Michael Gladwin wrote the award-winning book Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains. He is passionate about combining his strong Christian faith with his vocation as an academic.
Why do you think military chaplains are important?
There is a deep, perennial and unchanging need of soldiers for spiritual and moral guidance, and pastoral care, especially because soldiers do a job where death
is always a possibility.
You wrote about Salvo hero ‘Fighting Mac’ McKenzie—what was he like?
He was an extraordinary man of great courage, stamina and desire to bring soldiers to Christ; and Christ to soldiers. Fighting Mac also stands in a long line of Salvo chaplains who have punched way above their weight in terms of influence and acceptance as chaplains. Their practical, ‘sleeves-rolled-up’ Christianity has resonated powerfully with Australian soldiers.
Was faith a big part of your childhood?
Yes, my parents were missionary primary school teachers with the Wesleyan Methodist Church (Australia) in PNG, where they met and were married in 1972. When we returned to Australia we attended our local Uniting Church in O’Connor, Canberra.
What are some of your career highlights?
I worked for two years as a staff worker with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in Denver, USA where I led youth outreach/mission teams across America, Canada, and Mexico, in ministries that ranged from the inner-city homeless to Native Americans to Mexican gang members. Currently I am Senior Lecturer in History at St Mark’s National Theological College and since 2016 I have been editor of St Mark’s Review, one of Australia’s longest-running theological journals.
What fascinated you most when you were researching the book?
I was fascinated by the range of roles undertaken by chaplains, their immense courage and bravery and the way they have always insisted on being at the frontlines, roughing it and suffering the same privations as Australian soldiers. It’s an incarnational ministry in this sense; being present with soldiers, ‘loitering with intent’ and being available. This sets chaplains apart from social workers or clinical psychologists—only chaplains go on exercises and into battle with soldiers and this has fostered deep respect and rapport with Diggers.
Can you explain your description of military chaplains as ‘soldiers without guns’?
As non-combatants, most refused to carry weapons, even though they had the right to, figuring that they were to bring God’s presence and to show their trust in God. Many soldiers deeply respected this decision and admired their trust in God in this respect. But they were also soldiers without guns because Australian chaplains have always been at the frontlines, roughing it.
What impact did writing the book have on you?
I came away with profound respect and admiration for Australia’s Army chaplains of all periods and denominations. Most were ordinary, faithful servants of God who served in extraordinary—and often extraordinarily difficult and intense—situations. Unsung heroes of military history, for sure.
Tell me about your current involvement in Christian faith?
I see my academic and historical involvement as a definite calling from God to serve academia, the Church and our broader society. Outside my academic and historical work, my family and I are heavily involved in the life of our local parish, Good Shepherd Anglican Church, in Canberra.