Here are some of the most frequently asked questions in relation to Chaplains in the Australian Defence Force.

Privacy

Your visit with a Chaplain is an opportunity to explore your needs at a base or deeper level - at times also known as ‘conversations with the soul’.

Your pastoral conversation can be intensely personal and maximum benefit is gained through mutual trust and respect for your privacy.

Chaplaincy Principles of Confidentiality

  1. Confidentiality: Each person’s privacy is respected and protected at all times.
  2. Entitlement: Members have the right to confidentiality, except where mandatory disclosure obligations exist or are identified.
  3. Autonomy: Members have the right to self-determine the dissemination of their confidential information except where legal requirements obligate disclosure to specific third parties.
  4. Boundaries: Members are to determine the boundaries of confidentiality that may require explicit consent.
  5. Collaboration: Explanation needs to be provided to members about chaplains working in teamwork and/or with other professionals.
  6. Disclosure: The release of confidential information to a third party is not-acceptable unless given explicit consent or under specific circumstances.
  7. Vulnerability: For those not capable of consent, chaplains can advocate (on the grounds of necessity) to ensure that any disclosure of information is in accordance with a member’s beliefs and values.

Information about certain intimate relationships, discussions, communication (written or verbal), or events and personal behaviours are all personal information and should be kept between you and your Chaplain.

At all times, your Chaplain will strive to maintain confidentiality*, whereby all personal information that

you give will remain confidential and not be disclosed to third parties. Your Chaplain will respect confidentiality in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles, (‘except for legal requirements).

In addition to the Australian Privacy Principles, Chaplains are also to respect, abide by and adhere to the CHAPMAN ‘Chaplaincy Principles of Confidentiality’.

You may choose, if you wish, to give permission for your Chaplain to confide with other professionals (including other chaplains) and/or other individuals for your benefit.

What are the legal restrictions?

Confidentiality in religious, pastoral and spiritual care and pastoral counselling is guaranteed except in the following circumstances:

where there is a reasonable belief that you may pose a risk to the safety of others or yourself; where there is an indication of abuse of minors; where required by law, for e.g. where ordered by a court of law or a formal inquiry process.

In these circumstances there are mandatory, legal obligations for Chaplains to disclose this information to third parties.

Chaplaincy Principles of Confidentiality

  1. Confidentiality: Each person’s privacy is respected and protected at all times.
  2. Entitlement: Members have the right to confidentiality, except where mandatory disclosure obligations exist or are identified.
  3. Autonomy: Members have the right to self-determine the dissemination of their confidential information except where legal requirements obligate disclosure to specific third parties.
  4. Boundaries: Members are to determine the boundaries of confidentiality that may require explicit consent.
  5. Collaboration: Explanation needs to be provided to members about chaplains working in teamwork and/or with other professionals.
  6. Disclosure: The release of confidential information to a third party is not-acceptable unless given explicit consent or under specific circumstances.
  7. Vulnerability: For those not capable of consent, chaplains can advocate (on the grounds of necessity) to ensure that any disclosure of information is in accordance with a member’s beliefs and values.

Confidentiality in religious, pastoral and spiritual care and pastoral counselling is guaranteed except in the following circumstances:

where there is a reasonable belief that you may pose a risk to the safety of others or yourself; where there is an indication of abuse of minors; where required by law, for e.g. where ordered by a court of law or a formal inquiry process.

In these circumstances there are mandatory, legal obligations for Chaplains to disclose this information to third parties.

Enlisting in the Defence Force

Image of Chaplain Kevin Russell Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force
by Chaplain Kevin Russell Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military? Not surprisingly, I do not hear this question very often.

 

The reason is obvious; I am a serving member of the Australian Defence Force, serving as a Chaplain.

People expect me to say yes, it is right for a Christian to serve in the military! I am perhaps seen as being biased.

 

Many of us, who are Christians, have long ago come to a thoughtful conclusion that Christians do indeed have a place within ‘the profession of arms’.

 

However, for Christians who do not serve within the military, or are considering whether or not they should serve in the military, ‘Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military?’ is a very live question.

 

Sometimes, the question is put as ‘Can a Christian serve in the military?’

 

Behind the question ‘Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military?, is I believe, two important sub-questions, ‘what is the role of the military?’ and ‘does the military serve a legitimate purpose?’ The answer to these two questions will depend on your personal situation.

 

Militaries are instruments of governments and can be used for the common good or as means of oppression. So in seeking to answer the question ‘Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military?’

 

I am writing from an Australian perspective, thinking of the Australian Defence Force as the military organisation behind the question.

 

Role

 

Military force is an instrument of the governing authority. It is clear from the bible that God has given human authority the responsibility of maintaining law and order. God clearly approves the use of force when necessary in order to restrain evil for the common good (Romans 13:1-7)

 

The Australian Defence Force is used by government for many noble purposes. The Australian Defence Force provides disaster relief in cases of foods, cyclones, tsunamis, and fires. The Australian Defence Force contributes to peacemaking and peacekeeping missions all over our region. Each of those missions presents a different moral frame for the meaning of military service. Clearly, the moral meaning of any profession is tied to what someone who joins it imagines what he or she will be doing as a result of making that choice.

 

But the core function of the Australian Defence Force, the essential reason for being, is for national defence. Fighting and winning in order to protect Australia and its interests. Put very bluntly, and very coarsely, this task can involve ‘killing people and breaking things.’

 

In the Bible...

The bible does not directly answer the question, ‘Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military?’ Rather, the bible displays an attitude towards those who are serving in the military of the day. That attitude is that a number of military members are treated with positive regard. Also, military principles are used on occasion to illustrate a deeper Christian view point as to how we should live our Christian lives.

For instance, in the New Testament, military members are referred to in the same positive way as workmen, farmers, athletes etc. For instance, the soldier is used as an example of:

 

  • Serving one’s country (1 Corinthians 9:7)
  • Standing firm (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • Fighting for what is right (1 Timothy 6:12)
  • Enduring hardship (2 Timothy 2:3)
  • Single-minded perseverance (2 Timothy 2:4)

 

Matthew writes that when Jesus met a soldier (centurion) (Matthew 8:5-13), he didn’t condemn him, rather Jesus commended his faith. Luke points out that John the Baptist reminds us of the moral responsibility of soldiership. (Luke 3:14) He does not condemn the fact that they are soldiers, but encourages them to act morally.

 

The ‘killing’ question.

