THE Rev Andy McMullon has survived war zones and supported a congregation through the dark days of a national miners’ strike.

But as the new vicar at St Andrew’s Church in Sedbergh, the grand-father has a new set of challenges.

Originally from Pres-ton, Mr McMullon has spent the last 23 years serving as a chaplain, or padre, in the RAF.

But with his official discharge from the service next month, he is coming back to the town he first visited as a geology student in 1976.

“It was the last really long, hot summer, and the year I married my wife Lorraine,” he said. “It was great tramping around the hills and fells and getting to know the countryside.”

He then studied at St John’s Theological Col-lege in Nottingham and completed his curacy in the South Yorkshire vil-lage of Stainforth.

“It was quite a deprived area and it was during the infamous miners’ strike,” he said. “That was quite an interesting first test of my ministry, with all the bitterness and anguish it caused.”

He returned to Lanc-ashire to take up a post at the Church of the Redeemer in the Shadsworth area of Blackburn, where he also served as chaplain at the nearby Queens Park Hospital.

After joining the RAF, his service as a padre took him around the UK and on operational tours. He was in Northern Ireland for three years and the Falkland Islands for four months. He also completed three tours of Afghanistan and one of Iraq.

“I had a great time in the RAF but it was time to do something different,” he said.

“Sedbergh is a lovely town and has a real sense of community. I like the fact that St Andrew’s has such good ecumenical links with the United Reformed Church, Catholics and Methodists after I was so used to working with other faith colleagues in the RAF.”

Mr McMullon said his vision for the church was to enhance its links with the community, as well as other churches, adding: “I’ll be doing a lot of listening and want the church to serve the people here.”

Mr McMullon and his wife Lorraine have four grown-up children, and have brought their dog Bailey to Sedbergh.

And the vicar said he was already being made to feel at home.

He said: “After I’d been here a week the RAF had checked in on me twice with the Hercules going down the valley from Kirkby Stephen.”