Your church in action: Chaplains there for everyone

Local chaplains: Sue Ortiger, Gunnedah; Charmaine Alley, Bullimbal and Parry; Narelle Pfeiffer, Coonabarabran; Liz Grosser, Boggabri; Clare Cherry, Walgett; Jenni Chiswell, Duri; Tom Magill, Oxley Vale.
Local chaplains: Sue Ortiger, Gunnedah; Charmaine Alley, Bullimbal and Parry; Narelle Pfeiffer, Coonabarabran; Liz Grosser, Boggabri; Clare Cherry, Walgett; Jenni Chiswell, Duri; Tom Magill, Oxley Vale.

Whoever said that school days are the happiest days of your life may have only got it half right. Certainly there are many happy memories in the old school scrapbook, but it can also be a bumpy ride.

Schools are aware of that and work hard to put programs in place to guard the wellbeing of students and staff.

In 2007, Prime Minister John Howard saw that schools had a huge welfare need and were often expected to pick up the tab for the breakdown of the family. Some schools were seeing a counsellor for as little as half an hour a week.

He unveiled a bold vision to put chaplains in schools. It wasn’t without its share of controversy, but he stuck to his guns and the National Schools Chaplains Program was born.

Our chaplain is a point of contact with parents and the wider community.

That was five prime ministers ago. School chaplains is now in its 11th year and has proven itself to be a winner. In that time, chaplains have become a highly coveted resource. There is not enough funding for every school that wants a chaplain and it’s a big disappointment for the ones that miss out.

In the words of one local principal: “I first viewed the scheme with a fair amount of scepticism. Then I went to a principal’s conference and everyone was absolutely raving about how good chaplains are.”

A chaplain is there to provide pastoral care and general spiritual, social and emotional comfort to all students, irrespective of their own faith or beliefs. This may include support or guidance regarding ethics, values, relationships and spiritual issues. All programs are voluntary. They are experienced, qualified and undergo professional development in line with the department’s requirements. 

These are not preachers, they are doers. It may be the little girl who can’t let go of mum’s hand on the first day, or a boy who needs some time out. A chaplain may work in timetabled classes or take a referral for a chat or some one-to-one reading.

A chaplain’s clientele is not just the students. There is a ministry to staff members who need a sympathetic ear or a parent who is confused about some aspect of school procedure.

Chaplains may also organise courses in resilience, self-esteem, anger management or leadership. 

The last few years have seen in excess of 20 chaplains in the district. Last week, many of them gathered for an in-service day at Gunnedah to share notes and sharpen their effectiveness.

One chaplain reported that her first act each day was to call in on the deputy principal to discuss the state of the nation and pick up a list of students who were on the radar for one reason or another.

Many chaplains have connections with other community groups and are able to draw on these networks

Local chaplains have taken students to hospital; sat with parents working through grief, driven the school bus. Last week a chaplain killed a snake in the playground!

One principal remarked: “Our chaplain is a point of contact with parents and the wider community. Whether or not people relate to churches, the chaplain is there for everybody and is an integral part of our learning and support team.”

There will be some anxious eyes looking at the May federal budget.