18th August 1937 - 4th December 2005
The Ven Graham Roblin
Army chaplain the power of whose ministry enriched all who came into contact with him.
THE sheer power of Graham Roblin as a priest was shown when more than 500 people crammed Sherborne Abbey to say farewell at his Requiem Eucharist and funeral service.
There had been only three weeks from diagnosis of cancer to his death, which he accepted with the equanimity of his absolute faith.
His ministry was almost entirely with the Army: in Germany, Singapore, Terandak in Malaysia, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong.
He served as second chaplain at Sandhurst, then as warden of the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department centre at Bagshot Park, senior chaplain of 1st (British) Corps in Germany and finally as deputy chaplain general and archdeacon to the Army.
He was a man almost everyone in the Army of his day knew.
His gifts were a swift perception of occasion and a sense of humour.
He was a padre who could make one laugh when really you wanted to cry, yet his care for people was not paramount to his projection of the Gospel.
His belief that the Gospel has to be caught before it can be taught took hold of him as a boy at the Cathedral School at Exeter, where he first set his sights on the priesthood.
He attended King’s College, Taunton, and carried out his National Service as a combatant officer with 1st Battalion the South Wales Borderers in Malaya in the mid-1950s, during the communist insurgency.
King’s College, London, and ordination at the hands of Bishop Mervyn Stockwood preceded a curacy at St Helier’s, Southwark, before he joined the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department in 1966.
He made his mark in every post, the easy fluency of his preaching hiding the meticulous care of his research and preparation.
He was appointed OBE for his service as principal chaplain of the 2nd Armoured Division in Germany, 1981-83.
Traditionally the chaplain general, almost invariably an Anglican, is also the archdeacon to the Army, but the post was held by a Church of Scotland minister on Roblin’s appointment as deputy, hence he became the archdeacon.
He was also Queen’s honorary chaplain from 1989 to 1993, archdeacon emeritus from 1994, a Freeman of the City of London and honorary chaplain to the Royal Tank Regiment.
On leaving the Army in 1993 he became vicar of Bere Regis and Affpuddle with Turnerspuddle until 2001, when he moved with his wife to Yetminster in Dorset. There he kept up his ministry.
He is survived by his wife, Penelope, and by a son and daughter.
The Ven Graham Roblin, OBE, Deputy Chaplain General, 1989-93, was born on August 18, 1937.
He died on December 4, 2005, aged 68.
The Bere Regis & Affpuddle Parish Magazine
The Venerable Graham Roblin
For Graham: a sermon at the Requiem Eucharist and Funeral Service at Sherborne Abbey for The Venerable Graham Roblin, preached by Canon Eric Woods, Vicar of Sherborne, Saturday 16 December 2005
In the time of Francis of Assisi, a lad joined the Order the saint had founded, longing to become a friaf' preacher himself.
For the first few months he was put to work in the kitchen, and fretted with impatience at not being taught how to preach.
Eventually, however, Francis himself drew him to one side and asked him if he would like to go into the town with him to preach.
The boy's heart was full as they set out, but soon his impatience began to rise again.
First they stopped along the way to see a man whose son needed work.
Then they called on an old woman who was sick and lonely.
The saint spent a long time greeting folk they met on the road, and peasants working in the fields.
Once they arrived in the town, the first task was to see a merchant about a post for the son.
Then they begged food for the brothers at home.
In the market place, Francis was stopped by all manner of people, and had a kind word for all, including comfort for some and advice for others.
Finally Francis turned to the lad and suggested that it was time to return to the friary.
'But Brother Francis', burst out the boy in an agony of frustration, `when are we going to preach?'
The saint slipped his arm about him. 'Why, my brother, we have been preaching all the time.'
We have all been to funerals and memorial services - many of them - when the shades of Eamon Andrews (that dates me!) or Michael Aspel have hovered in the pulpit, with their Big Red Book.
Graham would have none of it for his service today.
'Leave me out of it' was one of his last orders. Well, Graham, I was never in the army, (though for ten years, as Vicar of Wroughton in Wiltshire, I was a Temporary Officiating Chaplain RAF at the late-lamented hospital whenever the padre was away), so I don't have to obey that particular command. And in one sense, how could I?
But as a priest who believes, as you believed, that a Christian funeral should be about our Resurrection hope, I know what you meant, and as one of your army of friends I will honour the spirit of that last wish, if not the letter.
Letters! So many of them. You, one of the humblest of men (I've not met many humble archdeacons in my time, but you were certainly one of them) - you would not have believed the avalanche of letters that would descend on Penny and the family when news spread of your passing.
I have been privileged to read some of them, and I mean privileged.
They all paint the same picture, of a man who believed that the Gospel must be caught before it is taught, and who was highly infectious, contagious, with it.
I think young people would say (though I can never keep up with their rapidly changing idioms) that you 'walked the talk'.
Not a bad epitaph, that. I'd be more than happy if they could put on my headstone 'He walked the talk'.
They can certainly put it on yours.
On the whole, though, I think I'd borrow - from a 1 Th century headstone in the churchyard at Wroughton - another epitaph for you.
It is to one John Duck, who died in the year of the Great Fire of London, and who Lived well to die never;
Died well to live ever.
That's what the letters say, too.
