MCF - Mutual Support for Chaplains
Former DG CHAP AF Murray Earl
From my point of view and many chaplains’ POV, the harshest critics of Chaplains are other Christians. Chaplains are, so the story goes, either “not Christian (enough), not evangelical enough, too denominational, or not denominational enough, don’t give leadership, or want to take over etc” – you may have heard other critiques. Depending on your emphasis, critiques move up and down this bandwidth.
In terms of “mutual support for chaplains” today, while a critique is important, we have no time to argue among ourselves as Christians, we need to support one another as the world has changed.
The world we live in is very different to what it was ten years ago and so is the ADF.
So what does it mean to be in “mutual support”?
In my current role, I see myself as having a ministry of logistics – logistics win wars. When you read up on the great wars, it was logistics that won the wars – especially the American Civil war, WWI and WWII. For example, in the MEAO you observe all those Polar Air and Atlas Air 747s flying in 24/7, keeping the supply lines going in support of the front line. In Christian terms within the ADF, this is “you” and “me” on a daily basis. There are just not enough of us Chaplains to keep the supply lines going, and therefore we need to support each other.
This raises the wider question of my critique of Christians in the military – (we are all critics!!). All Christians in the military have to work out why they are in the military? One issue that has to be worked out for all Christians is; “am I in the military to be a service person as a Christian ministry, or am I in the military to raise the money to have a Christian ministry elsewhere?”
By that I mean, are you a Christian sailor, soldier of airwoman or airman – or are you a SSA/W/M, to go somewhere after work to be a Christian there? This is a big issue!
Some years ago I was doing some research on Christians in the workplace. I had to go around Melbourne interviewing Christian plumbers, accountants, etc, to see what it meant for them to be a Christian in the workplace. Interviewing two young lawyers I asked the question; “does your minister/pastor know what it is like to be a Christian lawyer?” Without missing a beat they responded; “No, my minister expects me to make deposits at Church, not withdrawals”. I know this myself, I have been a parish minister. I want people like you to work hard at work to build up my local church, to minister there. This is fair enough and it may be your vocation.
However, another model may be that you should be a very competent Christian CPL or BRIG, in the toughest of environments, in the military, and that is your vocation. As a chaplain, I have been approached by a CO regarding a “Christian” airmen/air women/officer with; “Hey Padre, this person is, or says he/she is a Christian, claims to be, but claims discrimination on the basis of being Christian – is there a problem here? etc.”
I look into the issue as Chaplains do, and in the end, 9 times out of 10, the issue is that the person does not do their job well and it shows. All the CO was after was a job well done. What was the problem – the person saw themselves as earning the money to do some work in another place, so their mind was not on the job.
There are two models and I acknowledge that. As a Chaplain I support the latter model as best I can, as I see the struggle involved. The Centurion in the Bible in Matthew 8 is still referenced even to this day, as a “Christian Commander”. He was a Christian soldier, his ministry was his soldiering. This is not easy and that is why we need to support each other, for times change, we change and only those who do this ministry can understand what is involved in being a Christian in the military.
That is why MCF (and equivalents) are so important; they empower us to be good at our jobs, which is an important part of being a Christian. To be a Christian at work is hard, but it is the greatest place to serve and in supporting each other, everyone benefits.