Defence Force Chaplaincy

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


The Assembly Defence Force Chaplaincy Committee has continued to meet in Queensland. Given its stable membership, it has both furthered the development and the understanding of its role and mandate, and given more effective support to both our Chaplains and the Convenor. The issues on which the Committee spends most of its time are recruitment of Chaplains, deployment of Chaplains, and support for the Convenor in his role as a member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services. Meetings have been held quarterly and are well attended. The tone of debate and informed discussion has been impressive which has been most encouraging to the Convenor. The Queensland based members of the Committee have welcomed telephone hook-ups with the Corresponding Members of the Committee who represent the other Synods.

Since the last Assembly, the commitment of the Australian Defence Force both in Australia and overseas has continued to be demanding, which has meant that our Chaplains have been called on to support our Service personnel in a variety of different roles, particularly in the overseas environment where the heavy burden of ministry is shouldered by a limited number of Chaplains. The ministry and pastoral care load is also felt by the Chaplains not deployed as they have to cover and deal with problems created for families by serving members both while they are on deployment, and when they return to Australia. Both the Army and the Air Force have continued to find it necessary to call on Reserve Chaplains to fill the gaps occasioned by deployment rotations. With a number of soldiers being killed on active duty Chaplains have provided excellent leadership and appropriate on-going care for families and colleagues of those killed as well as dealing efficiently with the formal tasks relating to funerals and memorials. The Committee and the Convenor have been alerted continually to the heightened stress load of our Chaplains.

The members of the Assembly Defence Force Committee are very appreciative that many UnitingChurch members within congregations right across Australia regularly pray for our Defence Force personnel, their families, and in particular our Chaplains as they face the difficult and dangerous situations to which this report has already alluded. Committee members also appreciate the way in which some congregations have supported our chaplains with aid parcels.


Membership of the committee:


Rev Gale Hall
Rev Graeme Adsett
Rev Peter Woodward
Mr Peter Jenkins
Rev Burt Johns
Rev Kaye Ronalds
Rev Dr Murray Earl
Pastor Melissa Lipsett
Rev John Cox 
Rev Bob Heathwood
Rev Christine Digby
Rev Alamoti Lavaki

Mrs Meg Herbert (NSW)

Rev Peter Blackwood (VicTas)
Rev Graham Pitman (SA)
Rev John Marshal (NS)
Rev Rosemary
Hudson-Miller (WA)


The Assembly Defence Force Chaplaincy Committee has been supported by Uniting Church Principal Chaplains and Senior Chaplains.  The Rev Dr Murray Earl became the Director General RAAF Chaplaincy at the end of 2007 and has continued in that role.  The Rev Peter Woodward (previous Army Principal Chaplain) continued to give support to Defence Chaplains in matters relating to Chaplains’ pay until the end of 2011. This brings to a close Thirty-Seven and half years of Defence Chaplaincy. That has to be a record for a Uniting Church Minister

 The Committee continues to meet four times a year in Brisbane. We were delighted that the first female Army chaplain, The Rev Kaye Ronalds became the Moderator of the Queensland Synod in 2011, and moved to Brisbane, and now is able to attend meetings in person.


There are currently eighteen Ministers serving as full-time Chaplains in the Defence Force.

Royal Australian Navy (RAN)
Rev Murray Lund
Rev John Marshall
Rev Andrew Watters

Australian Regular Army (ARA)  
Rev Phil Anderson
Rev David Jackson
Rev Mark Hinton
Rev Christine Digby
Rev Mau Mau Monu
Rev Alamoti Lavaki
Rev Charles Vesley
Rev David Prior
Rev John Saunders

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
Rev Dr Murray Earl
Rev Alan Williams
Rev Craig Collas
Rev Gary Whelband
Rev Dean Quilty (an Australian Minister of the Canadian Congregational Church seconded to the Uniting Church for Ministry with RAAF)
Rev Tim Hodgson

During the last three years Rev Bill Reddin (RAN), Rev Graeme Watkinson (RAN), and Rev Ron Peacock (ARA) have retired from chaplaincy duties after long periods of full-time service.  We thank them for their valuable and faithful service over many years and wish them well in retirement. After many years full-time service in the ARA, Rev Kerry Bartlett has moved to the Army Reserve. Rev Christine Senini has moved from full-time service in the RAN to Reserve Air Force.

More than half of the full-time Chaplains have spent time overseas on deployment.

Twenty-two part-time Chaplains continue to give valuable support to the Australian Defence Force. The contribution of our Reserve Chaplains to the pastoral care, administration, and training of Service personnel is highly valued both by the UnitingChurch and by the Australian Defence Force.


As reported to the Eleventh Assembly, the decision of the Australian Defence Force to increase the retirement age for full-time Chaplains to the age of sixty years took some pressure off the need to recruit new Chaplains over the ensuing three years.  Currently, the recruitment pressure is back on us if the Committee is to promote the policy of having Chaplains begin their Defence Force chaplaincy in the Reserve (part-time) before beginning full-time chaplaincy. While this procedure has proved advantageous to transition a Minister from congregational to chaplaincy ministry, it has not always been possible to apply.

