With the 100 year anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force and the RAAF Airshow this weekend at Point Cook, Victoria, CTA interviewed Flight Lieutenant Peter Owen, RAAF Chaplain for RAAF Base Williams (Laverton and Point Cook) and Minister of Pt. Cook Presbyterian Church.
CTA: Peter, what does a day in the life of a RAAF Chaplain look like?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: The day starts with preparation and administrative duties. This means brief prayer with the other Chaplains, then checking Australian Defence Force (ADF) emails. I then start with some of my pastoral care duties. For example, I may, (depending on what's on for the day), visit members of the various groups I am responsible for.
After a morning of pastoral visits, I have to prepare and conduct a chapel service at the Base. This is a formal ministry role and time of fellowship. I give a Christ-focused sermon and then provide a lunch afterwards.
The afternoon then moves into "walking the hangers." This means I walk around the offices and work areas of the Base chatting with the RAAF personnel. This is the relationship building part of my role. It is "loitering with intent" which means I am hanging around and looking for conversations and opportunities to encourage people.
CTA: Can you give me some examples of the conversations you have?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: It might vary from people sharing challenges in their relationships, questions on faith, to welfare issues. For example, on a recent "walking the hangers" someone asked me, "What's the difference between the world religions, Padre?" This gave me the opportunity to respectfully outline the different views and highlight the Gospel.
Or I might have conversations with personnel in need of some type of assistance. For example, Chaplains can help because RAAF Chaplains administer a welfare trust fund, which RAAF members can use to take out small loans at very low interest.
My role is to be a people carer, trying to look after their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. For example, I am rostered on with the other chaplains, to carry a 24/7 emergency mobile if any of our people are in need. Furthermore, if any are hurt or killed we are required to visit their relatives and inform them personally. We support the person and their family in any crisis. Conversations I have can cover many of these areas.
CTA: What are some of the stresses our Defence Personnel face in their role?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: Our ADF people make real sacrifices in serving us. This often means they are serving away from their family. This could mean deployment overseas, interstate on training, or working at another base away from family for long periods. As a Chaplain I care for and support them and their families on this journey. My role as Chaplain is one of the support mechanisms the ADF have to care for its people to help them in these challenges.
CTA: Building relationships is a big part of your ministry. What advice would you give other Christians involved in pastoral care and relationship building ministries?
Flight Lieutenant Owen:
1. You have to have a good memory. Remember people's names and at least one thing about the last conversation you had with them. So when you meet them again and ask about that topic and they know you care.
2. Ask them questions. Find out about who they are, about their families, what their interests are. Ask questions and listen more than you talk.
3. Develop your active listening skills. They need to see that you are vitally interested in them, as if nothing else in the world matters.
CTA: Give us an understanding of the place of Chaplains in the ADF?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: There is a long heritage of Chaplaincy in the ADF going back to WWI (including Gallipoli) and WWII. Chaplains during these wars earned a respect and recognition for their role in caring for soldiers at war. New cadets are taught about the role of Chaplains in their initial training. They have a clear understanding and respect for our role and how we fit into supporting Defence capability. My role is to affirm and maintain this heritage.
A phrase used to describe what we are there to do, is to "maintain capability." That is, helping them perform their duties at the highest level in defending our nation. That means caring for their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
CTA: What's the best part of your Chaplaincy?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: I just love people. To be around and serve people is the best part. I love to provide a "word in season," and help people explore answers to questions on faith and life.
Also, being a New Zealander by birth and becoming an Australian citizen, I feel it is an honour to serve Australia. It is a way that I can give something back to this nation that has given me so much.
CTA: What is the biggest challenge in the ministry?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: Having the wisdom and knowledge to know how to deal with some very complex and serious issues our people face. Likewise, knowing when to seek advice and refer on. At times I feel a little overwhelmed and am not sure what to do. When I face these challenges I remind myself of this verse. "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13
CTA: Do you have a role at the RAAF 100year anniversary airshow at Pt. Cook?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: Several roles including caring for the ADF personnel working at the airshow. We also have a field chapel open and are meeting the public on both the Saturday and Sunday.
CTA: You are also a Pastor at the Pt. Cook Presbyterian Church. Tell me about that?
Flight Lieutenant Owen: Pt. Cook church is a new church plant in a booming population growth area. We started using the Pt. Cook RAAF Base Chapel and have just moved to a local Community Centre. I have always believed that "Provision follows Vision" so we are just working through a strategic planning process to set our vision to serve this community. We just had a community assessment/audit done by Bronwyn Merrigen (from the Geelong West Presbyterian Church), who is helping us develop a plan to:
1. Help us connect to our community
2. Build relationships with our community
3. Add value at to our community
4. Provide gospel opportunities for our community
This is an exciting time as we assess the most relevant way we can serve this community, including the RAAF Base.
During our Sunday meeting times, we are also exploring the way Jesus gives Life as explained in John's gospel. The RAAF Chaplaincy is a logical part of this desire for our church to serve the community.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html