Tony Lomas, Chaplain in Aquitaine

Tell us about a time in your life that you faced a challenge in your faith journey?

During the late 1980s, I was working for Massey Ferguson (tractor manufacturer) managing their sales office in Morocco. Whilst I stayed in Morocco for some years, my late wife, Katrine, really didn’t enjoy life in Casablanca and so she and our three children only stayed for about six months. This situation put huge strain on our marriage and I found myself questioning whether I really cared about the vows we had made before God and, if I didn’t care about the vows, then did I really care about God.

Over this period, I was fortunate enough to have help from two wonderful sources. The first was Antony and Sheila Brown. Antony was Chaplain in Casablanca at the time, and he and Sheila provided quiet prayerful support for both me and Katrine, helping us both to realize that God’s love for us never wavered even if we were struggling to feel it at the time.

The second source was my boss at MF, David Anderson. David is a hugely committed Christian and, during this time, he gave me a bookmark with a text from Philippians: 'The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' (Phil 4:6-7)  This text has lived with me now for around thirty years, a constant reminder that, even in times of stress, worry or anxiety, I know where true peace is to be found.

What is the one thing you whish you knew when you were younger?
That set-backs and failures are not the end of the world. Plenty of things haven’t gone the way I planned (or the way I wanted) but life now is as good, if not better, than it has ever been. And I am hoping that things will continue to improve.

How would you describe the role of a Chaplain?

The role of Chaplain of Aquitaine is, in many ways, not very different from my previous role as Rector of a group of rural parishes in Gloucestershire – indeed I even seem to have a couple of the same parishioners! In any multi-church environment, and especially when it is as wide-spread as in South-West France, a large part of the role is in supporting and equipping others to undertake the day-to-day ministry of the church. Working collaboratively is not just desirable, it is absolutely essential. However, people do like to know that there is a ‘hand on the tiller’ to provide overall direction, guidance and encouragement for the chaplaincy as a whole. That is, I hope, the role that I play as Chaplain.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I would love to say George Clooney, but I suspect that Fozzie Bear (from the Muppets) would be closer to the mark.

What is the most exciting or fulfilling part of your role?

The thing I have appreciated most during my time in Aquitaine, is that I feel like I’m doing the sort of things that made me feel called to ordination in the first place. My experience of the role of a vicar in the UK was constantly overshadowed by the need to maintain old buildings, manage graveyards and raise money not for mission but to keep the buildings standing. As we don’t own any buildings here, I can use most of that time to be with people and to focus on the mission of our church.

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
Anything! Humankind has driven so many species into extinction that it would be nice to reverse the process even in a small way. I would also be fascinated to see what colour dinosaurs really were!

What is the most challenging aspect of your location/chaplaincy?

Perhaps the greatest challenge in Aquitaine, as with many other chaplaincies, is distance. We have fourteen churches spread over an area almost the same size as Belgium. Quite apart from the requirement for me, and other members of our ministry team, to cover large distances to conduct services, it also means that our church members often do not live close to each other. This means that even something as relatively simple as regular attendance at a house group or bible study involves long journeys and additional time commitment.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
First a soldier, then a vet and then an engineer. So I ended up as a salesman, then a training consultant and then a priest!

What is the most important lesson being a chaplain in Aquitaine has taught you?

I am immensely grateful to my predecessors as Chaplain of Aquitaine that they have instilled in this chaplaincy a strong ethos of prayer, generosity and cooperation. Whilst difficulties do, of course, arise, they are seldom approached with real animosity and thus can be resolved compassionately. I am aware that, as chaplains, we come and go but many of our parishioners will still be here when we’re gone. I hope that I can further strengthen the spirit of the chaplaincy as that is perhaps the best gift that I can offer to God and to future chaplains.

How do you relax?
DIY and gardening. It may not sound relaxing but it is very different from my day-to-day work and I love creating things.

How does working with/being affiliated with ICS help you as a chaplain?

Being affiliated to ICS gives me and Ingrid (and I think the whole chaplaincy) a real sense of prayerful support from across the world.  We have the opportunity to get to know other families who are working in many different chaplaincies and, through the Prayer Diary, to share regularly in prayer for their work whilst knowing that they are also praying for ours.

Tell us one thing that’s on your bucket list?
I would love to own a 1959 Mini. The Mini, me and Asterix (of the comic series) were all born in the same year and, as we all turn sixty this year, I am feeling like the under-achiever of the group!

How can we pray for you?

  • Our community in Bordeaux have recently had to vacate the church they have used for almost thirty years. Please pray that God will lead us to a new permanent home in the city.
  • Please pray for Anne Penfold and Nellie Salvi, both Readers-in-training. And for Tina Marshall and Heather Gardiner as they explore how to fulfil their sense of God’s calling.
  • Please pray for those members of our community who are feeling let-down or anxious by the on-going Brexit process. For some, the move to France seems to have turned from a dream to a nightmare as they feel they can’t afford to stay but also can’t really afford to move back to UK.
  • Please pray for all the Ministry Team of the Chaplaincy, for good health, safe travel and continued blessing in ministry.

Find a church in Aquitaine and more about the chaplaincy here.