Sustainability of University Chaplaincy

An Australian perspective; a Conversation from Ed Spalding and Pat Thompson


In an original ” Australian Bush Cookbook” there’s a recipe for Kangaroo Tail soup.     ” Step 1. Catch your Kangaroo”. This is a relevant topic for the continuity of Uni Chaplaincy in Australia.

Q. 1. Where do we find suitable recruits?
Q.2. Who helps us as ‘talent scouts’ ?
Q.3. What preparation do we need to effect continuity?


As one highly decorated military commander once said,” The USA has not been in Vietnam 10 years; we have been there 1 year 10 times”. He had his leaders train with the Australians who practised having the new troops work with the experienced combat ‘elders’ before the old hands transferred out.

The morale went up significantly as the learning was habitual, not just notional, the formation was obviously enhanced by the formal and especially informal education by gleaning insights into the ‘why’ we do things this way simply by emulating the elders.

This structure works as it is plain, simple common sense.

Even though my predecessor had already started in her new position I was really thankful she made time to introduce me to UWS staff and students and sketch outlines of the structures ie ‘the way we do things around here’ understandings. People admired her personally and professionally so made the initial meetings very significant for continuity and passing on the ‘massage stick’ a sacred act.

Arto posed the question in business management terms at Nunyarah, Ed and myself suggest similar structures need to be effected for Chaplaincies.

At present there is not even one full time Chaplain on each Uni campus in Oz many are part- time and some have none at all.


So WHY have University Chaplains?

One exercise we planned for the conference ” Conversations” was to invite present and past UC’s to create a list of the benefits of collaborative, multifaith Chaplains.

How did / does the lived experience of being Chaplain benefit me personally,

What are the benefits to students, Student Union, Admin, staff and their families of having active Chaplains on campus?

How do our own sponsoring bodies eg. The Marist Brothers and Catholic Diocese benefit by my being a Uni Chaplain and acting collaboratively towards effecting multifaith interactions vs ministering to one particular denomination.


I reckon if a small committee encouraged all mentioned above to hold personal and e-conversations we could furnish a useable TEMPLATE OF MUTUAL BENEFITS re CHAPLAINCY.

Let.’s face it, many simply don’t perceive or experience these benefits so this is one obvious preparatory step to catch a kangaroo.


Step Two is to engage the ‘ talent spotters’ in conversation re the benefits and ask them for their reflections, experiences, ideas. Emails and letters end up deleted or in the cylindrical file. Admin often get a pleasant surprise to be asked for their ideas and included in the process of educating their peers re the benefits of Chaplaincy or the effectiveness of a particular Chaplain.

Similarly with staff, Student Union, Student Welfare, grads and post- grads who are happy to volunteer time and effort to assist Chaplains and can act as parallel agents in Chaplaincy. Students can be very generous by ‘volunteering’ their friends also with surprising results at times.


Seminaries,Theology Colleges, other Tertiary Institutes, Teachers’ Colleges, SRCs, Vinnie’s Van and similar volunteer services, Diocesan and Parish Youth groups I found great places to start. Some students from TAFE, UWS and other universities were delighted to gain some ministry experience working with Chaplains and we and the Uni community gained much from their youthful, vibrant spirit.


Step three gets a tad complicated. Once a voluntary prospective feels a personal call careful disciplined discernment is needed to check for a true spiritual calling. This can only be entered into by those who know the person well and are suitably experienced and qualified to competently detect and nurture an authentic vocation.

Normally the university has a selection process after the denominational representative formally proposes the Chaplaincy candidate.

UWS developed an interview panel of Chaplains and Admin after which the VC appoints the prospective applicant.


One model Ed and self propose involves a set period of PROBATION so the new person can discern whether this life-style is for them, and for the Chaplains, Admin, supervisor and others to gauge their effectiveness and suitability in a collaborative service to all in the university community on behalf of their respective denomination.

During this time the ROLE and EXPECTATIONS need to be gradually clarified, what Chaplaincy does, and does not entail. This is essential.


As the process of INDUCTION progresses the neophytes need to participate in the normal inductions of new staff and UWS Admin and Chaplains run compulsory inductions and inservices also.

During this time, besides the friendly advice and help freely given or absorbed by osmosis from other Chaplains, the role of a fair, firm and friendly MENTOR to guide, educate, correct, confront, challenge, encourage and accompany can be a fantastic life-long inspiration and influence. Obviously the mentor has to be a well qualified, experienced and deeply spiritual person who develops a strong mutual trust with the’ L plater’.


Experience teaches Chaplains have to find healthy, life-promoting ways to deal with our own human reactions to the anguish and suffering of others and depression and burn-out do come our way. It is not IF but WHEN this occurs if these issues are not faced and resolved.

Wisdom learnt via reflection, not only on experience, but painful experience is to seek out the services of a professional/ pastoral supervisor to help us function well by accompanying us on our emotional and motivational level, and a different person, a Spiritual Director.

The latter is one experienced to guide us on our own spiritual journey and assist us in our chosen life-style. Since our vocation is pastoral/spiritual they are not a soft option. We need to be people of prayer, religious literacy and who are active contemplatives so need a wise spiritual person to direct us away from obvious non productive habits into life giving and joyful paths.

We need to be kept a bit restless so we keep conscious, alert and alive to live our life from the inside out.



Added to the above are the Professional Development opportunities provided by the Universities, Chaplaincy on campus or other Uni’s and special events such as courses in mental health, Psychology and Religion forum, Aboriginal/ International issues info days, and Interfaith services or interactions.

UWS has always supported Chaplains attending TCMA conferences and invested in Chaplain’s active participation on convening committees and attendance at Global Multifaith Conferences, ANZSSA and other PDU events held here or overseas.


In recent conversation with the Director of Student Services I asked what were the results of the 2008 Conference on ” The Future of UWS Chaplaincy” where Geoff Boyce was the principal presenter. Since most of the written understandings had already been signed off beforehand, the large advances had been in the mutual religious literacy and respect, Chaplains working collaboratively with improved mutual relating in a multifaith context.

Chaplains and Admin had also respectfully reached a resolution re the definition of “Chaplain” at UWS and which alternative terms to apply. This is a work in progress.

Most of this was achieved via the 3 T’s; Time, Teapot and Tim Tams.



This can be a hot potato so needs to be effected sensitively. Often no action results after inappropriate behaviour until some serious complaints are recorded, and even then good people don’t know how to react as Chaplains usually are not on the staff payroll as public servants.


Every mature, responsible person at Uni must expect to be accountable. Also this can be a tad tricky given the role is by nature relational rather than functional, or person oriented vs task oriented. This can be effected in a firm, fair and friendly way if the trust and respect levels are normal to high.


Once the Uni Admin has Chaplains discuss and sign the MOUs and Code of Conduct agreements the Uni Admin can influence and educate to form individuals into the model of Chaplaincy they view as mutually beneficial.

UWS convenes formal and informal meetings which have been mutually respectful and effective. This way the Admin can exercise correct authority to work with Chaplains to resolve or clarify issues rather than the Chaplains facing possible denominational conflict over policies or procedures.

This collaborative model trends towards Multifaith Chaplaincy.

Other models are far more directive than this.