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Southland Christian Ministry Training

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Who or What is a Padre?

The military, like other specialized vocations, has developed its own terminology. Being called ‘Padre’ rather than ‘Sir’ or ‘Wing Commander’ brings a level of informality to the relationship, and clears the way for better communication. The fact that ‘Padre’ is Spanish for ‘father’, suggests that originally it was probably only used for Roman Catholic Chaplains, but in current usage it refers to all Chaplains – even female ones, and most of us respond better to a family member than a superior rank.

So, if that is who the chaplain is, what does he or she do? The roles and responsibilities are many and varied, but I use the following acrostic to summarise the major ones:

Practical Support! In many cases, this is simple pastoral care and support. In many units we have a welfare role, making sure that individuals are being looked after, and providing a wide range of services, ranging from giving loans and providing emergency housing to helping people get established in a new location. Sometimes it is in a formal setting, giving unit briefs, but most of the time it comes about as I wander through the hanger. But often people need more than this and so come to see me at my office, looking for…

Advice! Usually what they get is a listening ear, in which I seek to help serving members (and their families in some cases) to see their options and make decisions about how to move forward. I am the generalist and so there are times when I refer them to others for specialist counselling, but at times, such as deployment, there are very few options! All that is said to me is confidential, with very few expections, but there are times when I have to move into the next role…

Diplomat! The Junior Aircraftsman does not have the ability to go outside the chain of command, so he talks to the Corporal, who talks to the Sergeant, who talks to the Flight Seargent, who talks to the Warrant Officer who raises it with the Flight Leutenant, who then passes it on to the Squadron Leader, who may then choose to pass it on to the Commanding Officer, if the story still makes sense. But one of the privileges (and weighty responsibilities) of Chaplain, is the option of going straight to the Commanding Officer, to mediate and get things sorted out quickly. Thus it is very important that I maintain good communication with everyone! The reality is that there are times when the only answer is a miracle and that is my department as well, because I also look after the…

Religious Stuff! The Padre is to provide for the religious needs of all military members, no matter what their denominational (or faith) background. Thus my role is to provide religious services as required for individuals and units, celebrating births, deaths and marriages, as well as providing opportunities for members to explore faith and introduce them to God through the difficult times they might find themselves in. But when all else fails I am there to provide…

Encouragement! I have a responsibility to go wherever the troops go, sharing the hardships of deployment, postings and risks, providing a perspective of hope for the hopeless, and a reason for being, which is part and parcel to my calling. I am called to be there when it counts, bringing some sense of peace to the warlike situations we are called to serve in, and humanise the inhuman contexts we may have to work in.

To do all that well and consistently I too need encouragement and support, so remember to pray for myself and the many other military chaplains who are quietly doing this job, in Australia, Afganistan and most other nations of the world!

Chaplain Ian Whitley

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