'He remained true to his calling at all times; as a faithful servant of the Church he resolutely upheld its traditions and teachings, despite what others might say or do...people and their needs were always top of his agenda, and many will have their own special reason to be grateful to him.' 'Ever cheerful, kind and considerate almost to a fault, he was that rare commodity: a truly good man.' 'The force of his personality, his kindness and his great humanity made an instant impact and we so loved his twinkling humour and those laughing eyes.
I remember thinking that I must listen so carefully to everything he said - wishing so much to learn from him how to approach life as he did with his generosity, his wisdom and always with that sense of understanding and fun.' 'As he grew in stature in his priesthood, he had a profound and significant influence over the personalities and families with whom he came into contact.
So many people will remember him with deep affection, love and gratitude for all the spiritual care, devotion and support he gave them over their individual, and often difficult, situations.'
From the age of eight, Graham, you knew you were destined to be ordained. From your earliest years at the Cathedral School at Exeter, that was your vocation. At King's College, Taunton, that was your vocation. During National Service, commissioned into the South Wales Borderers and serving in Malaya during the emergency, that was your vocation.
It took you to King's College, London, and a post-graduate year at St Boniface College, Warminster; ordination at the hands of Bishop Mervyn Stockwood; a curacy in South London.
It took you into the Royal Army Chaplains' Department for 26 years:
Singapore, Malaya, Germany, Warminster, Sandhurst, Germany again, Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, Germany once more, Bagshot, Germany again, and then again. Bagshot again.
The man with the Big Red Book is getting nearer! Assistant Chaplain General.
Deputy Chaplain General. Archdeacon for the Army. Queen's Honorary Chaplain. OBE.
Always a parish priest at heart, you rejoiced to serve for nine years as a Rector of Bere Regis and Affpuddle with Turnerspuddle.
Then the all-too-short retirement at Yetminster, still a priest for many, in parish and deanery and beyond.
And still in military harness too, to the end, as Honorary Chaplain to the Royal Tank Regiment. `Leave me out of it.'
Yes, but Graham, if I leave you out of it, what about Penny and Catherine and David and all the rest of your wonderful, loving family, who were so much there for you in those last days? I'm sorry, old friend; you can't have it both ways.
You can't have the family in the frame, as it were, and you out of it.
Back to the letters again: 'He devoted his life to his Ministry, and how wonderful for you both that you found each other ...You were perfect for each other.'
He would have been the first to admit that he could not have attempted [so much] without your love and support.
You were constantly at his side.
As a team you have been an example and encouragement to all of us.' 'He died, as he would have wanted, at the lovely home you both created, surrounded by his beloved family and at peace with himself.'
That's better. I can hear you saying it.
Talk to them about dying, by all means.
This is Your Life was never interested in dying.
I had the inestimable privilege of ministering to you in your last days, Graham, and I know that you were not afraid.
As another of those letters put it, In his approach to death Graham was sharing with us the most profound experience that, one day, we each have to face.
I think you would have been glad to hear that.
A priest in your dying, as in your' living: a man who lived well to die never, died well to live ever.
Or, as perhaps the most moving letter of all puts it - and I do hope that its author will not be unhappy to hear his words replayed, as it were:
I have tried to be a Christian for many years.
That means I have struggled to believe that death is not the end and that suffering and disappointment and failure are part of God and therefore OK. ! have kind of preached that - but I have always felt a bit, well, it's easy to say you believe this stuff if it is not imminent. When 1 spoke to Graham he told me he had no fear of death and that he felt he could cope - and he knew he was in 'deep trouble'.
1 found that immensely important.
I felt that if he could hold on in the dark maybe t will be able to.
It is possible.
I hope and pray he was able to hold on - but even if at the end he was overpowered by this world (Jesus seems to have been) he did believe when he knew he was dying.
That is so important to me.
Soon it will be Christmas, and Christmas without Graham will be hard for you, Penny, for Catherine and David, and for all the family. But what a wonderful time to be giving thanks for a Christian man.
For Christmas is about God entering into the stuff and substance of our lives, about Christ coming into life as part of an ordinary human family; of his coming, the Son of God, as a little baby-thing who made a woman cry.
It is about God reaching out to us, not just for a moment but always, in every detail of life, including life's last moments on this earth.
Above all it is about God reaching out to us in the hidden places of our hearts.
Christ stands at the door of your heart, and longs to be invited in.
To be invited in, not as a momentary guest, but to live for ever with you and in you, as your brother and as your Saviour and as your friend.
Graham Roblin knew that and believed that with every fibre of his being.
He ` knew too that Jesus Christ brings no cheap grace.
Problems do not go away, j sorrows do not disappear.
But they are shared. In our weakness we discover ' God's strength.
In our loneliness we discover his presence.
And Graham knew and accepted the challenge Christ brings: a challenge to riskier and more glorious living, a challenge to deeper love and, yes, greater vulnerability; a challenge to new heights and depths of life.
Which is why I know he would want to finish, not with the closing of the Big Red Book, but with a question.
All of this is God's gift to you, as it was to Graham.
A gift of love and a gift of hope.
Graham accepted it, with an open heart.
Will you accept God's gift of himself to you, with all that that entails?
He is here now: the child in the manger, the crucified Lord, the risen Saviour with arms outstretched to you.
God's gift of himself - to you.
Graham dared to say 'yes' to Christ.
He lived that 'yes' until his dying day.
He lives it still.