B8 Defence Force Chaplaincy


Defence Force Chaplaincy is a ministry of the Church, Holy Scripture and the Basis of Union, which commits the Uniting Church (UCA) “to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself” (paragraph 3). Military Chaplains fulfil this remit of our Lord, in responding to God’s call in Christ to use their diverse gifts and graces in a secular and particular context. Defence Force Chaplaincy is one part of the ministry of the Church.

Currently 46 Uniting Church Chaplains serve the Australian Defence Force (ADF) both in a full-time and part-time capacity. A further two Chaplains are in the recruitment stage and six others are in various stages of their training.


The parent committee for Defence Force Chaplaincy representing respective religions and denominations across Australia is the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS). Through various iterations this body has been and is, the committee overseeing governance of chaplaincy in the ADF. RACS has existed for over a century. The UCA is a signatory to the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the Commonwealth, through Defence, and the National Heads of Churches and religions throughout Australia. The Convener of the Defence Force Chaplains Committee (DFCC) represents the Uniting Church on that board. Currently RACS convenes four times per year in Canberra. RACS has sought to be representative of the current sociology of Australia, so in recent years other denominations and religions have been added to the Committee. In accordance with the Chief of Defence Force’s (CDF) intent, two women have been added to RACS to address gender issues and to contribute to the work of the Committee.   The Uniting Church RACS member chairs this committee on a rotation basis.


The Defence Force Chaplains Committee is the formal conduit within the wider Church. The Committee is comprised of serving Chaplains, both full-time and reservists.  Further, the Committee convenes in Canberra four times per year, under the Chair, Navy Chaplain Rev. David Thiem.


Military chaplains have to work hard to retain and maintain their relationship with the wider Church.   Working in a secular and particular environment it has always been a challenge for chaplains to keep wisely connected with the civilian church, for several reasons. While ADF Chaplains are an Assembly appointment, their primary relationship is within the Synods. Thus the Assembly does not “see” the Chaplains by dint of location and membership, while Synods are reserved in incorporation as Chaplains are viewed as Assembly appointments and not “their” responsibility. As duty calls attending Synods and Presbyteries is irregular, and even in attending councils of the Church, ADF Chaplains are not always warmly welcomed in uniform.

The DFCC is the formal connection to the wider church. This Committee is, however, distant to many Chaplains and worship and belonging is within a local church or base chapel. Military chaplains often feel not welcomed in congregations, again for several reasons. In part this is because the secular location of ADF Chaplaincy brings an inevitable disjunct in world views. Also full-time Chaplains often speak of complete dislocation between where they minister and what is going on in the congregation. Local clergy infer that ADF Chaplains cannot understand the local congregation and the Chaplains from their side agree. This is not a new insight, it applies to many equivalent ministries, but it needs to be acknowledged. Part of the expectation of the DFCC is a strong commitment to weekly worship and participation in the wider church, amid the many impediments of ecclesiastical and defence life.

The Church could use ADF Chaplaincy better to support local Congregations, in particular Reserve Chaplains. Reserve (part-time) Chaplains could be utilised to fill a part-time settlement, to create a full-time position. Local churches can get reimbursement from the ADF for their minister to work for a month on a base backfilling a deployment, through the Defence Reserves Support (DRS) Employer Support Payment Scheme. This scheme enables Reserve Chaplains to be away from their workplace for a period and DRS will reimburse the church for a replacement during that period.


Of all ministries, ADF Chaplaincy is completely ecumenical. On recruitment, Chaplains are posted to units, bases and ships to work with Chaplains of many other denominations and religions. Training at the Chaplains College in Canberra, at all ranks, is wholly ecumenical amid a diversity of training, theology and thought. Often there is more agreement across denominations, than within specific faith groups. The opportunity for ecumenical ministry with the Defence Force Chaplaincy is available, comprehensive and encouraged.


The wider church acknowledges the support of spouses and families in the ministry of Defence Force Chaplaincy. While similar to civilian ministry, military chaplaincy both frees and constrains families in the exercise of their lives. The immediacy of military chaplaincy, the uncertainty of postings, the disruption of schooling and the unspoken nature of Defence Force Chaplaincy in a troubled world, all weigh on family life. The DFCC acknowledges the unrecognised support of spouses and families.