 

As already mentioned, being a member of the defence force may involve ‘killing people and breaking things.’ Is this inconsistent with being a Christian? To be properly understood, there is a distinction between ‘murder’ (e.g. Exodus 20:13 – The Ten Commandments) and the legitimate taking of life in the performance of an essential service for the good of society. It’s a complex form of reasoning that depends on having a legitimate government, a legitimate cause, and being a person of good character. Noting this, all of the Roman Centurions mentioned in the New Testament are praised as God-fearers or men of good character (Matthew 8:5-13, 27:54, Mark 15:39, 44-45, Luke 7:2-10, 23:47,  Acts 10:1-48, 23:22-29, 23:23-35, 27:42-44)

 

Good Character is about service.

 

For many, being in the military is a means of serving a higher ideal. John 13:14 is a verse often associated with ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ In the minds of many people who join the Australian Defence Force is the idea that they are committing themselves to a cause larger than themselves, and to possible self-sacrifice in the defence of that cause. Hence, it is not uncommon to refer to these military members as ‘Australia’s finest’.

 

So, a member of the defence force may face special ethical challenges, but they also have unique opportunities for Christian service on behalf of the broader society and for the common good.

We have been asked if it is right for a Christian to swear an oath on the Bible when joining the Australian Defence Force.

Our answer is ‘Yes’. A Christian can swear an oath on the Bible – but we need to say why we think that this action is an appropriate thing for a Christian to do.

 

Circumstance

There are two possible types of occasions that a Christian may be asked to swear an oath on the Bible in the Australian Defence Force. The first occasion is when joining the Australian Defence Force. The other possible occasion is when giving evidence at a discipline hearing (court case).

 

In both circumstances a person is presented with a choice. You can always choose to make an affirmation instead of swearing an oath on the Bible. The difference is that when you make an affirmation, you hold your hand over your chest.

You can find a copy of both the oath and the affirmation below.

 

What does the Bible say?

 

Most Christians would naturally think of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) ‘Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by earth, for it is his footstool………Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’’ or perhaps James 5:12, ‘do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.’

 

Interestingly, the bible testifies that God bound himself by an oath (Hebrews 6:13-18). The bible teaches that oaths are binding (Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:12). Jesus himself taught that oaths were binding (Matthew 5:33).

 

The Sermon on the Mount has been sometimes called “the ethics of the kingdom”. The point being, that in heaven there will be no need for oaths. What Jesus emphasised is that honest people do not need to resort to oaths, not that they should refuse to take an oath if required by some external authority to do so. Put another way, our daily conversation is to be as sacred as oaths. There are not two standards of truths, or a sliding scale of values.

 

In ancient history, promises were often introduced by a tremendous formula such as ‘I swear by the archangel Gabriel and all the host of heaven…..’ In much the same way modern honesty is often threatened by forms of exaggeration. In doing so, we devalue our language.

 

The whole point is that Christians should say what they mean and mean what they say.

 

Is it right for a Christian to swear an oath on the Bible?

 

So is it right for a Christian to swear on the Bible when joining the Defence Force or giving evidence?

 

We think yes, there is no prohibition, but add that a Christian lifestyle should be such that truth and integrity means that in ordinary circumstances people will always take you at your word.

 

Form of words when entering the Defence Force

 

Form of Oath

 

I, (insert full name of person) swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law, as a member of the (insert Australian Navy, Australian Army, or Australian Air Force) for the period of (number of years), and any extensions of that period, or until retiring age, and that I will resist her enemies and faithfully discharge my duty according to law.

SO HELP ME GOD!

 

Form of Affirmation

 

I, (insert full name of person) promise that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law, as a member of the (insert Australian Navy, Australian Army, or Australian Air Force) for the period of (insert number of years), and any extensions of that period, or until retiring age, and that I will resist Her enemies and faithfully discharge my duty according to law.

Deployment Challenges

Being personally resilient is about being healthy – and being healthy is more than the absence of illness.

Good health is about notions of well-being and resilience – and resilience helps if you are deployed to an area of operations, either in a declared war zone or on a peacekeeping mission.

Being a resilient person means that you are better able to ‘spring back’ from a difficult or traumatic moment.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines Resiliency as:

  1. Resilient power; elasticity.
  2. resilient action: rebound, recoil,
  3. power of ready recovery from sickness, depression, or the like; buoyancy; cheerfulness.

There are many things that can happen to you in the abnormal situation of an area of operations. These things can shake or destroy your faith in God. Alternatively, these events could, for some, strengthen their faith.

Facing danger and death, and the effects of what some human beings do to others often affect the way we look at the world. We can gain a new sense of what is truly important. However, traumatic events can cause some to feel like they are in a spiritual vacuum.

Our advice is Be prepared, by becoming spiritual fit well before you enter an area of operations.

Being spiritually fit is a lifestyle choice. Once in an area of operations, maintain your spiritual fitness as best you can in the circumstances that you find yourself.

Never forget the promise that Jesus gave to his disciples ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:20)

What do we mean by being Spiritually Fit?

‘Spirituality’ as a word means different things to different people. Christian resilience, however, depends on developing strong relationships – with our Lord Jesus Christ, and with fellow Christians.

Being spiritual then starts with knowledge – knowledge of both yourself and God.

Get to know your soul – What is important to you? What are those nagging feelings? Is there an underlying irritability or restlessness beneath the surface of your life? Do you sense the presence of God?

Get to know God. Paul in the bible advises that we all should be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds, so that [we] may discern what is the will of God.” (Romans 12:2) He says that doing this is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1)

When we use the word ‘Spirituality’ we mean the connections between humans and God. We also use the word ‘Spirituality’ to refer to the meaning of life: or what is truly important in life

Some common expressions of spirituality are:

  • A focus on life’s meaning and importance.
  • A focus on values, beliefs and ethics.
  • An awareness of life beyond yourself.
  • A connection between you, others, and God.
  • A focus on reflecting on life, and a sense of “deep self” or soul.

What is Spiritual Fitness?

For most people, spiritual fitness means having a set of beliefs and values that guide them and give their life meaning. Spiritually fit people tend to have a stronger self-esteem, better coping skills, and more solid relationships. Spiritual fitness can also bond people through love, forgiveness and compassion.

You gain spiritual fitness by:

  • Reading the Bible
  • Praying
  • Meeting with other Christians to talk about God and the Christian Life
  • Engaging in Christian Worship.

Some Christians add to the depth of their Christian life by:

  • Fasting
  • Going on pilgrimages

What does the Bible say?

The word ‘resilience’ does not appear in the Bible. However, the concept of being strong in the Lord does.

Here are some key verses:

  • Psalm 31:24 So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
  • Romans 1:11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord.
  • Ephesians 6:10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

You can glean from these bible verses that our God desires that we remain strong in him. There are ideas of intentionality and relationship.

