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Obituary: The Ven. Frank Johnston

03 November 2023

The Revd Professor Paul Avis writes:

THE Ven. Frank Johnston was an exceptionally capable priest, but also a modest man who was reserved about all that he had done in life. He kept his views about ecclesiastical politics to himself. His life and ministry were marked by integrity, humility, and a quiet wisdom. His kindness, presence of mind, and gentle but telling humour made their mark until the end of his days. He was always “venerable”, being respected and loved by all.

William Francis (Frank) Johnston was born on 29 June 1930. His father was a land agent and his mother was a secretary and speed-typist. Frank grew up in County Kerry, in the Republic of Ireland, the second of three brothers. He attended the Methodist Wesley College, Dublin, and then Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied theology.

Frank was ordained into the Church of Ireland in 1955, and was an assistant curate at St John’s, Orangefield, Belfast. In 1959, he was commissioned into the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department, serving first as Chaplain to the Queen’s Own Hussars, and then as Chaplain to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Hameln, Germany. In 1964, Frank returned to the UK, taking on the chaplaincy of the Junior Tradesman’s Regiment, in Rhyl, North Wales. During the Aden Emergency (1963-67), Frank left his family behind to become Chaplain to the 24th Infantry Brigade. He returned in 1967 to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, as Chaplain until 1970. His next posting was Senior Chaplain to Near East Land Forces, in Dhekelia, Cyprus.

In 1973, he returned to become Warden of the Royal Army Chaplains’ Training Centre, in Bagshot Park, Surrey. Three years later, he took his final overseas posting, to Lübbecke, Germany, as Senior Chaplain to the 2nd Infantry Division. The following year, he was appointed Senior Chaplain to the South East District, Aldershot, where he served for three years.

Then, in 1980, Frank was appointed Chaplain General to her Majesty’s Forces and Chaplain to the Queen. As part of his wider remit of responsibility, Frank served on the General Synod’s Board for Social Responsibility and on the Prison Chaplaincy Advisory Group. As Chaplain General, he also served as Archdeacon for the Army. After 28 years’ service, he retired from the British Army in 1987. He had been appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 1983 New Year Honours.

In 1963, Frank Johnston married Jennifer Morton. They had three children, David, Susie, and Andrew, and seven grandchildren. In 1987, Frank returned to parish ministry as Priest-in-Charge of Winslow, and then Rector of Winslow and Addington with Great Horwood, in Buckinghamshire; he also served as Rural Dean. In 1995, Frank and Jenny moved to Axminster, Devon, and settled into the town that had been Jenny’s childhood home. In retirement, he was able to indulge his passion for angling, golf, and watching rugby, which he had played in his youth.

Frank maintained an active ministry within what became the Axe Valley Team Ministry, officiating at services in the Minster and in many of the surrounding parishes. His sermons were deceptively simple, practical, and helpful. He continued to lead worship until his late eighties.

Frank Johnston died on 1 September, aged 93.

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