatically changed when I had an accident on my trike in north Milton Keynes. My injuries were so severe that Thames Valley Air Ambulance were called in to provide the expertise, the medication I required and the speed of transportation, in order to get me to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

It became apparent at the scene of the incident that I may lose my right leg, such was the severity of the injury I had sustained - not to mention losing a lot of blood at the scene and coming close to not making it to the hospital. However, the surgeons at the John Radcliffe managed to rebuild my shattered leg in a long operation later that day. But the next day I was awoken to be told I had entered multi-organ failure, as the rebuilt leg was infected and was poisoning my body. They needed to remove my leg, through the knee, in order to save my life. 

That afternoon I awoke as an amputee. The following Tuesday I underwent a third operation to remove more of my leg, becoming an above-knee amputee, to prepare me for a prosthetic limb.

Three weeks in hospital and months of recovery through physiotherapy, adaptions to the house, and learning to use mobility equipment, gave me time to reflect on what had happened. It also gave me time to realise the importance and value of our emergency services, NHS and the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. So, I decided I wanted to give something back, and in 2017 I trained as a promotional speaker for Thames Valley Air Ambulance. 

TVAA Fleet 700

I am the Senior Pastor of Shenley Christian Fellowship, a Baptist church on the west side of Milton Keynes, and public speaking was obviously something that came naturally, and that I did every week to our congregation. God had clearly given me this gift, so why not use it to serve this great charity? It transpired that the promotional speeches I was able to give, came across with a real authenticity, because I was able to share from the perceptive of being a former patient of the Thames Valley Air Ambulance.

Then in 2018 I felt God lay on my heart the idea of offering my services as chaplain for the Air Ambulance. I had no idea if they had a chaplain, or had ever had one. Through further prayer and conversation, it transpired that they had never had a chaplain, but were only too pleased to have me serve in this capacity.   

In April 2019 I took up the role of chaplain to Thames Valley Air Ambulance, supporting the staff team, paramedics, doctors and pilots. 


Benson June 19 - 4

Ross standing in front of the helicopter that flew him to Oxford, in his chaplain uniform

It’s still very early days, and there is a lot to learn and a lot of people to get to know, but this fantastic opportunity affords me the privilege of being able to help those who helped me.

The other blessing is that this role takes me away from church and gives me something else to focus on. A minister’s life can be all consuming, and having an activity outside of church to focus on is vitally important.  There were several things I thought of doing after my accident as a “hobby,” but none brought any sense of satisfaction. My plan, as a bit of a petrol-head, was that my trike was my “escape,” but that had gone very wrong, very quickly. And so volunteering with the Thames Valley Air Ambulance uses a number of my pastoral sills – and the enjoyment of being around a fast helicopter and four fast response vehicles! 

As pastors, we are in a prime position to offer chaplaincy to all sorts of organisations. Chaplaincy isn’t church and it isn’t to be seen as a field for evangelism. Put simply, chaplaincy is about being present and available.   It is a privilege to be able to talk to the team and to share their joys and struggles – to be available just to listen when they need it. I want them to feel relaxed and to be able to be themselves around me – not putting on a mask because the “vicar” is around!  

Here at the Thames Valley Air Ambulance I have already been involved in strategy discussions, ideas for Christmas events, representing the charity at memorial services and an opportunity to serve as a Patient Research Ambassador. 

But here’s the key thing for me. As we make ourselves available for whatever God has in mind, He presents opportunities for us to show His love in action. We may not even mention our faith or talk about Jesus. But showing love in action is a vital step in building people's trust, respect and openness to what motivates and drives us to be the people we are.

If you have some spare time … or even if you don’t and have to carve it out, why not consider offering your time to support our emergency services, NHS and other care organisations? 

The Revd Ross Dilnot is Senior Pastor, Shenley Christian Fellowship, and Chaplain, Thames Valley Air Ambulance


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Baptist Times, 02/07/2019
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