Ten good reasons why not all clergy will make good chaplains


by Chaplain Trevor Young Australian Army

by Chaplain Trevor Young Australian Army

Not all clergy will make good Defence Force chaplains. The Defence Force is very choosy – and Anglican Defence Force Chaplaincy is exceptionally choosy. I am actively involved openly and covertly in raising the profile of Anglican Defence Chaplaincy within Sydney Diocese: recruiting Anglican clergy from within as well as encouraging and mentoring Anglican clergy from outside Sydney. I too, am “choosy”. I know, from experience, that not all clergy will make good Defence Chaplains. This might come as a surprise to you.

There will always be a need for chaplains in Defence. However, Defence and the Anglican Chaplaincy are deliberately choosy. The Anglican Church and Defence need people whom God has gifted with the abilities to be Defence Chaplains. Just because you’re a clergyperson doesn’t necessarily automatically make you eligible to be an Anglican Defence Chaplain.

What do I look for in a potential Defence Chaplain?

Firstly, a Christian, someone who is confident in their faith, able and willing to share it with others and observably caring in nature. They need to be disciplined in their pastoral care of themselves, family and church through regular prayer, reading of God’s word the Bible and faithful service within the life of the Church.

Secondly, a good name. Clergy must be in good standing with their Diocese, completed at least a Theology degree (Bachelor of Theology or deemed equivalent), ordained and had at least two to three years parish experience.

Thirdly, fit. Not all clergy are fit. Say no more!

Fourthly, humble: humble to learn and able to work in a team with other Chaplains. Chaplains in the Defence Force come from other Denominations with different theological views to themselves. An Anglican Chaplain needs to be able to work co-operatively in such a team and yet, still be true to being Anglican. Not all clergy are able to do that or want to. I look for clergy who are already actively involved ecumenically in their parish and true to the Faith and denomination.

Fifthly, a team player: Prospective clergy thinking about becoming a Defence Force Chaplain must accept that if they are to be part of Defence they are not the boss. The Commanding Officer of their Unit is. I’ve found a good analogy is to see yourself, being like Daniel to Darius or Joseph to Pharaoh. Working as “second or third fiddle” can be a challenge for some clergy.

Photo By: Corporal (CPL) Ricky Fuller Caption: Army Reserve, Chaplain Trevor Young leads the members of Combined Task Force 635 (CTF635) in a Remembrance Day service, commemorating 90 years since the end of World War I, in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Mid Caption: The Australian soldiers of CTF635 are predominately Army Reservists and are deployed to Solomon Islands under Operation ANODE. Operation ANODE is the name of the ADF contribution to the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI's mission is to assist the Solomon Islands' Government in restoring law and order, economic governance, and improving the machinery of government. Approximately 140 ADF troops, drawn from the New South Wales based 5th and 8th Brigades and including soldiers from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga deployed to Solomon Islands as part of Combined Task Force 635 (CTF635) under the command of LTCOL Glenn Weir. The main task for the military component is to provide security for RAMSI's multinational Participating Police Force which is lead by the Australian Federal Police. Since the introduction of RAMSI in 2003, the number of Australian troops in support has varied depending on the degree of unrest being experienced. After the rioting that followed the April 2006 general elections, RAMSI military personnel have continued their contribution to maintaining a calming effect on the situation in the Solomon Islands. The deployment of ADF personnel, at the invitation of the Solomon Islands Government, aims to ensure the ongoing success of RAMSI.

Photo By: Corporal (CPL) Ricky Fuller
Army Reserve, Chaplain Trevor Young leads the members of Combined Task Force 635 (CTF635) in a Remembrance Day service, commemorating 90 years since the end of World War I, in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Sixthly, cross-cultural: The Australian Defence Force is a different culture to parish ministry. Crossing into Defence culture can be for some clergy emotionally stressful and draining. Despite the availability of mentoring by senior Chaplains and the presence of administrative help at a coal face level, breaking into and understanding how to work in Defence culture needs specific qualities in a Chaplain. It needs strength of character to accept a lack of knowledge and a confidence and courage to ask questions often and to work at helping themselves to learn. There’s an old saying, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks”. That could be true for some clergy. If so, they shouldn’t be Chaplains.

Seventhly, self-disciplined: They need to be able to manage their time. This is especially important for Reserve (part time) Chaplains. You will not manage your parish work (or perceived to be doing so) and defence work too if you are not?

Eighthly, confident in God: Prospective Chaplains need to have a strong and solid understanding and grasp of the sovereignty of God, of His wisdom to be proved faithful, confidence in the Bible and of the sufficiency of his ongoing grace to sustain them.

Ninthly, called. A temptation for clergy, seeking to be Reservist Chaplains, could be the extra income (tax-free) and financial support to parishes for clergy on full-time military service. “Subtle greed” can entice, blind and entrap clergy into and to stay in ADF Chaplaincy if their desire to be a Chaplain is not a “calling” from God. Good questions to ask oneself before and in the first eighteen months of chaplaincy are, “Do I have the gifts to be a Defence Chaplain? Is God calling me to this ministry? Would I do this ministry in a volunteering capacity? If it wasn’t for the financial benefit would I continue in this ministry?” If the answer is no then Defence Force Chaplaincy is not for you. You are meant to remain a parish clergyperson. The finances are there as recognition of the work we do and to support parishes in our absence.

Tenthly, supported. For Anglican Clergy the support of their family, church, Parish Council and Diocesan Bishop is without question, absolutely necessary before proceeding with recruitment.

So, there you have it. What I look for in a prospective Defence Chaplain. I am sorry if you don’t fit all these requirements. Not all clergy make good Chaplains. That doesn’t mean you’re not a good clergyperson!

However, there maybe some out there who God is encouraging to discover whether He is calling them to Defence Chaplaincy. If you think that’s you then send us an email through this website indicating you’d like to know more. Finally, please support Defence Chaplaincy. Recognise it as a specialist, strategic and useful ministry within the Anglican Church. Welcome Anglican Defence Chaplains and their families into your congregational lives and be understanding and accommodating for they may come from a different Theological background to yourselves. With that in mind, because they are Defence Chaplains, they will most likely be more able to fit in than you think. Remember, these are men and women who are penetrating a part of the society with the Gospel; a place in society where you can not officially go. Remember this, and pray for Defence Force Chaplains as the apostle Paul would say, “partners in the gospel” and participate in Defence Sunday.


At the time of writing, Chaplain Trevor Young was Coord Chaplain at HQ 5 Bde (ARes). He is an Army Church Advisory Committee  member on behalf of the Anglican Bishop to the Defence Force NSW (Eastern Region) and Rector St. Andrews Anglican Church Sans Souci in Sydney NSW.