Chaplaincy and Victorian Religious Communities

Buddhist Chaplain Whilst various faith communities engage in chaplaincy services, it is not promoted as part of mission of many Christian churches, and some other faiths appear to take an ad-hoc approach, despite the robusity and prevalence of the school chaplains project.

A survey of the websites of the major Victorian religious groups revealed that on the Catholic archdiocesan website it was very difficult to find any reference to ‘chaplain’ or ‘chaplaincy’ but such work was subsumed under ‘services’ or ‘ministries’, especially the services offered by Catholic Social Services such as to the deaf.

A search of the websites of the Uniting Church of Australia for Victoria and Tasmania and of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria revealed no reference to either word on its front pages though this does not necessarily mean they do not have Uniting Church or Presbyterian ministers working in chaplaincy roles in various sectors. However, the Anglican Archdiocese of Melbourne has on its front page a clear section for its chaplaincy services, which are headed by a chaplaincy coordinator.
Islamic Centre Victoria logoThe websites of the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) and the Board of Imams Victoria (BOIV) have no direct reference to chaplains as such but there are part-time imams at every Victorian University except the Australian Catholic University and Federation University. It is known that a Muslim female who did her undergraduate studies at RMIT has been working as a hospital (Royal Women’s Hospital) and women’s prison chaplain. Also ICV has responsibility for the prayer room at Melbourne airport. According to the website of the Buddhist Council of Victoria (BCV), their prison chaplaincy began in 2002 after an approach by Corrections Victoria. This followed an unpublished RMIT report on Vietnamese prisoners in Port Phillip prison (Cahill & Benes 2000). BCV now has a prison chaplaincy co-ordinator, given the high number of Vietnamese prisoners in Victorian jails. It also has health care chaplains but this is described as ‘very ad hoc’, and clearly the Buddhist community does not have the trained personnel to go into hospitals though organizations such as BaptCare have requested to have Buddhist chaplains appointed to their aged care institutions. This may also reflect the lack of a chaplaincy tradition in some faiths.

Buddhist Chaplain
Armed Forces Buddhist Chaplain, Dr S M Kariyakarawana is garlanded and at Robertson House by Colonel Brigade of Gurkhas, Colonel JG Robinson.
In contrast to the UK where recent decades have seen the growth of innovative chaplaincy-type roles, Australian chaplaincy services seem to be struggling or are going into in reverse except for the special Federal Government program for chaplaincy in schools and initiatives in disaster/trauma chaplaincy such as during and after a bushfire. At the same time, there is much vibrancy in chaplaincy in Victoria and much good pastoral caring continues to be done. In fact, Victoria could not operate as it does without these pastoral chaplains playing their specific role.

Chaplaincy as a concept was introduced to distinguish it from pastoral care in parish or local community settings, and strongly retains the connotation that it is directed towards specialist institutions such as the navy, a prison or a hospice and/or it is targeted at particular populations such as youth, migrants, seafarers, prisoners or the aged. It also was associated with a trained religious functionary such as a priest or monk or imam. Morgan (2015), writing for the health care context, has described spiritual (or pastoral) care as that which “provides a supportive, compassionate presence for people at significant times of transition, illness, grief or loss. This care is most often delivered through attentive and reflective listening and seeks to identify the person’s spiritual resources, hopes and needs. Care is provided from a multi-faith and spiritual perspective offering support, comfort, spiritual counselling, and faith-based chaplaincy and religious services to patients and their families. Spiritual care is a collaborative and respectful partnership between the person and their health care provider and is an integral component of holistic care” (Spiritual Health Victoria 2015:2).


National Gathering of Catholic Prison Chaplains
National Gathering of Catholic Prison Chaplains

Two recent UK studies of chaplaincy have uncovered a narrative of dislocation, disconnection and lack of support and of validation by church bodies, but noting at the same time a significant investment in chaplaincy by secular employers (Slater 2013, Todd, Slater & Dunlop 2014). Slater (2015) as an Anglican priest and a health care chaplain has developed a ten-step developmental consultancy model for chaplaincy. She and her colleagues note its ‘hiddenness’ within church structures and that there has been little theological reflection on the role of chaplaincy and its relationship both to the mission of the church and to parish ministry (Slater 2015). Some would see it as ministering to the dispersed within society rather than a community gathering of the faithful (Steddon 2010).

UK Academic Programs
Another aspect to the UK scene regards research and training which is not fully duplicated in Australia. At Cardiff University, a Centre for Chaplaincy Studies has been established in association with the St. Padarn’s Institute which describes itself as ‘a bold innovative move by the (Anglican) Church in Wales to reformulate formation and training across the whole of Wales’. The university now offers three awards: a postgraduate certificate, a postgraduate diploma and a Master of Theology in Chaplaincy Studies. In the Masters program, students choose one of four pathways:

(i) generic (without specialist context),
(ii) education,
(iii) health care and
(iv) higher education.

The only core module is a small dissertation at the end, otherwise the program is comprised of options depending on the pathway taken. In Australia, there is a small but growing body of research on chaplaincy but much of it is in unpublished theses.


Chapel Royal
The Queen’s Chaplains: Colour Court, St James Palace, 12 June 2017, following the installation of Peter Galloway and Anthony Howe as Canons of the Chapel Royal.



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