Dave Gilmour is Chaplain at Burgmann Anglican School. The following article reflects his experience as Chaplain at a private Anglican school, and is not applicable to the role of Chaplain in NSW public schools.
They walk. Lots of walking. I will get back to that later though.
My name is Dave and I have been a chaplain at Burgmann Anglican School for many years now, operating within a school that holds tightly to its faith values. With this in mind, I will endeavour to answer the questions about what a school chaplain does in their day-to-day work.
Paul writes to the Corinthians:
When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.
1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT
My primary focus is to ensure the wellbeing of both students and staff at my school. But before this can happen, a chaplain will need to connect with their community, the individuals and look for points of common ground to establish relationships.
When I first started my work, I was handed some extra classes to supervise students while they were doing sport. This was given to me with, ‘Sorry Dave, I know that this is extra work…’
I grinned – thinking that this would be perfect ‘common ground.’
You may see your school chaplain playing games, larking around with students and staff and think – “All they do is play around. When do they do chaplaincy stuff?” Let me tell you, the games are fun, but they are also a stepping stone into the realm of trust.
We all know that there are those in our lives who we bare our souls to, and these people are most trusted with those things in our hearts that are kept hidden away under lock and key. A school chaplain is always looking for common ground, as Paul mentioned finding that common ground is a step towards ‘saving’ them.
I like to call the subsequent conversations, after establishing trust, sharing a ‘journey’ with that person. Hence the mention of walking at the beginning of this article. This is not leading them, or tagging behind them. It is, actually being invited to ‘walk with’ them through their valleys of despair and mountains of triumph. Sometimes these journeys can be painful, sometimes no words spoken – only tears shed for all involved. Other times, tears of joy and some very non-reverend shouting in excitement are in order!
I operate in a school where faith can become a part of the conversation throughout that journey, but there are some chaplains who are not allowed to talk about faith due to workplace policies. Both my roles as School Chaplain and Christian Living (or Religious Education) teacher are important and both require a commitment to foster strong relationships with the students and those in their school community. To do so with my faith as a foundation is a blessing.
I once listened to a former chaplain of parliament, Reverend Peter Rose, talk about his tri-fold daily job description. He said that he had the daily focus as set out by the Bishop of the area, his own plan for the day and finally, and most importantly, he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s promptings. This is the beautiful part of my job as well. I have my classes that I teach, I follow the direction of the school’s leadership as to what my duties are, and finally, listen carefully to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I often ask the same question twice – ‘How are you doing?’ The first answer is often, ‘Good’, but the still small voice prompts me to ask again – often with a very different answer.
What does a chaplain do? They journey with people. Sit with somebody in their pain. They celebrate in joy. They work within the individual structures of the school to further support each child in their wellbeing. I have shared in the joys of sharing charitable gifts with people in need. I have sat with a broken family who have just informed the school that they have lost a significant person in their family. I have shed tears of grief with staff and giggled with the students. All was done as a part of the honour to be invited to share a journey.
Why share this journey with so many? There is a simple answer for this: because I love Jesus.
As we look though the Gospels we see Jesus walking with His disciples, not frantically sharing curriculum that he needed to cover in His three short years of ministry, but connecting with them. As he passed people on his way, He did not shy away from those in need because of the job that He had to complete, but humbly joined in their stories.
I believe that a chaplain is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who was invited into discussions and homes for meals, not because He was Holy, but because He was approachable.
So what does your school chaplain do? Probably many things that have been listed here, plus many more. The job of Chaplain is so incredibly unique to their environment that no two Chaplains are identical. The question that may have a much more common answer is the ‘Why’ a school’s chaplain does what they do – I bet their answer is because they are honoured to spend a while walking with people.
Dave Gilmour has been involved in education for 10 years. For the last 7 of those years, he has worked as a Chaplain teaching ‘Christian Living’, while also ministering to staff and students assisting others in their wellbeing within the school. He loves his wife, his two children, bad ‘Dad jokes’ and engaging people in discussions about the person of Jesus.