The ADF seeks more female Chaplains. The ADF is committed to and its practice reflects an acknowledgement of the specific issues that confront women in being recruited to Defence Force Chaplaincy. The CDF has personally addressed the constraints, structures and culture surrounding female chaplaincy. Air Marshall Mark Binskin as CDF has established particular committees, identified specific personnel and provided finance to enable more women to be recruited, sustained and included within the respective chaplaincy branches and throughout the wider ADF.

This does not mean all is well within ADF Chaplaincy. However, the issues are known and every effort, within the constraints, is being exercised in meeting CDF’s intent. Medical standards, expected fitness, physical strength, age restraints and experience are but some of the criteria restricting all recruiting. Of all the denominations and religions, the UCA has the greatest number of female Defence Force Chaplains. UCA female Chaplains have significantly shaped current ADF Chaplaincy.


Recruitment of Chaplains is a constant task for the whole Church. All ADF Chaplains are potential recruiting agents. The UCA recruits Chaplains by invitation and by inquiry. The ADF seek specifically female Chaplains and are flexible in acknowledging particular structural issues that make it difficult for women to join the ADF. Currently Air Force has 13 female Chaplains out of a compliment of 32 full-time Chaplains. Navy find it particularly difficult to recruit and retain female Chaplains. The prospect of nine months at sea is daunting for all Chaplains, but for women in particular such a commitment is difficult to envisage for many reasons. Fitness, age and suitability are part of the call to military chaplaincy. Willingness to serve anywhere in the world, preparedness to be deployed at any moment, capacity to deconstruct a context from a Christian understanding, an acute conscience, a strong and informed faith, situational awareness and a family capable of being posted every two to three years remain recruitment foci. Given current sociology, many serving personnel including Chaplains, are categorised MWD(U), married unaccompanied.


Currently ordination is a primary criterion to be recruited as an Uniting Church Defence Force Chaplain. This has been a longstanding policy and it has quarantined Defence Force Chaplains from ill-discipline through accountability. (Chaplains in the military are not perceived as equivalent to civilian clergy by uniformed personnel. Somehow being in uniform has made a difference to how Chaplains are perceived.) Recent decisions by other religious bodies recruiting Chaplains do not require ordination. Some denominations and religions do not have ordination as a concept.

Thought has been given to recruiting “non-affiliated” Chaplains to the ADF. These Chaplains would have no ecclesiastical oversight. There is pressure from the ADF to recruit Chaplains from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background. Ordination, however understood, is deemed not to be able to produce sufficient Chaplains to meet these requirements. Should the UCA consider non-ordained Chaplains for military chaplaincy? It could be the case in the future that the UCA will forfeit positions if it cannot meet current criteria from ordained ranks.


Since the Fourteenth Assembly, multi-faith Defence Force Chaplaincy has developed considerably. While there have been Jewish Chaplains in the Australian Defence Force for over a century, of late the formal acceptance of other religions on RACS and with that, the appointment of other than Christian Chaplains has been formalised. Currently, Jewish and Muslim Chaplains are serving the ADF. Buddhist representatives are being sought, with Sikh recognition being acknowledged through lay identification.

Identifying a national representative body of various religions is a requirement of multi-faith chaplaincy. This is important to good governance as with Christian denominations; especially post the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Minority Christian denominations are seeking representation in Defence Force Chaplaincy also.


The Commonwealth Government is committed to international engagement. The recent Defence White Paper reflects the Government’s intent. Consequently the demand for Chaplains and chaplaincy is undiminished. The ADF is diligent in providing Chaplains on ships, in the field and on bases. In bearing witness to Christ, UCA Chaplains continue to serve internationally.


