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How did the Salvos end up in 'Tulla'?

Airport chaplain17 November 2015

Throughout the world there are more than 180 international airports and, as mentioned in the first article, the flight from Melbourne to Sydney is billed as the third-busiest passenger ‘commute’ in the world.

When e-connect caught up with Winton he was just back from a five-day multi-faith IACAC* conference in ‘Noo Yawk’, where he’d caught up with 75 of his 350 fellow airport chaplains from around the globe.

Airports are a growth industry, in terms of chaplaincy. He marries and buries; celebrates and consoles, counsels and cheers up his sizeable flock.  (The airport has an annual growth of 8% for the international business, and 3% for domestic business.)

But how exactly did Winton land in this ‘high flying’ gig in the first place?

Major Winton Knop, airport chaplain

‘I was the assistant secretary for personnel and the secretary to the appointments council for the territory when we were asked, through Major Ray Begley in what was then the programme department, to put an industrial chaplain in place at the airport,’ he recalls. ‘I happily put my hand up and it was approved. So it was serendipity in one sense, but also God’s timing.’

The chaplaincy role had been a non-event since it was laid down by Anglican priest, Rev Peter Holloway**, a Kokoda veteran who’d been the full-time chaplain since the early ’70s. It was Peter’s daughter, Mary Holloway, one of Winton’s teammates***, who’d helped press the need for return of chaplains to ‘Tulla’ after a 12-year gap and a drying up of funds.

So Winton started to serve others and, significantly, build relationships, on 1 April 2011.

Like St Paul, he and his colleagues have done their best to be ‘all things to all people’, serving both ‘landside’ (pre-security and customs) and ‘airside’ (post-customs, in a sterile environment). 

‘Everything is up for grabs,’ he explains to e-connect. ‘And one issue we are constantly aware of now is human trafficking. In instances where we are concerned that people may be entering the country to live in slavery or servitude, we look for signs of control and coercion. This can be difficult and we have to be aware of cultural sensitivities.’

For a multi-faith operation, Winton and his team happily do their best to serve anyone in need. The airport has a multi-faith prayer room, and it is hoped that, in the future, more extensive prayer facilities may be available both landside and airside.  

‘The hope is to have a private, devotional space that can provide an atmosphere where people can pray, contemplate their lives and seek a sense of peace, ‘he explains. ‘Some airports have regular chapel services and larger facilities and we don’t know what the future holds for us here in Melbourne.’

Somewhat ironically, Winton concedes ‘I am not a great flyer myself, the jetlag gets me’.  The empathy stands him in good stead.

In 2012, Winton received both the state and the national Institute of Australia awards for ‘customer service professional of the year’. He had felt great compassion for Billy, a confused, dementia-suffering Glaswegian who had flown out to Australia with little preparation or support. ‘It was amazing that he got this far,’ Winton says.

Customs and Qantas called on his services, and Winton spent a week with the man, getting Billy safely ‘home’ to the UK, as his carer.

After subsequently being nominated and winning the awards, Winton says ‘it was just a natural thing to do’. But when you compare and contrast with a previous experience of that same dementia sufferer – who had flown to and from the ’States and subsequently received a bill for US$45,000 – Winton’s selflessness shines through.

‘This can be tiring work, and I am starting to slow down,’ Winton laughs, ‘but I love this work. With the help of my team I help bring people to faith, I provide kindness in unkind times. I would love to see my time out here, in terms of my officership, because of the depth of relational connections we have established over years.

‘Experience helps to mature your chaplaincy and your service; it establishes you as a reliable, available, resourceful servant who you can trust with a confidence. You care for people who are sometimes, understandably, feeling “feral” or “ropeable”. You spend a lot of time in the arrivals hall and provide interest and care.’

Winton reminds e-connect that flights aren’t always undertaken for fun. Those who are escaping Family and Domestic Violence, or travelling to and from funerals, or on high pressure business trips that make or break careers, or are leaving loves ones – it’s a long list of people ‘who are besides themselves because of the sheer anxiety of putting so much at stake, emotionally and financially’.

‘Travel is volatile,’ he says bluntly. ‘Things go wrong.

‘People wear their stresses on their faces and in how they carry their shoulders. “Life” happens to us all, and it doesn’t matter whether we are high flyers or strugglers – we can all end up in the same situations. In this chaplaincy, we aim to shine some light and make the process less painful.’

* IACAC is the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains.
** www.patricklindsay.com.au/blog/2013/6/14/rev-peter-holloway-warrior-priest
*** Winton and Mary are joined by retired Salvation Army officers Lieut-Colonels Graeme and Helen McClimont and Sharon Chowdary, a lady with a Buddhist background who speaks several languages.