I've been wanting to comment on this one for awhile. The Federal Budget has stated that the multi-million dollar Nation Schools Chaplaincy Program will be rolled over for the next three years. And this makes me feel... well, a bit bit awkward.
I was a chaplain for four years. I adored my ministry. I loved the students and the community and all the good I felt like I was doing. I made some mistakes (who wouldn't after four years), but over all I loved being a chaplain. Our State Government then decided that we couldn't be chaplains (something to do with being misleading and only some chappies being ordained) and we were given the title of Christian Pastoral Support Worker. In some ways it suited the role to a tee. But on the other hand, it was still vague and gave permission for unskilled workers to work in pastoral support. Since my time, and I finished in 2009, CPSWs now have to have minimum qualifications after a certain period of time.
I believe that schools need chappies.
You just have to talk to someone who is passionate about their role to know what an amazing job they do. In some ways, chappies are unsung heroes, in others they are the cool kid you wanted to be friends with in school, and couldn't... until now. Even though I was a Christian, I never really had a lot to do with my school chaplains, they seemed to spend time with kids they knew, or the Year 8s, who probably needed them the most.
But I don't believe that the government should be funding the program.
This might sound a bit rich coming from me, but here is what you don't know.
My first twelve months as a chaplain I worked five hours a week. I was paid a $1000 honorarium for the whole year, which worked out to $25 a week. It didn't even cover my petrol. But, we are talking about a ministry. If my employing group, which was made up of local churches, had phoned and said they couldn't afford to pay me anymore, I would have continued working in my ministry. Why? I loved it. I gave of myself, but I also got a lot back too.
In 2006 John Howard brought in a bunch of new laws (hello, WorkChoices) surround Industrial Relations. In a role, such as mine, honorariums were declared as unlawful and I was paid at a base rate per hour. It wasn't much, but it was above minimum wage and I was making enough money in my role for petrol and food on the table. I was still paid by an employing group which brings a whole lot of issues - I was paid at spasmodic times, I would often call to remind someone I had to be paid, a WorkCover claim got very confusing as no one had dealt with it before. It goes on.
My school site then applied for the Grant which would give the CPSW a further five hours per week. This was paid by the government, with the other half being my original funding agreement.
I haven't had anything to do with CPSW work since 2010, apart from working with some. At that stage in 2010 some chaplaincies were given partial payments from employing groups, some were only government grant based and only one was entirely funded by an employing group.
Why does this bother me?
From my understanding, chaplaincy within schools is about helping churches network with their communities, supporting the work of the chaplain and working alongside of them. By giving the financial responsibility to the government, all this changes. I believe that there is less accountablity from everyone.
But, probably more importantly, why are we expecting the Federal Government to pay for people working in ministry? Pastoral support is great in schools who have complex issues, who are small sites with no counsellor, who are large sites with not enough counselling staff. Actually, pastoral support is good in all schools. But as CPSWs are not counsellors and are not ordained ministers or deacons, and are not allowed to "proselytise" this gives both a limited scope for ministry purposes, and a far too wide scope for what pastoral support actually is.
Despite all these things, I have friends who are CPSWs. I have friends who used to be, and wouldn't be now because they are at a different time in their life. I have a great respect for many CPSWs. As a teacher, I probably see the role a little bit differently to how I once did. I think a few things about the program need a rethink. Here are some:
1. Where should your CPSW be based? Ideally I think they need their own space, but not one that is isolated, and preferably one with plenty of foot traffic. I used to have a box in the teacher prep room which was fine until I doubled my hours and had too much paperwork.
2. What should and shouldn't a CPSW do? You need to look at each school and carefully consider this. Lots of CPSWs run SRCs. In fact, I did for a few years. And I wasn't the right person for the job, they really needed an actual teacher to do it, and for all intents and purposes, a CPSW is not a teacher.
3. How is your CPSW connecting with local churches? I'll be honest, this is really hard. I think it works best when you attend a local church in your own area and/or you have a supportive group of local churches.
4. What about the God stuff? This makes me feel really sad, and probably should be first and foremost. So, essentially we are sending CPSWs into schools, who can't be called chaplains, who can't be seen to make 'converts' of Christianity, who had to present a well-rounded and totally accepting view of all denominations. This is where I feel that the problem is that we become, well, a little irrelevant. Any nice person can do pastoral support, based on their religion (or lack thereof) of their choice. I loved Christian Education lessons while growing up in my public school in Victoria. They were all about God, Jesus, Prayer, Christian celebrations etc.Now it seems that this is readily being done away with, and this makes me feel disappointed. Chaplains can help organise school seminars (but they shouldn't be organising them) and they can distribute religious materials (with parent permission).
Despite all of this, chappies have the opportunity to be a shining light in their schools. And this is what we should remember. But who should fund it? It shouldn't entirely be given from the Federal Budget. We, as church communities and Christian communities too, need to start investing, and to start taking back some territory.
What can we do to help?
My home church regularly connects to our area's school CPSWs. We pray for them every week and know them by name. They run two breakfast programs in different schools. As a chappy, I always admired people who were willing to come in and help, and do what they could.
And, we can support where we can. Maybe my home church is an exception, but we shouldn't be. Churches aren't always the most visible groups out there. Okay, so people know use from branding, such as Anglicare, but how often do they put two-and-two together? Some churches are a lot better at it than others. Maybe you would say that churches who have a reason to be there should be meeting a need. My home church has no young people. No children, no teenagers. Some young (ish) adults. And they do it to meet a need that has no real benefit to their church.
A ministry meets a need. Chaplaincy is a need, but it needs to be sustainable, and the current funding model really isn't. I'll be honest. I'd rather see these co-payments done away with than have a federally funded chaplaincy program. Dollar for dollar that's not plausible, we are talking about 250 million here. But we need to be relevant and reliable. Relying on the government to be paid for ministry while school families are going to struggle more than what they are now a little more than unsettling.
I'm not saying to do away with chappies in any way, state or form. This is just my commentary on it, and I'm quite happy to be wrong.