Currently three UCA Chaplains are deployed. Most overseas deployments are for six to nine months. The responsibilities on deployment represent more layers to what is already a complex ministry. Usually in military chaplaincy, there are several levels of command to which a Chaplain is accountable. On deployment another series of levels of pastoral responsibility are added within the Australian Command, combined to which are other defence forces, coalition chaplains, different cultures, isolation, dust and vast oceans. Since the Fourteenth Assembly Chaplains Murray Lund, Maumau Monu, Christine Senini, Alamoti Lavaki, Andrew Watters, Robyn Kidd, Steve Estherby, Janice McWhinney, Charles Vesely, Dean Quilty and Alan Williams, have represented the Uniting Church on overseas deployments.


As part of ADF Chaplaincy a committee of Protestant RACS members and Navy, Army and Air Force Directors-General (Protestant) meet on a regular basis to represent and advance Protestant interests, coordinate the annual Protestant Retreat, and specifically support Protestant Chaplains across Navy, Army and Air Force. One initiative has been to better reflect Protestant representation in the (joint) Duntroon Chapel with a new banner reflecting Protestant chaplaincy.


One force-multiplier to UCA Chaplaincy within the ADF is reserve or part-time Chaplains. Reservists serve two worlds. Most reservists have a settlement and work as a part time Chaplain on a regular basis, for example, every Thursday. The ADF will negotiate a plan that meets the Chaplain’s requirements and circumstances, so great is the demand for Reserve Chaplains. Some Reservists deploy for periods of up to six months. Further, Reserve Chaplains bring wisdom to both the military and civilian worlds. Part-time chaplaincy can be a great blessing to a civilian parish, not just in terms of providing finance to enable a settlement to continue, but in bringing a different world view to both spheres of ministry. The church is well served and indeed blessed by the commitment of the many Uniting Church Reserve Chaplains.


As ADF Chaplains are an Assembly appointment, governance in multiple locations, jurisdictions and circumstances make it difficult for Chaplains to be compliant with Uniting Church governance. Chaplains are, however, responsible for their own compliance and an annual data base is kept by the DFCC for accountability reasons. Checks are made on ethics training, working with vulnerable people and in particular vitality of call requirements. Vitality of Call (VOC) requirements are difficult for ADF Chaplains as Presbyteries are reluctant to effect such governance, as obviously “settlements” don’t apply to military Chaplains. The DFCC incorporates VOC discussions in post-deployment briefings. The Assembly could give consideration to an Australia-wide compliance system.


One source of ADF Uniting Church Chaplains comes from within the military. It is called the In-Service Training Scheme (ISTS). God through Christ calls Chaplains from within the military and candidates remain in the military, while they complete their theological training. The ADF supports this continuum by funding their training and two-year pastoral placement within their denomination or religion. It is not always an easy process, both for the Church or the military, however, years of experience of the military are made available to the church at no cost to the church. The ISTS is one stream of recruiting to Defence Force Chaplaincy.


All ADF Chaplains will finally discharge and leave the military. As with their contemporaries in the military this can be a significant transition for primarily permanent (full-time) Chaplains. If Chaplains have been in the military for more than ten years, they have become enjoined to a world that is quite different to the civilian life. With that the church is different than it was ten years previously and a possible disjunct may occur in reintegration back into the wider church. Often discharged Chaplains are not welcomed on return to the civilian church. This is because of who they now are as people, and because the church sometimes feels they have little to offer. Frustration can be the result for all concerned. All Chaplains considering discharge should make every effort to begin the process of reintegration into the civilian church at least 12 months before leaving active service.


