Supporting chaplains in state schools

Hand of friendship to state schools

2001. The missionary on your doorstep is something vital for the Church to recognize, says Helen McGhie, National Chaplaincy Coordinator of the Churches Education Commission (CEC).

CEC represents most Protestant denominations in New Zealand in matters concerning Christian and general education. They held their major conference on August 31 and their Annual General Meeting the following day. There was also a conference for chaplain coordinators on August 30.

The aim of the conference was to resource, encourage and spiritually build up chaplain coordinators. They discussed how ongoing training should comply within New Zealand Qualifications Accreditation guidelines. There are currently three annual CARE courses (Chaplaincy, Assessing, Resourcing, Equipping) run for trainees and those already in service.

Continual in-service training, ongoing support and supervision of chaplains are essential.

CEC Chaplains work in primary, intermediate and secondary schools and are developing resources to engage with preschool, as part of their five-year plan.

A chaplain is committed to work a minimum of four hours a week on a voluntary basis, although some work longer. The level of involvement is dependent on the arrangement with the principal, through a contract. Depending on finances, schools may choose to pay a chaplain.

“We are not able to fill the places that the schools want,” said Mrs McGhie, an ordained Assembly of God minister.

There are approximately 150 trained chaplains working in over 2700 state schools, including composite secondary/primary schools, special schools, and the Correspondence School.

Over the last year there has been a marked increase in the profile of chaplains in both the Christian and education community through word of mouth and publicity. Primary Schools are requesting chaplains due to their interest in the spiritual dimension and for their pastoral work, says Hilary Baskerville, National Coordinator of CEC.

“The main thing is that the chaplain is a familiar face so that when a need arises a relationship of trust has already been established,” says Mrs McGhie.

“Once a chaplain is known in the school, they are there for memorial services, for any special celebration and assemblies.

“When there was an accident on a rugby field in Otago the boys were calling out, where’s the Godman? Because he is known they know where to get hold of him.”

Waiuku College chaplain Simon Brown, a chaplain coordinator for the South Auckland region, brings his experience as a pastor to the role and usually works the full school day, sometimes longer.

On an average day he sees a “dozen kids “. He says that about seventy per-cent of his clients are female. Most are aged thirteen—fifteen years. He observes that females are bigger users of drugs and alcohol than males. Yet it is the females who begin to address their problems earlier than the males. Mr Brown’s approach to his pupils is that of friendship.

“At heart you’re a dad and you do talk to them about the possibilities. Try to get them to realize the possible conclusions themselves.

“I try to find within their own lives the good things and the things that bring hope.” Often the pupils cannot see any good in their lives.

Mr Brown says they are not caught up with religion. They see the Church as irrelevant and forms of spirituality such as witchcraft are embraced.

“They know I’m a Christian,” Mr Brown says. “Dialogue is important. They will bring their issue into that dialogue, and I’ll bring my spirituality in as well.”

Chaplains such as Mr Brown work in network with the school’s guidance counsellors. They need to assess whether the pupil should be referred to another agency.

The next CARE course for chaplains will be held in Christchurch October 29 to November 2, 2001. A further conference will be held in Taranaki in March 2002.

By Peter Veugelaers.

Published 2001, Challenge Weekly

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