Our History

Our History

The present day Military Christian Fellowship was born out of two similar Christian fellowships that operated within the Australian Defence Force.

In 1851, Captain Trotter, of the British Army, wrote from India to his Christian friends in England seeking prayer support for himself and his fellow officers so that they might perform their military duties more effectively and be faithful in demonstrating their Christian faith. From this grew the Officers’ Christian Union. Through friendships with those of other nations similar fellowships developed; and their number continue to grow to this day. An Australian Officers’ Christian Union was formed in Sydney on 27 February 1959, which was based on the British Officers’ Christian Union model. The prime movers in the establishment of the Officers’ Christian Union Australia were Chaplain General Alan Begbie, Chaplain Douglas Abbot and LTCOL Duffy. The object of the Officers’ Christian Union was the extension of the cause of Christ in and through the fighting Services of the nation. The specific aims as regards members were to stimulate definite prayer, encourage Bible study and research, and emphasise to officers their responsibility in the Services and their obligation to advance the cause of Jesus Christ at home and abroad. For the first three years meetings were restricted to Sydney, but the Officers’ Christian Union was more widely known through literature distributed largely through what were then Church of England Chaplains. By 1963 regular gatherings were occurring at Richmond Air Force Base, and a Naval Lieutenant reported a time of fellowship with American Officers’ Christian Union members in Hawaii.From 1964 to 1972 no regular meetings were held, but the British Officers’ Christian Union’s magazine ‘Practical Christianity’ was circulated.

In 1966 Major General Sir Robbie Ewbank and Lady Ewbank visited Australia as part of a world-wide tour and spoke at a well attended Officers’ Christian Union conference. In 1972 Chaplain General Begbie was again elected Chairman, MAJOR Russell Bielenberg, Secretary and MAJOR Dick Wearne, Treasurer. These officers, particularly the last two, carried the Officers’ Christian Union for many years.

In 1973 the first Associates Prayer Group was formed by Miss Mary Nicholson, who continued faithfully with a small group of ladies almost till her death ten years later. She and her ladies often provided financial support at times of particular development, even though they were not aware of the specific need. A bequest from her enabled the appointment of the first paid Staff Worker in 1985. In 1975 the name was changed to Officers’ Christian Fellowship.

In 1973 Captain Garth Corlis was the prime mover behind the formation of an all-ranks group titled ‘Australian Services Christian Fellowship’. The Australian Services Christian Fellowship was established with the support of the Conference of Chaplains General. Captain Corlis had himself progressed to a commission through the ranks and was burdened to provide a fellowship for all ranks. Many Officers’ Christian Fellowship members also joined the Australian Services Christian Fellowship. Some others who at the time, played significant roles in the Australian Services Christian Fellowship were MAJ Jim Mallice, MAJ (later LTCOL) Gary Stone and MAJ (Later BRIG) Jim Wallace who, in 1981, became the first editor of ‘The Australian Practical Christianity’. In 1982 the Officers’ Christian Fellowship provided financial support to the Australian Services Christian Fellowship for the publication of ‘The Australian Practical Christianity’.

The second editor of ‘The Australian Practical Christianity’ was MAJ Ian Steele. He was followed, in late 1985, by Mr Chris Stafferton. Chris continued editing ‘The Australian Practical Christianity’ until a decision was taken by Council to replace it with a new design and format under the name of CrossFire. The new format made for a more readable magazine that has greater appeal to ALL members of the fellowship. In mid 1996 Chris produced his final CrossFire and handed the editorial role to Rachael Brown who continued until the end of 1998.

In 1984 the two organizations, Officers’ Christian Fellowship and Australian Services Christian Fellowship combined to form the Military Christian Fellowship of Australia. The first Chairman of the new organisation was GPCAPT (later AVM) Brendan O’Loghlin. GPCAPT Brendan O’Loghlin was succeeded, consecutively, by MAJ Jim Wallace, LTCOL (later BRIG) Mike Swan, LTCOL Gary Stone, LTCOL Gary Allan, LTCOL (Later COL) Peter Rose, LTCOL Stuart Ellis, CDRE (later RADM) Trevor Ruting, GPCAPT Rod Luke, GPCAPT Gary Pianegonda, LTCOL Mick Mumford, and LTCOL James van Heel (from 2009 to present).

Under the Chairmanship of MAJ Jim Wallace, GEN Peter Gration was invited to be the first Patron of MCF-A. He has been succeeded by LTGEN John Grey, AVM Brendan O’Loghlin, BRIG Jim Wallace, RADM Trevor Ruting, GEN David Hurley (2008 to 2014), and BRIG Dan Fortune (2014 to ).
by Russell Bielenberg

MCF Staff:
Since 1985 MCF has employed a National Staff worker or Administrator

1985-1989 LTCOL Ian Sarah was the first Staff Worker.