 

In an Area of Operations (including a War Zone)

Being in an Area of Operations, especially if that area is a war zone is an abnormal area to be in. Maintaining Christian Resilience is going to take an extra degree of personal intent and discipline.

Our practical advice is to remain connected to God, to others and to family and friends. It would be easy not to attend to these relationships, so we would urge you to give special attention to these matters in much the same way as you would give attention to your kit, weapon and other aspects of your daily routine.

  • Take time to read your Bible. Your chaplain will be able to give you a light weight version, or an extract from the bible.
  • Take time to pray.
  • Try and meet with other Christians. Often your Chaplain will run a bible study group or a field chapel service. These won’t be the same as you would have at home, but will be tailored to your circumstance.
  • Finally, get to know your chaplain who is there to support you.

by Chaplain Andrew Grills
by Chaplain Andrew Grills

It was 3 am. I sat in the sandbagged bunker guarding the entrance to the 400 year old Portuguese fort in Balibo, East Timor. Behind me nearly 100 Australian soldiers were sleeping peacefully.

 

I was dressed in full camouflage battle dress, Kevlar flack jacket, and helmet. I rested the minimi machine gun in the crook of my shoulder and peered sleepily out through my night vision goggles at the Timorese village below.

 

 

Suddenly I sat bolt upright and elbowed the soldier next to me. There was movement. A man was running fast towards the entrance to the fort. In his hand was a long dark shape that could only be an assault rifle.

 

I slipped the safety catch of the machine gun to fire, put the man in the centre of the sights and rested my finger on the trigger. This was real life situation that faced me in 2001. But as a Christian soldier could I really pull the trigger? Could I really kill another human being?

 

 

For me, this decision had been made long before this event, and it had been a relatively simple one for the reasons that I will give below. However, I have lived and worked with Christian pacifists in the military who have held that force is always and everywhere wrong and that to pull that trigger would be to violate the ethical teachings of Jesus.

 

While very rare, this view does exist – especially in soldiers, sailors and airmen who are converted while serving. A close friend of mine was converted in his final year at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

 

I remember him struggling painfully with his chosen career as a seaman officer in the Navy and his reading of the sermon on the mount. In the end he resigned. For him the taking of life was clearly incompatible with his new Christian faith.

 

Timor-2This ethical conviction has an honourable pedigree. St Martin of Tours
was a Roman soldier who was converted whilst serving in the Army.

 

As a Christian he insisted: “I am a soldier of Christ; I am not allowed to fight.” Martin was still forced to come against the enemy, but stood quietly in the front lines of a pitched battle against the barbarians with his shield lowered and his sword by his side.

 

That takes a special brand of courage. So impressed were his superiors that when the enemy attack was defeated Martin was permitted to discharge from the army.

Most Christian soldiers, however, hold to the view that force is not always and everywhere wrong. If used in certain situations and within prescribed limits the taking of another life – while regrettable – is hardly a harrowing issue of conscience. ‘We are soldiers’, the reasoning goes, ‘there have been many Christian soldiers in both Old and New Testaments.

 

Nowhere are they condemned for their professions and told “to leave their life of sin”. In fact Jesus commends the faith of a Roman army officer in terms of the highest praise (Lk 7:9). So whatever is the meaning of Jesus’ teaching on non violence, consistency suggests that serving as a soldier is acceptable in the eyes of Christ.’

 

I strongly identify with this position. David was perhaps the greatest soldier of the Bible; a man with a great deal ofblood on his hands. He is also a man after God’s own heart. A man who sets in train a typology which will be fulfilled in part in the first coming of the King Jesus and then finally in his second coming as the great warrior of the book of revelation.

 

If Yahweh is frequently described as ‘the Lord of Hosts’ (Yahweh shevaout) and the incarnate son is also a mighty warrior, then the taking of life in battle is not something to lose a great deal of sleep over.

But how can this positive view of soldiers be reconciled with Jesus’ Timor 4teaching on turning the other check? Martin Luther put forward what he described as the ‘two realms’ in regard to the ethical teaching of Jesus: the realm of the individual and the realm of the state.

 

In the realm of the individual the teaching of Jesus in the sermon of the mount must be applied, we cannot escape it. But it cannot be applied so directly to the realm of the state to which all citizens willingly or unwillingly delegate their responsibility for law and order and defence.

 

If the teaching of Jesus applied to both realms then putting people in prison would be against his teaching, as would be preventing a rape, the police defending themselves in the course of their duty, or SAS counter terrorism soldiers stopping by force a terrorist attack that could kill thousands of innocent people.

 

 

The two realms idea also makes much better sense of passages like Romans 13: 3-5 .Paul says the authorities ‘bear the sword’, that is have armies and police forces, and that in so doing they are agents of God.

 

It seems that the New Testament expects different behaviour from individuals than it does from legitimate authorities who are responsible before God for the maintenance of law and order, and, if necessary, the taking of life. ‘It is not for nothing that they bear the sword’. (Rom 13:4)

 

I believe that force is only acceptable within certain limites and clearly prescribed rules – even for soldiers in combat. As such I am an advocate of just war. Fortunately, the recent history of Australian armed intervention has, in the main, made my ethical position much easier by largely conforming with this position.

 

For the Australian soldier, the taking of life is strictly as a last resort and the rules surrounding it are clearly outlined and constantly reinforced. In East Timor, for example, life could only be taken if reasonable grounds existed that the ‘enemy’ presented a threat to ones own life or the lives of others. An example of the extent to which these rules were enforced occurred just before I arrived in 2001. A group of militia had approached an Australian border post at night, attacked the post with a shower of grenades and then turned and ran back across the border.

 

The unwounded Australian soldiers had their laser night sights fixed on the backs of the retreating militia. None fired. Why? Because, as they later testified, ‘the retreating militia no longer presented a direct threat’. Even in a more difficult combat operation like Afghanistan, force can only be used under strictly prescribed limits.

Timor 1It is also worth adding that to read Jesus’ teaching as demanding strict pacifism has some very serious ethical problems of its own.

 

Many Christian pacifists believe in police forces and militaries, are happy to pay taxes that go to supporting them, but personally refuse to serve in them. That seems to me to be a first order cop out.

 

Let’s take East Timor for example. I saw there the barbarism and horror that had been perpetrated on innocent people on a massive scale. There was a house only thirty metres from the fort where I worked for 7 months. It was called the kissing house. We were told that young Timorese girls would be taken from their homes by militia, raped, then taken out and shot.

 

If you are a Christian pacifist, you will not lift a finger directly to help people who suffer like this. And if you do encourage a peace keeping force to help them then you are asking others to do your dirty work, work that you believe is immoral. Which is the greatest evil?  In my view sometimes standing by and watching evil run its course is ethically more reprehensible than using force and taking life to stop it.

