Southland Christian Ministry Training

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Who or What is a Padre?

The military like other specialised vocations has developed its own terminology. My formal title is chaplain, yet most of the time I am called “Padre”. I wear the rank of an officer, yet in order to connect better with the lower ranks this term padre blurs the rank issue. Language scholars will tell you that it is the Spanish word for father, and as such probably originally only referred to Roman Catholic chaplains, but in current usage it refers to all chaplains – even female ones!

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

  • Practical support – to all rank levels, seeking to help people cope with the challenges and frustrations of military life. That often means supporting families as well in basic ways, such as providing low interest loans. My role is to asses how physical, mental and spiritual issues are affecting morale and providing support at a macro level as well as an individual one.
  • Advice and counseling – providing a listening ear in a confidential setting and helping people to see their options and other resources that maybe available.
  • Diplomat and mediator – able to intervene in a range of conflict situations, and one of the few people in a military context, who is able to step outside the chain of command. My role is to help people deal with their differences and get on with the main job.
  • Religious Stuff – making sure that all member’s religious needs are catered for no matter what their faith background. As a Protestant I have specific responsibilities to provide that without undermining my own theological principles and practices. Thus I do spend some time facilitating Bible studies, leading worship and providing spiritual counsel.
  • Encouragement – being there, sharing the same world and hardships as all other military members, not just here in Australia but on overseas deployments as well. It might be as simple as handing out sweets or providing a shoulder to cry on but what counts is that they feel someone cares.

The fact is I seem to spend a lot of time in briefings, writing reports, doing paperwork instead of those things above! Such is life, but it is my hope and prayer that what I am doing is making a difference. Padre’s Ponderings were originally written as base wide emails as an attempt to address these goals and help people deal with the challenges of life.

Chaplain Ian Whitley