Chaplaincy: Called to listen

August 18, 2017

 A chaplain is responsible for the spiritual needs of an organisation, but whether they are working in airports, defence forces or anywhere in between they do so much more. Julie Houghton talks to two chaplains working in very different environments.



I see a chaplain as a person who chooses to live their faith in the wider world. They are the human face of God among people who may not otherwise recognise God in their midst or at work in the world.

~ Winton Knop, Melbourne Airport chaplain


Major Winton Knop

Major Winton Knop is coordinating chaplain at Melbourne Airport. You didn’t know that there were such things as airport chaplains? Then you are not alone. “I didn’t know airports had chaplains; what you do?” is a question Winton has heard many times, and he is clear about the driving force behind his role.

“A chaplain is a committed minister of the grace of God through the unconditional giving of compassion, care, acceptance and practical help to whoever they encounter in their specific working community,” he tells Warcry.

The practicalities of Winton’s role are mind-boggling—his team could be ministering to more than 15,000 staff and 35 million passengers who pass through the four terminals. And that doesn’t include the family members of passengers who come seeking help, or a few people who visit the airport for warmth, safety and a listening ear.

Winton’s chaplaincy team offers the whole range of welfare support to passengers, including counselling, assistance with travel, which might be negotiating with airlines on their behalf, support at medicals or helping disabled people on and off flights. The team also helps to find lost family members coming in on international flights, and will work with external agencies to help stranded people and asylum seekers at the airport.

Winton recalls a recent case where chaplains were able to make a difference.

“A Malaysian couple were scammed into coming to Australia for work, but on arrival their agent couldn’t be contacted, and as they had entered on a tourist/visitor visa they were not permitted to work, had no return ticket, and no money left to return home,” Winton explains.

“They came to the chaplaincy team feeling hopeless and helpless. Money was found to buy those tickets back to their family, friends and security in Malaysia, and while waiting for their flight, the Salvos provided food, transport to the city and back and accommodation.”

Chaplains also visit staff in their workplace, lending an ear to people who work in a stressful environment, coping with angry travellers.

Winton says that to be an effective chaplain he needs to be a very good listener, compassionate, resourceful, a networker, and counsellor on a huge range of people issues, as well as an ambassador for the Salvos.

“You need to be a person who accepts, values and works with a multi-national and multi-faith workforce and passenger community, be non-judgmental and have a love for and patience with people. Proselytising is certainly not acceptable, but opportunities to share about your faith and ministry are frequent,” he says.

While it is a physically exhausting job, involving kilometres of walking across terminals each day, Winton says there are plenty of rewards, and he feels that chaplains are a vital part of the airport community.

“We provide unique support, care and practical assistance offered from a faith-based care and wisdom, stemming for a godly sensitivity and resourcefulness,” Winton concludes.

I see a chaplain as a person who chooses to live their faith in the wider world. They are the human face of God among people who may not otherwise recognise God in their midst or at work in the world.

~ Kate Lord, Navy Chaplain



Chaplain Kate Lord

Kate Lord is a Navy Anglican chaplain on HMAS Cerberus. And yes, her surname has caused some hilarity in her calling.

“I see a chaplain as a person who chooses to live their faith in the wider world. They are the human face of God among people who may not otherwise recognise God in their midst or at work in the world,” she explains to Warcry.

Like Winton, Kate sees the essential qualities of a chaplain as being able to listen without passing judgment, as well as having compassion, patience and the ability to stay beside someone in their dark times.

“Given that about half of the people I see are dealing with the death of a loved one, they sometimes have questions about whether or not their loved one will go to heaven, especially if suicide has been part of the story,” Kate says.

“I always point to Jesus’ preference for the suffering and the marginalised, and assure them that Jesus would not have abandoned their loved one in their moment of greatest despair.”

Most people who come to see Kate are not religious, but Kate prays that her compassion and care for each person will give a glimpse of God’s love for them, and be a marker along their journey pointing towards something more.

Defence Force chaplains are highly regarded within the Defence Force and Kate chuckles as she remembers one young man who described chaplains as “the pride and joy of the Navy!”

Kate is ideally suited to the role, as she was a serving naval officer from the age of 17, and later became a Defence Forces wife, before undertaking children’s and youth ministry, theological studies and ordination as an Anglican priest.

Providing support to everyone from the Captain to Junior Sailors during a nine-month deployment at sea is one of the challenges for a Navy Chaplain, without the benefit of being part of a chaplaincy team while serving away from home.

“One way in which I feel I regularly make a difference is in assuring people that what they are feeling is normal and okay. My office is a safe space for people to let down their guard and say what they feel,” Kate says.

“On my first morning back in the Navy in January, I had someone knock on my door to discuss relationship issues. By the end of the first month, I felt like I had done more good than I had during a year in a parish.”

Coming home to the Navy as a chaplain is what Kate feels she is called to do.

“There is a long and wonderful history of chaplains living, working and dying for, with and alongside other members of the Defence Forces—I feel like I stand on the shoulders of all chaplains who have gone before me.”

The world would be a much poorer place without the compassion, faith and listening ears of chaplains like Major Winton Knop and Chaplain Kate Lord.


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