 

I have never doubted that serving in the military, carrying a rifle and being prepared to use it, was something with which God was pleased. For all these reasons, I confidently put my finger on the trigger and prepared to shoot and kill the man running towards me with a clear conscience.

 

But you probably want to know the end of the story?  It turned out that the man was one of our Timorese interpreters returning late and in a hurry after an extended sing along in the village. He was carrying a black guitar case.

by Maree Sirois

by Maree Sirois

One Sunday after our church service, before my husband and I had children, a man about the same age told us and another Navy couple that it wasn’t right for a husband and father to be away as much as being a member of Defence required.

His boldness left me speechless and I could only stand there opening and closing my mouth like a gold fish.

Now that I have three children, do I think there is any truth to what he said?

Let’s look to what the Bible says about parenting. There are smaller passages about the importance of discipline but the longest passage that I looked at about parenting advice is found in Proverbs Chapter 4. The introduction to Proverbs in my student NIV Bible says that the “central message of Proverbs applies to anyone, old or young: ‘Get wisdom at all costs’”.

The first nine chapters are spoken from father to son, and just as the introduction told us to expect, Chapter 4 verse 5 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them”.

What is this wisdom that we are to get? According to the last verse of Psalm 111, it is the fear of the Lord.

You may not be surprised to know that the Bible is quite silent on how much time you should spend with a child helping them to gain this wisdom and fear of the Lord.

I think this is where a combination of knowing your children and common sense comes into play.

For a start, gone are the days when the odd timed phone call and intermittent letters were the only method of communication.

Skype brings our Defence Force members into our homes, even if they are half a world away. But sometimes it isn’t enough.

When my husband was last on a ship, he was away for more than half of those two years.

My mother-in-law sends a Mark-Sirois
generous amount of money to each of our children for their birthdays and during this posting we introduced the rule that this money could only be spent on an experience rather than toys.

Each of our children therefore spent wonderful adventures alone with their dad (such as going to the zoo) and clung to those memories during his absence.

Despite this time together though, towards the end of the posting our children were showing signs of stress at the amount of time they were apart from their dad and

I’m not sure what would have happened had it been for any longer.

That posting has been followed by several years of togetherness and relative calm. Some might say it was a coincidence that my husband was at a more stable part of his career and was therefore offered jobs that allowed us this calm.

But knowing that God has our best interests at heart, we believe that we prayed for the well-being of our family and God provided just what we needed.

I think pride in our achievements, rather than deployments, is a greater threat to our families – a topic for another post.


Maree Sirois is a spouse of a current serving member of the Navy. She is passionate about military families and the author of Commanding the Home Front: True stories from  the families who support the modern-day Australian Defence Force, published by Echo Books.

Maree and Mark have belonged to several churches throughout Mark’s Navy service, including St. Andrew’s Anglican Church Lane Cove (Sydney) and Christ Church Anglican Mandurah. They currently attend Stromlo Christian Church (Canberra).

You can hear an ABC Canberra interview with Maree and find links to purchase her book here.

Christianity

by Chaplain Kevin Russell Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

by Chaplain Kevin Russell Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

Experiences like war can affect your spiritual fitness and shake up your beliefs and lead you to question your values. Some military people may feel more alone, or even abandoned or betrayed by God. New priorities may emerge, giving a new perspective on life, and less (or more) on what you once held sacred. Most people believe that:
  • They are safe and worthy of love and respect.
  • Other people are trustworthy and basically kind.
  • The world is meaningful.
If you are not sure, think of sometime when someone did something mean or unfair to you. Or think about a child killed in a drink driving accident. Or maybe you have heard of someone being unfaithful in a relationship. Were you surprised? Angered? Confused? Most people have strong feelings about those kinds of situation because they challenge deeply held beliefs. Deep down these beliefs reflect our spirituality. In short, bad experiences can cause us to ask the most basic of human questions such as – ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Christians have reasons for believing that people are worthy of love and respect, and that the world is meaningful. Often this belief gets shaken by events and experiences that seem to suggest that the world is meaningless, but then Christians can point to events and experiences that reassure us that God is active in our world. I wish to explore this question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ by looking at the first book in the Bible – the book of Genesis. Particularly, I will examine Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 – the story of creation.

Genesisstrecher In ancient times, it was the custom to name books by their opening words, so originally this book was known as ‘In the Beginning.’ When the book was translated into Greek about 250BC, it was given the title ‘Genesis’, and this title was retained in the Latin and English translations. Genesis of course means ‘origin’. From Genesis we have the origin of our understanding of humanity, showing us that from the beginning there was something marvellous about people – something that makes us different from animals and plants. Somehow people are marvellous, but also we gain an understanding of the dark side of humanity as well. We are both wonderful and awful as a species. From Genesis we also have the origin of our understanding of God. We begin to gain an insight into the nature of God, and how God deals with us in a world that he created. We begin to understand how God intervenes in the world for our salvation. We are reminded that we are created in the image of God. Because we are created in the image of God it means that we have privilege and potential. Here is the how and why.
  • As image bearers we have the capacity to hear God’s word.
  • As image bearers, we have been given the capacity to take charge of the earth to rule the earth.
  • As image bearers we have the capacity for the possibility of an intimate spiritual relationship with the living God.
  • Sin has not obliterated the fact that we are made in the image of God. – Our image may have been marred but it is not obliterated.
All this make us different to animals and plants. Genesis 1:1 commences not unsurprisingly on page one! Genesis is Moses’ way of telling us about who we are. But Moses does not start with us, instead he starts with God – ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1;1). So the beginning of the answer to the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ from a Christian perspective does not start with us, instead the answer starts with God! The sheer splendour of the created world has not been lost on other bible writers. Just read Job 38, Psalms 19, 33, 136 and Isaiah 45.Solomon-Islands-Memorial [It would be easy to get side tracked at this point into a science verses creation debate. Christians have a variety of views on how God created the world and what constitutes a ‘day’ in the creation story. For the sake of not getting side-tracked my understanding of ‘day’ is that of ‘God’s day – how ever long God used for the task, noting of course that the traditional divider we use for day – Light – for night and day was not created until day four.] It has been observed that the first three acts of creation are about God forming the earth (form from void, separation of waters and the creation of plant life.) and the second three acts of creation are about God filling the earth (light, animals and finally people). Here lies our second clue as to what is the meaning of life from a Christian perspective. Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, “let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fist of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” “So God created humankind in his image, In the image of God he created them; Male and female he created them.” In these two short verses we see that our creation was a deliberate act of God. God had a conversation with himself [See our post on does the Anglican Church believe in the Trinity?] and chose to create us in God’s image. What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Well the image of God means that we as God people have spiritual capacity in the following manner:
  • Hearers. As God’s creation we have the capacity to hear God. (See Genesis 1:18 where God speaks to us.)
  • Rulers. God call us to rule over all the earth (Genesis 1:26 and 28) God views his image-bearers as royal figures, his vice regents over creation (See Psalm 8 and especially verse 6 “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands..”)
Children of God. Elsewhere in the bible we see more about what distinguishes human life as made in the image of God. In Johns gospel (also chapter one –  which echo’s Genesis chapter one) we see that Jesus gives us the opportunity to become children of God. The story Continues beyond page one Experiences such as war illustrate this ideal picture, as God created us, is not our normal state of being. In the beginning, people were at peace with God and nature. As Genesis 1:31 puts it “God saw everything that he had made and indeed, it was very good. Christians still believe that people were created in the image of God and that we find meaning as we relate with God and God’s purposes. However, our hope is found in Jesus Christ. (Colossians 1:15, Romans 5:12) The opening verses of Genesis chapter 2 complete the creation account. They tell us that God rested. There is no closure to the seventh day as there are in the first six day. The Genesis account leaves the concept of ‘rest’ open. For sure, God made this day holy. This blessing suggests the day, which is rest, has the power to stimulate, animate, enrich and give fullness to life. God had ‘finished’ the work of creation. Deeper in the Bible, we read of Jesus crying out the words “It is finished” (John 19:30). These are the words that refer to Jesus creating the means of us renewing our relationship with our creator. Christians call this work, the work of salvation. Jesus died on a cross. What is the meaning of life? Deeply held beliefs can be challenged by the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Genesis, a book about origins, reminds us that we are created in the image of God. Sure, that image is marred, as our present circumstances demonstrate, but we still carry some of the characteristics that God intended for us. The meaning of life starts with God who created us. Therefore we can say that:
  • Most people are worthy of love and respect.
  • The world is meaningful.
We are image bearers and are meant to live in a relationship with God. Jesus gives us the opportunity to become children of God and to rest in him (see Matthew 11:28-30)

