Members of the defence forces can face danger, hardships and family and relationship pressures, and often encounter moral and spiritual challenges. That’s when defence chaplaincy plays a role.
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Members of the defence forces often compromise their comfort and safety in seeking to protect freedoms we as Australians and New Zealanders enjoy.
Those who have faith need to be ministered to, especially when isolated from their home church or religious community. Others may become open to faith and spiritual growth when confronted with alternative realities or removed from usual supports.
Defence chaplains provide pastoral, spiritual and religious support to people (souls) in this context. Chaplains also advocate for the powerless and speak an alternative voice to commanders.
Chaplains educate and influence commanders and troops in the reality of the spiritual dimension to life, moral consequences, the importance of character and faith, and compassion in the sacred encounters of life.
There is both challenge and fulfilment in engaging with a flock which is largely unchurched and yet working in fields in which members encounter issues with spiritual and eternal relevance. There is joy in enabling them to find a vocabulary for that experience, and in leading them into a faith journey. Most of what we do might be termed ‘pre-evangelism’, sowing seeds perhaps. Occasionally we get to see that seed germinate.
Defence service means being where the troops are. Sometimes that means involvement in military actions that chaplains – and other members – feel conflicted about. These issues need to be worked through by clergy who minister in this context and play their part in defending the nation’s interests.
Chaplains are not permitted to proselytise, and must remain respectful in supporting folk of faith in their existing spiritual journeys. So there is no ‘Bible bashing’.
Our actions and care often preach a clearer gospel than our words.
And we have opportunity to share our faith, respectfully and appropriately, in pastoral counselling encounters; character-training lessons; quiet conversations at 3.00am in the gun pit; and when members face morally and spiritually confronting situations, including the taking of life, the death of mates and their own thin grasp on life.
Even a prayer or blessing, given in response to a superstitious or talismanic request, is an opportunity to introduce people to the Lord of Life.
Pastor Darren Jaensch is the Australian Army’s Director General Chaplaincy.
If you are a pastor and believe you are gifted for this ministry, or if you feel your pastor would be well suited, contact LCA Secretary of the Church Pastor Neville Otto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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