July 2010: Chaplains
I’ve been an army chaplain full-time for 18 years. I was a reservist for a bit over a year before that when I was a Uniting Church minister on the Gold Coast.
As senior chaplain, I coordinate the chaplaincy support across the brigade which has assets all over Australia.
It’s like being a missionary in my own country to a subculture.
They’re a special bunch of people. Fairly conservative. So ceremony, and sometimes religion, is very important.
They take sending their mates off fairly seriously …
It’s amazing where you find faith — in some of the roughest diamonds.
As a chaplain, I’m available; I loiter with intent. I run field services which enable people to practise their faith where they are; to continue to worship when deployed or on exercise.
A chaplain’s job is to build relationships with people so that, when the wheels fall off their life cycle wagon, they know somebody they can turn to.
The chaplain is also a morale monitor on behalf of the commanding officer.
Most chaplains are embedded in the units and so have a very good rapport with the troops. There’s nothing the troops do that I’m not involved in — even physical exercise. This includes combat fitness tests: a 16-kilometre pack march!
I’ve always had the attitude that, if I can’t go where the troops go and do what they do, I’m not much use to them. It’s incarnational ministry; living among them and trying to show them something of God’s love.
Soldiers come face-to-face with harsh realities and these can be uncomfortable to broach. But I guess the best place for a Christian to be is not where they’re comfortable but where things are uncomfortable; where I’m challenged to think about the Christ response to a situation.
There is absolutely nothing glamorous about war. I hate it with a passion.
The psychological damage it does to some people is very, very sad.
Most Australians would be shocked to realise that we are at war with another country now, as we speak.
I’d ask Insights readers to support the soldiers, love them and pray for them because they are ordinary people, like you and me, doing their job.
If people want to get angry about war they should talk to the politicians.
The mistake of Vietnam was to blame the soldiers rather than the politicians.
What the soldiers do they do on behalf of each one of us and we are as responsible for what happens over there as the soldiers are.
[This is an edited extract from an interview with Chaplain Phil Anderson, Senior Chaplain HQ 17 CSS Brigade at Randwick Barracks by Marjorie Lewis-Jones]
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