Chaplain Phil Anderson, Chaplaincy HQ, R1-4-B063, Russell Offices, ACT, Army
Chaplain Mark Butler, Chaplaincy Centre, RAAF Edinburgh, RAAF
Chaplain Roger Brook, 24 Squadron, RAAF Edinburgh, RAAF
Chaplain Lindsay Carey, Chaplaincy Centre, RAAF Williams, RAAF
Chaplain Nicole Coleman, Chaplaincy Centre, Building 035, HMAS Harman, RAAF
Chaplain John Dansie, 1 Regt RAA Barce Lines Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera, Army
Chaplain Andrew Delbridge, Army School of Ordnance, Army Logistics Training Centre, Army
Chaplain Mark Dickens, 9 Brigade HQ, Keswick Barracks, Army
Chaplain Mark Dunn, 4th BDE Bldg 15, Simpson Barracks, Army
Chaplain Stephen Estherby, Building 57, HMAS Albatross, Navy
Chaplain Simote Finau, Command Chaplaincy Centre, HMAS Kuttabul, Navy
Chaplain Geoffrey Flynn, Air Force HQ, RAAF
Chaplain Leif Fungalei, 1st AVN Regt, Gaza Lines, Robertson Barracks, Army
Chaplain Norman Grandin, Chaplaincy Centre, RAAF Williamtown, RAAF
Chaplain Timothy Hodgson, Chaplains’ Centre, RAAF Edinburgh
Chaplain David Jackson, Leeuwin Barracks, Riverside Road, Fremantle, Army
Chaplain Donald Kaus, HQ Army Knowledge Centre, Puckapunyal, Army
Chaplain David Kelly, Chaplains’ Office RAAF Townsville, RAAF
Chaplain Robyn Kidd, Chaplains’ Office HMAS Harman, RAAF
Chaplain Alamoti Lavaki, HQ CATC, Bridges Barracks, Puckapunyal, Army
Chaplain Murray Lund, Level 6 FHQ HMAS Kuttabul, Navy
Chaplain John Marshall, Chaplaincy Centre HMAS Stirling, Navy
Chaplain Gregory McConnell, Chaplaincy Centre, RAAF Williamtown, RAAF
Chaplain Janice McWhinney, Chaplaincy Centre, RAAF Edinburgh, RAAF
Chaplain Maumau Monu, HQJOC, Army
Chaplain Andrew Morris, Chaplains’ Office RAAF Pearce, RAAF
Chaplain William Nicholas, 2FSB Derwent Barracks, Army
Chaplain Robert Packer, 6th Engineer Support Regiment, Zabul Lines, RAAF Amberley, Army
Chaplain Susan Page, Chaplains’ Office, RAAF Edinburgh, RAAF
Chaplain Lindsay Parkhill, HQ NT ACC BN Army
Chaplain David Prior, 1 RTB Blamey Barracks Kapooka, Army
Chaplain Dean Quilty, Chaplains’ Office, RAAF Williams, RAAF
Chaplain Andrea Robertson, Chaplains’ Office RAAF Amberley, RAAF
Chaplain Kaye Ronalds, AAC, South Queensland, Army
Chaplain Ronald Rosinsky, Fort Gellibrand, Williamstown, Army
Chaplain John Ruhle, AAC SQ HQ Enoggera Barracks, Army
Chaplain John Saunders, 1st Intelligence Battalion, Gallipoli Barracks, Army
Chaplain Anthony Shumack, Chaplaincy Centre, RAAF Amberley, RAAF
Chaplain Christine Senini, Chaplains’ Centre, RAAF Darwin, RAAF
Chaplain Matthew Stuart, G1-24 BLD 927 Robertson Barracks, Army
Chaplain David Thiem, Chaplaincy Centre, HMAS Harman, Navy
Chaplain Charles Vesely, 1 Div/DJFHQ Gallipoli Barracks Enoggera, Army
Chaplain Gary Whelband, F4-2-112 Fairbairn Defence Establishment, RAAF
Chaplain Andrew Watters, HMAS Adelaide, Fleet Base East, Navy
Chaplain Alan Williams, RAAF Base Williamtown, RAAF
Chaplain Noel Williams. F2-4-112, Defence Establishment Fairbairn, RAAF


Chaplain in the military remains a particular ministry. In fulfilling the scriptural remit of Matthew 28: 18-20, and the call from the Basis of Union, to bear witness to Christ, Uniting Church chaplains do find themselves in, “all nations”, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The opportunities for ministry in the ADF remain unique. Chaplains represent and serve the Uniting Church in locations that demand a certain commitment. They fulfil the Churches mission, in bearing witness to Christ in uniform.

Rev. Dr Murray Earl
Defence Force Chaplains Committee