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Listening ears, open hearts – chaplains gather

24 April 2018

More than a hundred Salvation Army chaplains and those ‘with a heart for chaplaincy ministry’ met for a teaching and networking event at Eva Burrows College in Ringwood (Vic.) on Monday,Tuesday, 19,20 March.

Delegates included chaplains who work with social program residents and clients, members of the armed forces, court attenders, prisoners, FDV survivors, hospital and hospice patients, survivors of natural disasters and traumatic events, airline travellers and airport employees, students, employees, Salvos Stores customers, Employment Plus staff, young people, and retired Salvation Army officers, etc.
Click here for the report

Chaplaincy event

Attendees were welcomed to the event by Australia Southern territorial chaplaincy coordinator Major Beth Roberts, who acknowledged the Indigenous ownership of the land and paid her respects to Aboriginal elders for their stewardship.

Chaplaincy is connecting with others, Major Roberts shared in her opening address, and ‘making connections is a natural outcome of being available to people in need. Just “being there” is valuable, beyond what we realise, as that act of availability builds up connection. We connect through the everyday conversations, and we build trust.

‘We accept people for who they are, without judgment or discrimination,’ she added. ‘For some people, that kind of acceptance has not happened much in their lives.’

The major called on all present to recognising the inherent capacity of chaplains to engage in spiritual conversations – not to proselytise, but to give hope and, in some cases, open the way to sharing spiritual perspectives.

‘We all cherish spiritual conversations, which allow us to connect with a person on a deeper level,’ she added. ‘People expect that there is a spiritual side to you, if you are a chaplain, and they are often searching for comfort and for answers. Their conversations show they want to find a higher power that they can trust, also.’

The major stressed the essential aspects of stillness, of nature, and of communicating with God, the better to restore the chaplains’ resources so they can be available to respond to those to whom they minister.

The chaplains then welcomed keynote speaker Rabbi Gabbi Sar-Shalom, who spoke powerfully and humorously about the role of prayer in emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health, in a presentation entitled ‘Seeking connection with spirituality – prayer in chaplaincy’.

At the Monday evening dinner, some chaplains shared stories of connection with clients (a primary role of chaplains), which brought about hope and positive outcomes.

On the second day of the chaplaincy event, one of the guest speakers was national secretary for mission Lieut-Colonel Lyn Edge, who spoke about ‘why chaplaincy matters’.

‘All ministry needs to be contextual,’ the lieut-colonel later told e-connect. ‘Communication works best when we have shared meaning, and so for us today, understanding the Australian context is key.

‘Data from the recent National Census is a good place for us to start and know the communities in which we work. As chaplains, our role is to engage with people where they are at, often in difficult places. How might we as chaplains engage with Australia today?’


The lieut-colonel saw chaplaincy as: nurturing and celebrating diversity; nurturing connection with God by being ‘whispers to the soul’ of Australians; connecting people to communities where people can belong, know and be known; and being both prophetic voices and caregivers.

‘We appreciated Lyn’s presentation, which was excellent,’ said Major Roberts. ‘She is a good communicator and she connected well with the chaplains and affirmed chaplaincy as a ministry.’

Topics covered in combined sessions and electives included: social justice, reflective practice, self-care and self-knowledge, grief and loss, AOD and gambling addictions, loneliness, and community engagement. Elective presenters included Majors Sandy Crowden, Cathy Elkington and Christine Faragher, Kathryn Wright (Australia Southern territorial AOD director), Dr Fiona Gardner (coordinator of La Trobe University Bendigo’s department of social work), Olivia Smith (actor and diploma in yoga teaching graduate), Colleen Morris (founder and director of Watersedge Counselling), Bruce Claridge (Sports Chaplaincy Australia’s Victorian country manager), and practitioners from The Salvation Army’s Melbourne Counselling Service.     

Looking back on the event, Major Roberts said she believed ‘there was a good vibe, and a marked appreciation of the opportunity to come together to network and to develop professionally. The balance between “spiritual feeding” and professional development was finely calibrated, and people could choose to pursue exactly what they needed through the electives.’

On the following Wednesday, a national chaplaincy consultation was held, discussing where and how chaplaincy would function. It was coordinated by Captain Stuart Glover, the national mission department head of community engagement.

‘We began the process of departmental design for a national approach to chaplaincy,’ the captain explained. ‘This was a listening exercise to get a better understanding of how chaplains currently operate across both existing territories, and across many different situations. This won't be the end of the consultation, but it provided a good input into the design process.’