by Chaplain Kevin Russell Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

by Chaplain Kevin Russell
Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

 

One recent Sunday morning, a US Army staff sergeant left his base near Kandahar and began killing Afghan civilians.

 

This was an apparent spasm of rage and frustration.

 

Some of the recent events in Afghanistan show the military mission at its worst: some of our allies’ military urinating on enemy dead, burning Qumrans, and a crazed soldier massacring civilians.

 

We can say that most troops do not do that sort of thing, and that such events are rare, but that doesn’t change the reality of the moment. War can degrade decent people.

 

But human degradation is not only caused by war. There are other examples of human degradation that lead us to ask the question, ‘Is there any hope?’ Plastered over the power poles near where I live are signs warning of thieves operating in the area.

 

In a workplace, a bully is at work, exhibiting niggling and constant behaviour at a trivial level that is slowing wearing down others.

 

Human degradation is a constant and a big question for us is, ‘Is there any hope?’ I recently had the opportunity of exploring this meaningful question in my local church, while preaching from Genesis 5:1 to Genesis 6:8.

 

Genesis

 

The first book in the bible is called Genesis. The word ‘Genesis’ means ‘origin’. Genesis is a book about human degradation. Genesis is also a book that displays promise.

From Genesis we have the origin of our understanding of humanity, showing us that from the beginning there was something marvellous about people: something that makes us different from animals and plants.

 

Somehow people are marvellous, but also we gain an understanding of the dark side of humanity as well. We are both wonderful and awful as a species.

From Genesis we also have the origin of our understanding of God. We begin to gain an insight into the nature of God, and how God deals with us in a world that he created. We begin to understand how God intervenes in the world for what Christians know as ‘our salvation’.

 

Even when Humans are Blessed there is Always a Dark Cloud

 

Even when we are recipients of a blessing, there is a dark cloud hanging over humanity.  The Book of Genesis helps us to understand reality of human existence.

Genesis chapter five opens with the words, “This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “humankind” when they were created.” (Genesis 5:1-2)

 

These two verses point back to Genesis chapter one & verse 27, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

 

There are words of blessing as us humans are created in the image of God. But there is a cloud: since sin entered the world, there is a cloud. That cloud is sin and sin’s effects. Ultimately sin leads to death. Throughout Genesis chapter 5 is the phrase “and he died” (v5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20.,27, 31). Death is a constant.

 

There is a loss of optimism.

 

Life in Australia can be deceptive. For the most part, the majority of Australians do not experience the constant examples of death that occur so graphically in many places throughout the world. During 2001, I had the opportunity to serve in East Timor.

 

While I was there, I was quite frequently called to the UN Military Hospital to pray over dying local people and to pray with their families. These people knew death and tragedy amidst great hope for their nation.

 

It has been said that ‘Life produces hope only to see it dashed by the all too real finality of death.’

 

Genesis chapter 5 is known as the Sethite genealogy. This is the genealogy of blessing. There is a real contrast here to the descendants of Cain who are named in Genesis 4:17-26.

 

We are reminded that we are crated in the image of God. Because they and we are created in the image of God it means that we have both privilege and potential.

 

  • As image bearers we have the capacity to hear his word.
  • As image bearers, we have been given the capacity to take charge of the earth to rule the earth.
  • As image bearers we have the capacity for the possibility of an intimate spiritual relationship with the living God.

 

Sin has not obliterated the fact that we are made in the image of God. Our image may have been marred but it is not obliterated.

Also, God’s blessings to us has not been abrogated. The blessing of Genesis 1:28 is about being fruitful and multiplying – and it’s the Seth line that gets to do this.

 

Seth’s genealogy shows these people living out God’s blessing, and spreading the image of God in humanity – especially noting Genesis 4:26 “at that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord.”

But the dark cloud is also present. Eight times we read the phrase ‘and he died’. And in genesis chapter six there is more examples of human degradation.

So much so, that we read of a new assessment of humankind. “The LORD saw the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.

 

And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them’ (Genesis 6:7)

Is there any hope? As anyone who sees the dark side of life – inAfghanistan,East Timorand the Police who see the dark side of life more locally, you have got to wonder, ‘Is there any hope?

 

It is too late to think of this question when you are facing pressures and death.

 

afghanistan-612x345

 

There is Hope

The good news of Genesis is that from the beginning, there is hope. We see hope in Enoch and Noah.

In Enoch Genesis 5:24 “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.”

And

In Noah Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord” (and 6:9 “Noah walked with God”)

 

So why hope? How did Enoch and Noah find favour with God?

