South Australia’s Schools Ministry Group is celebrating 25 years of chaplaincy services this week. Julie Houghton caught up with pastoral care worker Andrew Babirat to discuss the joys and challenges working with the school community.
What has been your path to becoming a pastoral care worker?
I worked for a printing company, and then went to Bible college before working part-time in aged/disability care. After that I worked at a primary school while studying part-time to be a teacher.
How would you describe your role and what does it take to be a successful pastoral care worker?
I support the school to provide a safe learning environment, and link staff, students and families to community resources and services, and offer a unique spiritual role to the school community. You need good people skills and to get involved in as many school activities as time permits, so that you can be embraced by the school community. You also need patience and perseverance, and be committed to the long haul. And, of course, prayer support.
What sorts of conversations do you have around faith?
Conversations arise just because I am ‘the chaplain’. Students either ask me what Christians believe about a certain topic or issue, or they want to know what a certain religious term means. If they attend church we talk about things such as youth group.
Also, in the staff room there are always topics of faith, spirituality or moral issues which come up in conversation, and staff ask for my view or comments, or sometimes just want to stir me up! It could be to do with the Pope, church corruption, religious extremism, science, or religious charities that help the poor, such as the Salvos.
What challenges do you face in your work?
The restrictions of what I can or cannot say, and knowing how to deal with moral and ethical issues which contradict Christian/biblical values. As we cannot be seen to be proselytising or trying to convert anyone, we have to be very wise with what we say and the way we go about it.
If a student is really searching and seeking for answers to do with faith, spirituality and the Christian faith, we have to be extremely careful to make sure we also communicate with the parents. And sometimes we may want to just pray for the person. However, it may be unwise if the parents are not favourable to anything Christian.
So how do you find a path to deal with those ethical issues that contradict Christian values?
We have to be wise in every situation, and I think there are some issues that are not productive to talk about with students, and can only lead to unnecessary barriers to the Gospel. However, depending on the age of the students, there are some topics that can be debated, and it can be useful for students to see other sides of the argument. Many subjects in the senior years discuss ethical and moral issues and, now and then, teachers ask me to join the class to give a Christian perspective.
What have been some of the most satisfying interactions you have had as a Pastoral Care Worker over the years?
Praying with staff who have lost loved ones and seeing answers to prayer. And answering students’ questions about Jesus and the Bible when they are truly searching, then hearing how that helped them later in life in their faith journey when they are at university, etc.
How does your faith inform your work?
It guides everything I do, and reminds me of the unique opportunity I have to be in a public school.