B8 – Defence Force Chaplaincy


This ministry is one of many ministries. However the locus of this ministry is toward those personnel in uniform who are charged with defending Australia’s interests. Two specific elements make up the formal UCA ministry to the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Firstly, the Assembly nominates a convenor to co-ordinate Defence Force ministry on behalf of the Church. The convenor is subsequently appointed to the Religious Advisory Committee to the Forces (RACS) by the Minister of Defence Support. Secondly, the UCA administers chaplaincy ministry through the Uniting Church Defence Force Committee (DFCC). Clergy, on recommendation of the RACS member and the DFCC, are nominated as UCA chaplains and appointed to the ADF. Upon appointment chaplains wear the uniform, fulfil all the requirements of military service and in so doing continue a centuries old tradition of service to the military on behalf of the Church. ADF Chaplains are Assembly appointments and are administered on behalf of the Church by the DFCC.


The RACS Committee is a Defence and Church sponsored committee based on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Initiated circa 1914 this (equivalent) committee has provided advice and supplied ministers to the nation ever since. The RACS Committee is compiled of nominated representatives from most mainline churches and a Jewish Rabbi. Included in RACS are the United Churches representative, (Baptist, Churches of Christ, Lutheran, Australian Christian Churches and the Salvation Army), the Presbyterian, Anglican and Roman Catholic representatives and the convenor of the Uniting Church Defence Force Committee. Two subcommittees, representing smaller denominations and other faiths make input into the RACS. The RACS Committee meets in Canberra quarterly to discuss matters arising, to nominate incoming chaplains and to advise Defence on matters spiritual.


On behalf of the Assembly, the UCA DFCC recruits, administers and discharges ADF Chaplains. In processing this task the committee seeks to pastorally care for all ADF Chaplains and their families in what is and always has been a very challenging ministry. Chaplains are recruited for full-time and part-time positions in the Navy, Army and Air Force. To be recruited as chaplains candidates must be ordained ministers of the UCA and have up to five years of experience in a Parish to be eligible. This ministry is primarily to younger unchurched personnel in an operational environment.

Since the last Assembly the UCA DFCC has relocated from Queensland to Canberra in the ACT. Increasingly the locus for Defence is Canberra. The development of a more joint approach to operations has meant a greater co-ordinating requirement in Defence and Canberra being the seat of Government, is where more and more defence assets are located. Since the last Assembly report the Headquarters Joint Operating Centre (HQJOC) has been established near to Canberra. This is the centre where all operational decisions are processed jointly in one location. With that the ADF Defence Force Chaplains’ College has been relocated from Bandiana near Wodonga, to ADFA in Canberra as part of the joint approach. Concurrently it was thought wise to re-locate the Assembly committee to Canberra. This transfer occurred in December 2013. It has proved to be a wise decision committee-wise, enabling easier access to more UCA Chaplains and ADF Staff, is cost saving as meetings are held at the same time, and has helped to identify the DFCC as a specific defence asset on behalf of the Church. The DFCC has been supported by the Canberra Presbytery and our thanks is extended to the Presbytery administrative staff for the provision of office space.


The UCA DFCC acts on behalf of the Assembly in being a liaison committee between the wider church and Defence and between the UCA and other denominations and faith groups involved in Defence matters. The committee exists to:

4.1.1 advise and support the Uniting Church member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS),

4.1.2 consult with Synods in the approval, nomination and appointment of Uniting Church Ministers as Defence Force Chaplains, and to determine on behalf of the Assembly which chaplaincy positions are regarded as approved placements within the Assembly,

4.1.3 when requested by the Uniting Church member of the RACS Committee, or by the General Secretary, to liaise with the Department of Defence and with representatives of other churches and other faith groups on matters related to Defence Force Chaplaincy,

4.1.4 ensure the provision of pastoral care for Defence Force Chaplains, their spouses and families, and

4.1.5 consult with Synod committees relating to Defence Force Chaplaincy, with regard to the ministry and welfare of Defence Force Chaplains.

4.2 UCA DFCC Membership 2015

The current membership of the DFCC is:

Convenor Rev’d Dr Murray Earl
Chair Rev’d David Thiem
Secretary Chaplain Robyn Kidd
Treasurer Chaplain Gary Whelband
Members Chaplain Alan Williams
Ms Sandy Anderson
Chaplain Charles Vesely
Chaplain Mau Mau Monu
Chaplain Phil Anderson

The DFCC is augmented as appropriate by other chaplains for mutual support, recruitment opportunities and retreat committees. Meeting quarterly, the DFCC assembles at Wesley Uniting Church Canberra and our thanks are extended to Wesley Uniting Church and their minister the Rev’d David Thiem for their hospitality.


5.1 Currently there are seventeen full-time Chaplains and twenty-four part-time reservists serving the UCA in the ADF.

Full-time ADF Chaplains

Navy Chaplain Murray Lund
Chaplain Steve Esterby
Chaplain Andrew Watters

Army Chaplain Mark Hinton
Chaplain Mau Mau Monu
Chaplain Alamoti Lavaki
Chaplain Charles Vesely
Chaplain David Prior
Chaplain John Saunders
Chaplain Robert Packer
Chaplain Matt Stuart
Chaplain John Dansie

RAAF Chaplain Alan Williams
Chaplain Gary Whelband
Chaplain Robyn Kidd
Chaplain Dean Quilty
Chaplain Tim Hodgson

5.2 Since the last report Chaplain David Jackson and Chaplain John Marshall have transferred to the reserve.


Recruiting of clergy for ADF Chaplaincy is a constant demand. The quest to recruit women chaplains remains a high priority. Currently two female candidates are in the process of being nominated as chaplains in the Air Force Reserve. Prospective candidates must be spiritually and physically fit. Age has been revisited and clergy can now be recruited up until their fifty-sixth birthday for full-time chaplaincy, and for reserve chaplaincy until sixty years. The RACS member works with respective Synod placement (equivalent) committees to process a more integrated approach to the resourcing of this ministry of the Church.