 

The scriptures tell us that they ‘Walked with God’.

 

‘Walked with God’ is a very simple way of saying that these two people had the closest possible relationship with God as if walking at the side of God.

 

To focus on Enoch, and to get a glimpse of how this waking with God looks,, let’s look at the letter to the Hebrews in the new Testament. Hebrews 11:5 ‘By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.”’

 

And the message to us is contained in Hebrews 6:6 ‘And without faith it is impossible to please God, forever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.’

Many of us are witnesses to the dark side of life and could ask the question, ‘Is there any Hope?’

 

When you find yourself in these kind of circumstances, its to late to work at your spiritual fitness. It is too late to ask if you are walking with God. This is a big question now.

 

So, yes there is hope, as Enoch and Noah demonstrate to us – but the message is to ‘walk with God in a close relationship with him

How do you ‘Walk With God’?

How do we walk with God today? The answer is this:

By God’s grace to us we can know God personally. John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

John 14:9 “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

We see God in his Son, Jesus, and we see God best because of his son’s death. The cross is God’s supreme revelation of himself John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

 

By faith you can receive Jesus and walk with him.

HMAS Arunta TS15It is a simple fact that throughout the history of the world just about everyone has believed in some sort of god.

 

Religion, like music and art or our longing for good relationships, is one of the few things shared by every human culture that has ever existed.

 

The Christian understands that God is a personal being who has revealed himself to us in history in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

They further believe that Jesus’ death on their behalf was God’s great act of love that reconciles us to him.

 

Being a ‘Christian’ has little to do with being moral or religious.

It is all about confidently trusting Jesus Christ, the healer, the teacher, the saviour, the Lord. Indeed, the word ‘faith’ in the Bible simply means trust.

Becoming a Christian is as simple as telling God that you are sorry for all that you have done and asking him for help to live as He would want you to.

Here are four simple steps that you can take to become a Christian.

  1. Turn to God and ask forgiveness for the things that you have done wrong, and for help to live every day more and more in God's way rather than your own.
  2. Trust. Believe the Good News that Jesus brought- that he can work in your life today.
  3. Take. Accept the gifts that Jesus promises - forgiveness, love, a purpose in living, and new life.
  4. Talk to someone you know who is a Christian, or contact you local Christian Church and speak to a minister, priest, pastor or speak to your Chaplain.

The Anglican Church

 

Anglican-Banner

 

Anglicans are Christians who belong to the Anglican Communion, a varied group of churches which spread out across the globe from the Church of England.

 

Today the Anglican Church of Australia stands on its own feet as part of the ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church’, which carries on the tradition of the early church called and sent into the world by Jesus.

Anglicans are committed to the one Christian faith. Yet we have learnt that this faith may be expressed in different ways depending on people’s experiences, cultures and historical circumstances.

 

Anglicans thus enjoy diversity, and respect one another’s differences. We are also committed to wrestling with the issue of faith publicly , even if that means allowing differences- sometimes sharp ones – to be expressed openly.

 

Bible

The Bible

Anglicans receive the holy scriptures (the Bible) as containing ‘all things necessary to salvation’. 

 

Anglicans hold to the Bible as the foundation for faith with respect for the experience for the Church and the need to use our minds.

 

The Bible uses many ways to express its truth, as a library also embraces many types of books and forms of literary expression.

 

Worship

 

When Anglicans gather for worship we hear the scriptures read and explained and pray together using authorised prayer books – the most recent was issues in 1995 – so that everyone can join in, and so that common prayer becomes a familiar part of spiritual life. Anglicans respect diverse styles of worship, formal and mystical, family or youth events with lots of singing and activity, or a quiet early morning service.

 

Church Structure

 

Anglicans have developed a way or organising their Church that involves all its people – both ordained clergy and other members.

 

Each local congregation (with its own leaders, both ordained and not) forms part of the basic unit of the church, called a diocese, having a bishop. The spiritual leadership of our Church comprises the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.

by Chaplain Atsushi Shibaoka Royal Australian Air Force

“Does the Anglican Church believe that God is a trio?”

 

The answer is “yes”, if you are asking if the Anglican Church holds to the historical Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

 

There is a thing called “The Articles of Religion” which is one of the expressions of how Anglicans understand our Christian faith. You will find these Articles at the end of any Anglican Prayer books.   “Of Faith in the Holy Trinity” is THE very first of the 39 Articles listed in that document. 

 

So, you might say that Anglicans hold to the doctrine rather strongly, as do all other Christian churches, for that matter!

 

Now, your Jehovah’s Witness friend seemed to be able to pull the idea apart quite easily for you. So, it is fair enough to ask, if it is that obscure and seemingly defies both biblical evidence and normal logic, why do Anglicans hold to it?  After all, we live in the age, when most information come in 15 second grabs. 

 

Our politicians seem to ditch even good policies if these cannot withstand the 15 second test!

 

Despite all this, Anglicans are not about to ditch this doctrine.  We believe it to be both true and foundational.  I would add too, that for me, seeing God as the Trinity is the only way I have of making sense of what I know of God of the Scriptures, and how I experience that same God in my daily life.

 

Yes, it is a mystery.  However, since we are talking about the very core of who God is, and how God is, I don’t expect to be able to explain everything away by mere human logic. God who can be contained in human logic would only be a god, and just an idol….

 

Well then, how did Christians come to perceive God as the Holy Trinity in the first place?  For me, the easiest way to understand this is to revisit the history of Christian thinking and experience.

 

Each of the four Gospels in the New Testament describes the experience of followers of Jesus. As they walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate and prayed with Jesus, they came to realise something rather startling.  They realised that Jesus was more than just a rabbi; just a prophet, or just a divine presence. They didn’t think he was an angel either.

 

They came to the conclusion that Jesus was actually God.

 

Even a sceptic like Thomas called out to Jesus “You are my Lord and my God”.  (John 20.28)  – see link 8 below.

 

This was both puzzling and seriously inconvenient.  Those early Christians came mostly from Jewish back ground.  In contrast to their neighbours in the ancient world that believed in many gods, they were very big on there being only ONE God.

 

Things got more complicated after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit ‘arrived’ on the scene.  They were soon faced with an even more difficult but again, an inescapable conclusion that this Holy Spirit too is God!  We read about their experience in the Acts of the Apostles and in various letters Paul and others contained in the New Testament.

 

I wish someone – Paul or one of the Gospel writers – had sat down and wrote down how this was so! But they didn’t!  Instead, what we have in the New Testament is a rich and God-inspired insights into the dynamic life of the community of God’s people seeking to live their new life in Jesus, often in very hostile environment. A choice between a boring list of things or exciting adventure of faith, maybe!?