Even though research indicates that Uniting Church congregations are aging, and those Ministers who offer their ministry to these congregations are, on the whole, representative of an older age-group too, those members of the Defence Force who put their religion as Uniting Church, Methodist, or Congregational continue to be about the same percentage as those declaring these same Denominations ten years ago. This situation means that the UnitingChurch needs to fill one sixth of the Defence Force chaplaincy places. We are currently two chaplaincy positions below that in terms of full-time Chaplains, but our number of Reserve Chaplains is fewer than half what it could be.

Meeting these chaplaincy recruitment requirements has put the members of the Committee and the Convenor in a very difficult position when trying to recruit Ministers within a Church with an older, less fit and less healthy Minister population than ever before.  Many of the Uniting Church Ministers who have been nominated as Chaplains to the Australian Defence Force in the last three years have been knocked back on health grounds. 

The first UnitingChurch member to make use of the Australian Defence Force In-service Training Scheme for Chaplains is now serving the Army as a Chaplain, and has already been deployed. A second UnitingChurch member of the Australian Defence Force has commenced the full-time study phase of his preparation for ministry and has received a call to a congregation after a very successful period of study. A third member of the Australian Defence Force has completed his Period of Discernment.

This successful scheme initiated by perceptive leaders within the Australian Defence Force is to be extended, and other Denominations are about to use it to support the training of theological students who have indicated a willingness to spend some or the greater part of their ministry as Chaplains within the Australian Defence Force. Deliberately, our Committee has not yet made this widely known within the UnitingChurch. Perhaps the time has come for us to be more calculating with respect to this scheme.


Some other denominations have designated the Sunday closest to Remembrance Day as Defence Force Sunday. The Committee believes that it would be good to encourage our people to offer prayers for our Chaplains and other Defence Force Personnel on that Sunday.


At the last meeting for 2011, the current Convener of the Assembly Defence Force Committee advised Committee members of his intention to retire from the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS), and, therefore, tasked these same members to propose a new name for the position of Convenor to be presented and endorsed at the forth-coming Assembly.


The membership of the RACS is made up of the Catholic Bishop to the Forces, the Anglican Bishop to the Forces, the Convenor of the Uniting Church Defence Force Chaplaincy Committee, a Presbyterian representative, the Chair of the United Church Chaplaincy Board (representing most other Protestant Denominations) and a Rabbi representing the Jewish faith.  The task of RACS members is to give advice to the Australian Defence Forces on matters relating to religion and pastoral care.

The RACS members have devoted a significant amount of meeting time on matters relating to smaller and emerging Denominations and Other Faiths.  Following a diligent process, which necessitated changes to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Churches and Australian Defence Force, the Chief of the Defence Force and those authorized to sign on behalf of the Churches ratified an amended Memorandum of Understanding which now allows for employment of Assemblies of God Pastors as Chaplains.  The changes will also make it easier for other emerging Denominations to nominate Ministers for employment as Chaplains.

RACS members have also had discussions with the Buddhists Leaders, Pastors of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Pastors of the Seventh Day Adventists, and Muslims Clerics, with the possibility of Chaplains being recruited from these Faith Groups.  At present the Australian Defence Force census figures do not indicate that there are sufficient numbers from the above-named groups to warrant the appointment of Chaplain representatives. However, Buddhist numbers are increasing.

RACS members in session have examined matters relating to deployment, spiritual health of Chaplains and other Defence Force Personnel, issues relating to recruitment of Chaplains, and development of ethics training for Chaplains.

While it is clear that the work of Defence Force Chaplains is greatly appreciated across Defence, recommendations from reviews of RACS and Chaplaincy Branches have not been able to be actioned because of budgetary restrictions. The need to engage more Chaplains was foremost among the recommendations.


The Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) presented Rev Alamoti Lavaki with a Silver Commendation for his work while on deployment


At time when much has been asked of our Australian Defence Forces our Uniting Church Chaplains have performed admirably. The members of the Assembly Defence Force Committee have worked well, and are committed to continuing their service to the UnitingChurch.

Gale Hall




Responsible to:     The Assembly
Reporting arrangements:   The Assembly and the Standing Committee
Mission statement: To advise the Assembly on matters concerning defence force chaplaincy, and to act on behalf of the Uniting Church in relation to defence force chaplaincy in accord with Assembly policy.

1. To advise and support the UnitingChurch member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS).

2. In consultation with synods, to approve the placement of UnitingChurch ministers as defence force chaplains, and to determine on behalf of the Assembly which chaplaincy positions are regarded as approved placements within the Assembly.

3. As requested by the UnitingChurch member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services or by the General Secretary, to liaise with the Department of Defence and with representatives of other churches and other faiths on matters related to defence force chaplaincy.

4. To ensure the provision of pastoral care for defence force chaplains, their spouses and families.

5. To consult with and work with Synod bodies relating to defence force chaplaincy concerning the work and welfare of defence force chaplains.

Power to appoint:     The Reference Committee has power to appoint working groups to operate within this mandate.
Membership of the Reference Committee:

Convener: the UnitingChurch member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services, appointed by the Assembly following receipt of a nomination from the Reference Committee.

Up to 14 persons appointed by the Standing Committee, to be located within a Synod as determined by the Standing Committee (normally the Synod of residence of the chairperson).

Corresponding members: chairpersons/conveners of Synod bodies related to defence force chaplaincy.


Approved by Assembly Standing Committee, November 1999