The chaplain of Glasgow International Airport is calling time on 10 incredible years of living out his “dream job”.
Commissioner Keith Banks of the Salvation Army has been a pillar of support to many of the 4,500 employees – and the 30,000 passengers who pass through every day. On his walk around the airport – he can clock up three miles on a busy day – Keith is stopped by everyone, from police officers to cabin crew returning from overseas. He’s also been on hand to respond to calls for assistance, from an individual to the demands of a major incident, offering assistance to distressed passengers and supporting family members.
Despite officially retiring as a Salvation Army officer in 2009, the 76-year-old (77 on November 5, 2019) has remained on active duty to lead the chaplaincy team at the airport.But on Friday (June 28) he’ll leave all that behind to begin a new chapter in his life – one that should be a little less hectic.
Born in Reading, and now living in Inverkip, Keith joined the Salvation Army as a teenager, inspired by his parents and grandparents who took him along to services throughout his childhood. He was commissioned as an officer in 1964 at the age of 20 and in the years that followed, he led the Salvation Army’s work in Papa New Guinea and was part of the leadership team in Japan.
Keith revealed he’d always wanted to be an airport chaplain – even as far back as the eighties when he told his wife Pauline that the only thing he wanted to do when he officially retired was to be the chaplain at Glasgow Airport. Incredibly his wish came true in 2009 but it was a bittersweet moment for Keith who was still mourning the death of Pauline six months earlier.
He reckons though she would have been “singing and rejoicing in heaven” when he got the job and said: “She knew how passionate I was about this role and being in the airport.
“I’ve had a fantastic life as a Salvation Army officer, stretching over many years. But being the chaplain at Glasgow Airport really has been the icing on the cake. This is the dream job.
“I couldn’t believe it when I had a phone call one day and the person said: ‘We’ve heard about you, would you like to be a chaplain?’ And when I asked where, they said Glasgow Airport. Unbelievable; God’s fingerprints were all over it really. I love the magic of airports and aviation. The airport is like a mini city, a microcosm of the world and all human life is here. And our prayer room, our chaplaincy, is at the heart of it. I'm also fortunate that I get so much support from the management here, who trust me to do my job. That means a lot to me.”
In 2010, Keith introduced the Chaplain’s Charity, which has raised almost £60,000 for organisations such as The Teddy Bear Foundation, British Heart Foundation (Scotland), CHAS, Robin House Children’s Hospice, Teenage Cancer Trust, the Salvation Army, Wish upon a Star, Make a Wish and Children 1st. This year Keith was recognised for his chaplaincy and charity work at the Scottish Transport Awards where he received a standing ovation as he collected the Lifetime Contribution award. As a church minister, Keith sees his role as a chaplain as putting his “faith in action”.
Being the ‘church in the airport’ I have endeavoured to live my faith by who I am”, he says. “You can’t carry banners and shout about your faith from the top of every escalator or stairwell. That’s not me anyway. That’s not the way I do it. I believe very much in an incarnational ministry, which means that my experience of God, my devotion to Him and my commitment to Christ must show through who I am and the way I do what I do.
“So I just hope the dimension of faith in my life has been perceived by the way I’ve done my job and by laughter when it’s been appropriate and my concern when it’s been appropriate.”
The Managing Director of Glasgow Airport Mark Johnston paid tribute to Keith for his care for staff and passengers, and said:
“Keith has made a huge impact at Glasgow Airport. He really is part of the fabric about everything that is good about the airport. He’s made many friends and supported countless passengers and colleagues throughout all the years he has been here and we will miss him dearly.
“I can honestly say Keith is the kindest person I have ever met. That’s why people move towards him. He’s like a magnet for people. He walks through the terminal and people want to speak to him and it’s because they know he’s such a supportive human being and that he’s always there for everyone.”
The Salvation Army’s chaplaincy team has undergone big changes in recent months, following the death of volunteer chaplain Jim McDonald last month (May) and assistant chaplain Captain Stephen Baker moving to a new role in Milton Keynes. However, Keith is confident the new-look team of Major Chris Connolly as airport chaplain and Major David Wing as his assistant will, with the help of volunteer support chaplains, serve the airport well.
Keith said: “I’m delighted that I’m being succeeded by Chris and David. I prepared Chris for his entry into the training college when I was the Candidates Secretary in Scotland so I’ve known him for a long time.
“And when I was the senior training officer at the Salvation Army training college, David was a cadet and I was his training officer.
“So it’s good to have that link with them both, not that it influenced the fact that they’re coming. That’s really quite coincidental. I’m delighted they’re coming and I’m very confident they are going to continue the good work.”