Pastor Simon Cooper is a chaplain to two contrasting communities. In his ‘day job’, as School Pastor to students at Good Shepherd Lutheran College, Noosa in Queensland, it is his role to preach the gospel to children and teenagers. As a part-time Navy Reserve Chaplain, the demographic he works with and his responsibilities are markedly different. But, he says, one common denominator of both ministries is hope.
by Simon Cooper
One of the most fulfilling things about working in defence chaplaincy is that you can bring hope to people who feel there isn’t much hope. And that goes for my school ministry as well.
A ministry of care and wellbeing is a priority in both arenas. We see this in Jesus’ ministry. He healed people, calmed them, advocated for them, had compassion on them. In my two roles that means being pro-active in caring for each member, but also responding when crises arise.
If I didn’t love school chaplaincy so much, I would certainly consider full-time defence chaplaincy. It is a real privilege and joy to pray for and with service personnel, to represent our Saviour in word and deed, and to teach ethics and character development.
I’ve been serving in the Navy Reserve as Chaplain for nine years but my interest goes back decades. I served for four years in the Army Reserves before entering the ministry. Two of these years were full–time in the Australian Army Survey Corps, which combined a love for drawing and geography.
Years later after realising my call to the ministry, I reflected back on my Army days with good memories of the camaraderie and the physical challenges. So, I married these two ideas of ministry and military.
Reserve Chaplains must be members of the Navy Reserves – and that means going through the same training as other Reservists. Two full-time two-week courses cover areas including Navy history, leadership, first aid, sea survival, small arms training, and other military skills. Then there are essays and assignments.
There are also annual professional requirements to remain compliant. Reservist Chaplains are required to serve at least 20 days a year.
I moved to Queensland in mid-2017 to take up a call to Good Shepherd and my Navy service here is still being formalised. But, while I was pastor at Luther College in suburban Melbourne from 2009 to 2017, I was based at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria.
Chaplaincy duties include making hospital visits on- or off-base, and conducting baptisms, weddings and funerals. And I would try to join in with sporting events or training exercises, to get alongside others and keep fit. Pastoral care and counselling are required daily. It amazes me that, in such a secular age, chaplains still have people knock on our doors and want to chat. But in such a regimented, high-pressure world, often far from home and family, defence force members need a safe place to ‘vent’. They need someone who is approachable, trustworthy and ready to listen.
Military life can awaken an awareness of life, death and matters of the soul. While we don’t usually share the gospel up-front, we can assure them of their value and dignity as human beings, support and encourage them, and help them access resources.