1989-1994 LTCOL Russell Bielenberg

1993-2008 Ken McPhan (GPCAPT, rtd) was employed as Office Administrator during this period, with a significant activity being to maintain the membership database. He continued in this role for well over 10 years, retiring in 2008.

1995-2000 WOWTR Dave Sutherland
The employment of a Staff Worker who has served as a sailor, not as an Officer, was seen as an important advance for MCF-A. David brought a fresh approach and made it very clear that MCF-A is indeed an all-ranks Military Christian Fellowship. David and his wife Fran moved to Perth (Western Australia) in late 1999 to support elderly relatives. He continued as Staffworker into the beginning of 2000, but was unable to continue in that capacity.

1997-2000 Training Establishments Staff Worker LCDR Mark Warren: In February 1997 MCF appointed LCDR Mark Warren as the first Training Establishments Staff Worker. Mark was responsible for the development of MCF activities at Australian Defence Force Training Establishments. Initially his focus was the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College, Duntroon. During his first year, Mark began investigating ministry needs at other Training Establishments in consultation with Chaplains and other Christian organisations active at the establishments. Mark served until the beginning of 2000, then resigned and returned to fulltime service in the Royal Australian Navy. In 2000 the Council struggled to keep the national aspects of MCF working by sharing many of the tasks previously undertaken by staffworkers amongst Council members and other MCF members.

2001-2002 Mrs Grace Allen: From 2001 to mid 2002 Grace Allen took on a limited set of staff-worker tasks, based at the MCF Office at Campbell Park, ACT.

2002-2004 Mrs Helen Rose then served for several years. As the wife of a serving Navy person, she also brought a perspective of the Defence family to MCF activities. She ceased her formal activities in late 2004 to place more emphasis on her family.

2004-2008 Jon Belmonte became the Staff Worker in November 2004. During his time he reinvigorated Staff Worker base visits and membership more than doubled. In recognition of his service to military Christians, in September 2008 he was awarded an Australian Defence Force Gold Commendation by the then Vice Chief of the Defence Force. Jon left MCF in December 2008 in order to undertake officer training with the Salvation Army.

2009 Helen Rose took over the role on a temporary basis until MCF could recruit a new Staff Worker.

2009-2011 Rev Anne Lock
In October 2009 MCF appointed Rev Anne Lock as National Staff Worker. Anne, an ordained Baptist minister, had a long personal experience of Military Christianity as she is married to Gary Lock the then Principal Chaplain of the Navy. At the end of 2011 Anne left the MCF ministry.

2012-2015 Mrs Lisa Thomas
Mrs Lisa Thomas, BTh, Dip AO, commenced on the 30 Jan 12 as the MCF-A National Staff Worker and concluded in 2015.

2015-2018 Michael Nott
Michael Nott started as the National Administrator (Staff Worker) in Feb 2015. Michael left MCF early in 2018 to undertake Ministry study.

2018 Reserve Army Chaplain Phil Anderson took up the role as the National Administrator on a temporary basis until MCF could recruit a new Administrator.

2018-current. In early May 2018 Mrs Julie Jaensch started as the National Administrator and is married to Principal Chaplain Darren Jaensch, past DGCHAP-Army. Julie came from an organisation helping ex-service personnel who had been injured either physically or psychologically during their service, and supporting their families.


At the end of 2023 a personal history of MCF-A by Russell Bielenberg was published. 


From the author: I joined the OCU within three years of its commencement, so it is likely that only I am left to recount the early years … I have tried to deal fairly with the difficult issues which I felt needed to be covered so that lessons might be learnt and similar situations avoided. I found great encouragement as I looked back over the past 62 years seeing what God has done through the OCU/MCF and I pray that the reader too will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. The title is meant to reflect the desire of MCF members to be faithful followers of Christ while providing faithful service to the nation.

From the foreword by MAJGEN Sue Graham, MCF Patron: Few know the history of MCF-A as well as Russell Bielenberg, who together with his wife Helen, have been faithful stalwarts from the early days of the Officers’ Christian Union (OCU) … This is a comprehensive personal account which through the stories recounted shows God’s continued faithfulness to this ministry. From small beginnings, lean membership periods, financial challenges and, at times, personal tensions, the ministry has grown and continues to support members to faithfully ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1Peter 3:15).

To find out more or purchase the book please download and follow instructions on this form: Faithful Service – by Russell Bielenberg