An interesting trend is the emergence of candidates from within the ADF seeking to become chaplains. The ADF supports such transfers and on application may be granted entry to the In-Service Training (IST) scheme whereby the military will pay for the complete training of the candidate.

As indicated above the Defence Force Chaplaincy College has now been established at ADFA in Canberra. Upon being recruited to ADF Chaplaincy all chaplains enter an-all-through-life training continuum. This expectation has professionalised ADF Chaplaincy. With that ADF Chaplains are subject to professional governance from the Church and from the military, a considerable demand, but necessary in the modern context.

The ADF provides for and resources an annual retreat for all ADF Chaplains. This retreat is considered mandatory and has a diverse tradition of speakers, approaches and spirituality. At the retreat chaplains are able to support one another, cross reference and rest. In this retreat week chaplains are “off duty” and spend time receiving and being restored, a variation on their usual practice of giving, serving and providing. With such diversity within Protestant Chaplaincy it is always a challenge to meet all expectations.


With the commitment to diversity within the ADF a move to include other than Christian Chaplains in the ADF was initiated by RACS two years ago. Jewish Chaplains have been part of ADF Chaplaincy for the long-term, however, RACS felt it appropriate to include other faith groups. An affiliate RACS sub-committee was established three years ago and negotiations were initiated by RACS with Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu authorities to process a multi-faith chaplaincy. Also other groups have made approaches to the ADF and RACS, re inclusion within Defence Chaplaincy. These include Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist and other groups. Progress has been made over the years toward a multi-faith chaplaincy. Of late the Federal Government has made announcements toward the immediate appointment of an Imam to RACS. The MOA includes a system of allocation of chaplains based on the number of census adherents self-identified to a particular denomination. This equation will be changed in the future and the MOA will need to be re-written to include minority groups and the subsequent appointment of relevant chaplains. This may result in the reduction of UCA chaplaincy positions. The place of RACS, chaplaincy and matters spiritual remain fluid within the ADF environment. The Church in society, specifically within the military context, is still a vexed issue. ADF Chaplaincy is at the forefront of the discussion.

Cadet units provide a semi-military focus for young men and women. Thousands of young Australians meet regularly in such units. For many young people cadetship is a home, a source of friendship, a place of order in a troubled world and the precursor to a military career. The civilian church can have a role with cadet units in providing informal chaplaincy.


While much of ADF Chaplaincy is routine, UCA chaplains are at any time on-call and have to be prepared to respond to a short “notice to move”. This may mean to notify relatives of injury or death, meet the demands of emergency relief or a diversity of overseas operations. Since the last Assembly UCA Army and Air Force Chaplains have been deployed overseas to the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Bougainville, the Middle East (in a variety of configurations), and as always the Navy is constantly at sea.


ADF Chaplains represent the Assembly and serve the Uniting Church to a very high standard. Operational demands are exacting and many UCA chaplains have deployed several times. The cost to chaplains, their spouses and families is considerable and our thanks are extended to them all. The DFCC is well aware of the circumstances in which ADF Chaplaincy is exercised and calls on the wider Church for ongoing support. UCA Chaplains are expected to attend Presbytery and or Synod as appropriate, and the DFCC looks to the whole church to welcome, integrate and support their own.

Rev’d Dr Murray Earl
Convenor UCA DFCC
RACS member


Responsible to: The Assembly

Reporting arrangements: The Assembly and the Standing Committee

Mission statement: To advise the Assembly on matters concerning defence force chaplaincy, and to act on behalf of the Uniting Church in relation to defence force chaplaincy in accord with Assembly policy.

1. To advise and support the Uniting Church member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services (RACS).

2. In consultation with synods, to approve the placement of Uniting Church ministers as defence force chaplains, and to determine on behalf of the Assembly which chaplaincy positions are regarded as approved placements within the Assembly.

3. As requested by the Uniting Church member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services or by the General Secretary, to liaise with the Department of Defence and with representatives of other churches and other faiths on matters related to defence force chaplaincy.

4. To ensure the provision of pastoral care for defence force chaplains, their spouses and families.

5. To consult with and work with Synod bodies relating to defence force chaplaincy concerning the work and welfare of defence force chaplains.

Power to appoint: The Reference Committee has power to appoint working groups to operate within this mandate.

Membership of the Reference Committee:

  • Convener: the Uniting Church member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services, appointed by the Assembly following receipt of a nomination from the Reference Committee.
  • Up to 14 persons appointed by the Standing Committee, to be located within a Synod as determined by the Standing Committee (normally the Synod of residence of the chairperson).
  • Corresponding members: chairpersons/conveners of Synod bodies related to defence force chaplaincy.

Approved by Assembly Standing Committee, November 1999

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