While the fundamental principles of chaplaincy do not change, the culture in which they can be applied are diverse. There is a huge difference between a Chaplain placed in emergency services where trauma counselling is required - like the recent bushfires - compared to a professional sporting environment.
Mel*, a postgraduate student in Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care at Morling College, never knows what a day - or night - might bring her role at a juvenile detention centre. One evening she counsels 17 year old Nick* who has already threatened self-harm multiple times in the 2 hours since she started her shift.
“When I do the rounds, I’m hoping this isn’t the check where I find he has followed through,” says Mel. “He’s awake and asks me to stay and talk, saying tonight is bad.” For Nick, the prospect of leaving juvenile detention in three months’ time is not an exciting thought.
Nick has never known his dad. His mother overdosed – suspected suicide – just after he came into custody. He’s the youngest of three. His brother is serving an eight-year custodial sentence; his sister is a long term psychiatric patient. He has no visitors. Nick’s charge sheet is long and his FACS file even longer. His caseworker is trying to find accommodation for when he gets out.
“He’s old enough to live on his own now, it doesn’t matter that he has no guardian. But he wishes he did, wishes he was going home to Mum or his sister. Other than scripture classes in school - he jokes he only stayed for the lollies and then tried to get kicked out - it wasn’t until he came into custody that he connected with anyone who told him about Jesus,” said Mel.
Mel shares that often she feels inadequate trying to offer comfort and hope: “Nick is a scared kid whose life has been hard from the very beginning. When he asks questions like, “If God loves everyone, how come all this bad stuff has happened to me? How come my parents died? How come I’m all alone? I wonder what I can say. Quoting Job, Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:28 are just words to him, they are likely going to bring pain not comfort.”
Instead Mel leans on the door and nods, while he continues to talk. Like so many in the world, Nick has enough people telling him what to do. “He needs me to listen, to be present. During our conversation I reflect on his feelings of hurt, sadness and loneliness. With these heightened emotions he isn’t going to remember my perfectly worded explanation of why God is good, loves him and has a plan for his life. But he will remember that I was there, I didn’t walk away,” says Mel.
She adds: “Nick struggles to believe that a God who is good and loving could let him lead the life he has. I’m reminded that God has the perspective that I cannot see, like a child holding the hand of their parent to cross the street. My heart breaks that anyone made in the image of God, loved beyond measure, can only view themselves as hopeless.”
Mel understands that there is nothing she can say to reconcile Nick’s hurt, to take his pain away - but she has faith that God has good plans and purposes and will offer Nick a greater hope for his future. It is students like Mel who are offering hope, not with trite theological formulations, but with highly skilled training and impactful outcomes.
With the need and demand for Chaplains growing across Australia, Morling College—in partnership with BaptistCare and other industry groups—has developed a unique suite of awards in the field of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care. These are world-class awards, designed to help people become competent chaplains in a wide range of fields. Visit morling.edu.au for more information or see the advert below.
*Names changed for privacy reasons.