 

In terms of history, they did not try to work out how to hold together different elements of what they knew to be true about God in systematic and intellectual way until a little later. It took them until 325 AD.

 

They did a lot of thinking, praying and passionate debating for decades before.  But, it was at this gathering which is known as the Council of Nicaea where the early Christians came to agree on how they made sense of this one God, who was known to them as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

It is incredibly important to note here, that doctrines do not create beliefs as such.  A doctrine would seek to express what Christian people already believe and understand to be true – revealed in the Scriptures.  They seek to do so systematically in ways that make both intellectual and experiential sense.  And more than that, this expression must cover all that needs to be said; and at the same time, it must also avoid saying or implying what is not true!

 

For example, if we deny God as the Holy Trinity, if we say that Jesus was not God, we then need to go on to ask the following questions.

 

“If Jesus was a mere human, or even some sort of an angel, could that Jesus be a Saviour?  If so, how and what sort of salvation is achieved by this demi-god?”

“How could an angel die on the cross?”

 

Answers to those questions must make logical sense; must be consistent with the biblical evidence; and must also ring true in our Christian experience.  For me, affirming God as the Trinity makes more sense, than denying it.

 

Well, enough of this theological talk!  Allow me to get practical!  (And practical always involves less words!)

 

For me, faith in the Holy Trinity makes most sense when I pray.

 

I pray to God the Father; through God the Son who died on the cross and rose again; in the power of God the Holy Spirit who dwells within me.

 

Left to my own devices, I cannot pray as I ought.  It is God the Holy Spirit who, from within, encourages, empowers and enables.

 

Without God the Son, the Father is a distant figure far too holy for me to approach; Jesus has broken down that barrier.

 

And the prayer in this context becomes more than just words.  When I pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, I somehow come to participate in the inner dynamics, the community and the inner life of God!  In that interaction, I am lifted out of my limited knowledge and poverty of spirit.  I glimpse something of the Kingdom of God, the life in the immediate presence of God.

 

The faith in the Holy Trinity is important in my daily life in Jesus.

 

Just to finish off, I am a little puzzled by the claim by your friend that Jewish people and Catholics (Roman Catholics) have taken the name of God out of the Bible.  The sacred name of God appears no less than 6,828 times in the Hebrew scriptures. The traditional Hebrew position is that they do not say the sacred name aloud – for they seek to avoid any sense of blasphemy. Vowels are not supplied to YHWH, which is like us spelling God as “G-d”.

 

As far as the Catholics go, they brought out the Jerusalem Bible in 1966.  This was the first modern Roman Catholic English translation of the Bible.  One of its features was that it used Yahweh instead of “Lord” to designate the sacred name of God.

 

I hope all this makes sense for you.

AS

For further exploration

 

You will find that people tend to argue from one or the other sides of the fence – passionately, and often selectively!  There are very few fence sitters on this issue!  But some of those general articles below seek to adopt a balanced approach.

 

  1. Wikipedia article on Trinity is a good starting point.
  2. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy seeks to provide a more philosophical angle into thinking about Trinity and its history.
  3. Everystudent.com tries to provide a simple explanation on the Trinity from traditional position.
  4. About.com lists Faith Groups that Reject the Trinity Doctrine.  Any search on one of those will provide you with a huge range of reasons why they don’t hold to the doctrine.
  5. The Orthodox Church in America will give you an insight into more Eastern Orthodox approach on The Holy Trinity.
  6. This the Theopedia page on Trinity.  Thoepedia seeks to emulate Wiki within a main line protestant starting point.
  7.  This is a devotional article on The Journey with Jesus site.
  8. Jesus as Θεός (God): A Textual Examination on Bible.org.

Lone-Pine

 

Each year, commemorative services are held on the Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey and across Australia and New Zealand to mark Anzac Day. The Dawn service in Anzac Cove attracts over 7,000 people, with slightly less at the Australian Service at Lone Pine.

 

Members of Australia’s Federation Guard provide the Catafalque and Flag Parties at the Dawn and Lone Pine services, while an Australian Military band provides the music accompaniment. There is also an all night reflective program at Anzac Cove leading up to the Dawn Service.  

 

A military Chaplain provides prayers, readings and the final benediction at both ANZAC Cove and Lone Pine.

Anzac Day is a significant day for Australia and Australians. The Anzac spirit is a deep part of our cultural identity.  Yet the bible tells us that Christians we ‘are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.’ (Philippians 3:20)

 

So how do we connect being Australian, with our Christian citizenship? And what is the role of a Christian clergyperson taking part in a public and secular commemoration service?

 

This was the question put to Archdeacon Kevin Russell in 2012 by Vision Radio’s journalist, Matt Gee. The interview was broadcast over 520 radio stations in Australia on Anzac Day.

You can hear the interviews here.

 

  • Vision Radio Interview 1 – Taking part in the Gallipoli Anzac Service
  • Vision Radio Interview 2 – Taking part in a local Anzac Service

 

Vision Christian Radio

There’s plenty of talk on radio, but only one place you’ll find Life, Culture & Current events from a Biblical perspective. Vision’s 20Twenty.

Interviews, stories and perspectives you won’t hear anywhere else! Twenty20 is heard every weekday morning plus a ‘Best of’ highlights also airs each weekend.

 

The Vision Radio Network is the ‘biggest little radio network in Australia’. There are Radio stations in over 520 communities around Australia, and a goal of Christian Media for Every Australian.

 

In three state capitals, Vision operates near the top of the AM band on 1611 AM. Vision Adelaide 1611 AM has good coverage across the entire city, Vision Melbourne 1611 AM is best heard in the western suburbs and the south, while Vision Sydney 1611 AM mainly covers the South-West, Hills and Greater West.

Churches and Defence Force Members

by Chaplain Andrew Grills

by Chaplain Andrew Grills

All Anglican Churches are not the same. The following characteristics may help you choose a good church in which to grow and serve at your new posting locality.

  1. Look for a church that believes in the truth of the Bible and teaches it in a way that you can understand. The teaching should challenge you to live radically as a follower of Jesus and to either become a Christian or to grow deeper in your faith.
  2. Look for a church that welcomes you. Churches that are filled with the love of Jesus will be warm places. They will want to get to know you and get you involved in the church community. You have to make an effort as well of course, but a warm church will make it as easy as they can for you to fit in and make friends.
  3. Look for a church where you can serve others. You might be a musician, good with kids, have a knack with computers, be trained in theology or any number of other areas. Find somewhere you can get your hands dirty and serve others.
  4. Look for a church with at least some people of your own age. Like a healthy family, a healthy church will be made up of people of different ages and Christian maturity levels. It will help, though, if there are a few others at the same stage of life as you.
  5. If you have children, especially little ones, look for a family friendly church that has a children’s programme. Spending your whole time stressing that your kids are disturbing everyone else’s time of worship is a recipe for pain not gain!
  6. Look for a church with a style of worship you gel with. Some people enjoy a quieter, more traditional contemplative style of worship, others enjoy a contemporary style with a rock band and modern hymns and choruses. This is not a question of right or wrong, but where you feel comfortable.
  7. Look for a church where people are excited about knowing and serving Jesus. Being a Christian is a wonderful thing so find somewhere where people are enthusiastic about Jesus and are actively seeking to introduce others to Him.

