'What is a chaplain?' must have been asked of me over 1,000 times the last two months.
I've recently taken on two roles at public schools as a chaplain; one is a high school, the other Pâ12. This term has mainly been induction and orientation into the roles, without many hard chases to deal with so I can get a foot hold before next year.
My opening question has become somewhat like a broken record with everyone from colleagues, students, parents and even I've been asking myself that question: what the heck is a chaplain?
To be honest, I still feel like I'm only just coming to grips with it now, but I'll start with negatives and deal with some misconceptions.
What chaplaincy is not...
Chaplaincy is not about getting students to become Christians, in fact there's probably more true of the opposite.
By that I mean, chaplaincy isn't about coming into a school and looking to convert students, it's more about coming into a school and supporting and nurturing student's wellbeing in a holistic way. So every part of one's wellbeing is covered from physical, mental, emotional, social, environmental AND spiritual wellbeing is cared for.
Chaplaincy is not about being a religious fundamentalist, nor is it about even spreading the Gospel. I think we've lost our way as Christians and become Pharisees and fundamentalists if we think that we're the only 'light in the darkness shining' or we're the only thing holding back the devil from the students souls.
Yes, I'm a Christian, but in no way am I the only one of whom is doing good thingsâin factâI'm simply one tiny iddy biddy part of many awesome and inspiring things the school community is already doing, I'm simply coming on board and helping out.
Wellbeing vs Jesus
I've had conversations with some people over the year as I considered getting into chaplaincy, in which wellbeing staff members at schools were generally against what they thought a chaplain should be doing.
On the flip sideâI think wellbeing in schools is the best thing since sliced bread. Experiencing firsthand the work that these amazing people do, and having the honour of working alongside them has been an absolute joy!
Amongst all the hustle and bustle of a busy school life, there is always someone the students can come and chat with, get a hand with life's challenges or be referred to someone with more expertise.
Wellbeing staff members slave away thanklessly each and every day to ensure the students are well cared for. From sorting out uniforms, missing lunches, meetings with DHHS or getting extra support for students with learning difficulties, they are the work horse of the education system.
Where does a chaplain then fit in?
Chaplains form a really unique part of the whole wellbeing department in a school. Within many schools there may be counsellors, psychologists, nurses, and youth or social workers. Each have a particular area of speciality, but the chaplain specifically has a role that brings attention to spiritual wellbeing.
This is really exciting to seeâmany young people in schools don't have much social capital outside of school, so it's great that there are people available to help care for this unique part of every individual.
There are many opportunities for people to reflect and look back on life, and it seems that having people in a role like mine gives permission and a safe space for young people to have those deeper reflective moments, learn from their past, realise what has given and gives them life, and really stop and think about the meaning of life on a realistic level.
Michael Enderby is currently a public high school Chaplain with SU Victoria in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. He has a heart and a passion for walking alongside youth and helping them realise their potential. He resides as a lead tenant in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Michael Enderby's personal blog is herehttp://www.scot262wh.wordpress.com
His previous articles are at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/michael-enderby.html