The closest Anglican church to you may not always be the best for you.

Look around and be prepared to travel – it may be worth it.

And remember, the Anglican Church is part of the global church of God which includes many denominations, so in the unlikely event that you are posted to a location with no suitable Anglican church, seek out a spiritual home elsewhere.

Defence members and their families have a unique lifestyle.

Service in the Navy, Army or Air Force often means that families and individuals are regularly uprooted from their communities and relocated to other parts of Australia.

Relocation means having to find a new school, a new place to shop, a new doctor, a new sports club and a new church.

Belonging to a new church is not easy. Neither is it easy for the new church to welcome defence families.

So, we have compiled a list of issues for your church to consider when welcoming defence families and individuals into your church community.

Grief

Defence members and their families have transient lifestyles. For many defence families, there is no place that they truly call ‘home’.

They are used to packing up house, saying farewell and starting over again.

However, each time they pack up house, say farewell and start over again, they experience a break in relationship with their existing church and community.

So when a defence family comes to your church, they may well be grieving having to leave their previous church.

This may colour their perceptions, and their willingness to enter into your church community.

Forming new relationships means intentionally entering into new relationships that will one day have to be broken.

Being committed to a new church will mean making a commitment that will also one day have to be broken.

Nevertheless, defence members are human beings and are made for relationships. Belonging to a church is essential for being a disciple of Jesus.

Develop Relationships

A good church seeks to ‘present everyone mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28) To present someone mature in Christ means in the first instance, developing relationships.

Most churches have people who are good at greeting, and inviting new people to morning tea. But developing a relationship involves a sustained effort.

It means giving the newcomer space to discover your church, while at the same time creating a comfortable welcoming environment.

Not only do you want a welcoming environment, but you also want to encourage people to come back to your church. So here are some DOs and DON’Ts about welcoming Defence members and their families into your church. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

DO…

  • Ask – ‘I haven’t met you at this service before; do you go to one of our other services?’ (Not ‘are you looking for a church?’ They will tell you they have just moved into the area.)
    Ask – What are you looking for in a church? (Children’s program, Youth Group, Playgroup, Bible Study etc)
  • Ask – How can we help you settle into the local community? (Have you found a medical centre, dentist, childcare etc?)
    Have – Attractive information brochures ready describing aspects of your church.
  • Do – Get contact information so that you can make further contact. (Phone number etc)
  • Do – Invite the defence member to a meal or activity.
    Do – Introduce them to others in the Church.
    Recognise – That these people may have gifts/talents that can enhance the ministry in your church.

DON’T…

  • Don’t ask – ‘Are you looking/shopping for a church?’
  • Don’t ask – ‘Why would you come here?’
  • Don’t – Run down other churches by highlighting differences.
  • Don’t – Reinforce the idea that there are ‘us’ (the regulars here) and those who are not ‘us’. (For example, in the offertory/collection – do not say the offertory is only for the regulars here – after all giving money is part of belonging and your inviting people to ‘give’ to God’s work in your church and beyond.)
  • Don’t – Do a doctrinal test or think that the person needs converting.

Some other Matters

Your Church’s Community Profile

Ask yourself – what is your Church’s Community profile?

How do people know that your Church exists and is active in your Community?

How do people find (or want to find) your Church?

Do you have an attractive and accurate sign?

Do you have a web and Facebook presence? (Many Defence families now check out the area that they are moving to via the internet.)

What generational message do these forms of media convey?  

Does the local Family Liaison Officer at the nearest Defence Establishment know of the services you offer to the community?

Removalist Van

Learn how to spot a new Defence Family moving into your area.

Typically a Defence Housing Authority House is under nine years old.

You will notice a family moving out sometime in December or early January and you will notice another family moving in typically in January.

Go and introduce yourself and welcome them to the neighbourhood.

Given that moving house is an exhausting activity, the gesture of taking over some Morning or Afternoon Tea will be remembered for a long time.

Recognise also that in the Capital Cities, Defence Housing is spread throughout the city and is rarely ‘adjacent to’ or ‘on’ bases.

Difference in Worship Styles

Recognise that the worship style of your Church will be different from the Church previous attended by this family.

Differences include but are not limited to the songs you sing, the way you say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds etc.

Also remember that the family may still be grieving leaving their last church.

No Local Extended Family

A recent Defence Families survey found that the average distance to a Defence member’s extended family was about 600km.

For many Defence families there are limited extended family support structures in the local area. (e.g. babysitting, support in an emergency)

The Big Issue

Military personnel and their families have unique needs, and their churches are in a good position to help —Think of the spouse and family, where the Defence member is being deployed for the third time.

Both the spouse and children are often anxious and sometimes there is need for a heavier than normal reliance on prayer and pastoral support.

This is a very different situation from the family member who is often absent on business trips.

Yes, you can and you should leave an abusive and/or violent relationship.

 

Sadly, we recognise that abusive and violent relationships are a reality, and that these kind of relationships exist amongst church people, as they do in the general community.

 

Firstly, it is really important that you be physically and emotionally safe and we will support you. No one should remain in or accept an abusive relationship. [We condemn any teaching that suggests that you should accept or remain in an abusive relationship.]

 

Secondly, you can be assured that Defence Chaplains receive training to address family domestic violence. But Defence Chaplains, except in rare cases are not trained trauma counsellors. When you approach a Chaplain regarding family domestic violence, you should be expect them to listen compassionately and provide support to get the right qualified and experienced help and assistance. A Chaplain should continue to provide support following referral to another service but will do so in conjunction with family domestic violence experts. 

 

Thirdly, if you would like more information to help you support people affected by family domestic violence, including working to prevent family domestic violence occurring in Church communities we recommend the Safer resource.  https://www.saferresource.org.au/ 

 

Our recommended resource [Safer] aims to help Christian leaders and congregations.

  • understand how domestic and family violence starts
  • recognise different kinds of abuse
  • find the right help for victims
  • appropriately support people affected by abuse
  • encourage perpetrators to change their behaviour.

Learn More...