Victorian Uniting Church Chaplains have come together for education and peer development in two separate gatherings in recent months. One gathering shared regional and metropolitan experiences, the other was for chaplains working in the prison system.
Deborah Kottek leads chaplaincy management and development for the synod. She has direct line management of chaplains that work in prisons across the state as well as a coordinating support role for Uniting Church chaplains across other settings.
In April, chaplains from throughout Victoria gathered together to share experiences and further develop peer networks.
“The 22 chaplains who attended came from metro and regional areas. They work in aged care, prisons, healthcare, industry, defence, police and emergency services ministry,” Ms Kottek said.
“A common theme to emerge was that chaplaincy is challenging, diverse and a privilege. Chaplains work with people who are at their most vulnerable and experiencing transitions in their lives – people who are are sick, fearful, grieving, feeling isolated, at risk of harm, in prison, moving through life changes or facing other significant challenges in their lives.
“Many chaplains work alone in their ministry and it is really valuable to come together to share our stories and reflect on our ministry as peers from a diversity of contexts.”
Workshops explored issues such as the pastoral theology of suffering, the importance of self-care, leadership, and reflective practice. Members of the Major Strategic Review were also in attendance, to engage with and seek input from chaplains.
Ms Kottek said those attending appreciated the opportunity to network with others and share the challenges and achievements of their work. Another Chaplains’ Connecting day will be held later in the year.
In May, more than 80 people gathered at the first Victorian Prison Chaplaincy Conference. Prison chaplains from all faith groups and denominations working across the 14 Victorian prisons attended the one-day event funded by Corrections Victoria and organised by the Chaplains’ Advisory Committee, representing eight faith traditions.
“Because this was a first conference, and because there have been a lot of changes within the justice system recently, it was a good opportunity to bring people, up to date with what’s happening in the sector,” Ms Kottek said.
The conference heard from representatives of the Victorian government including the Minister for Police and Corrections the Hon Wade Noonan, who spoke of the important role of chaplains in prisons.
Other speakers included Commissioner for Corrections Victoria Jan Shuard, the manager of offending behaviour programs, representatives from the agencies providing pre-release and post-release programs and a counselling psychologist.
“We also had a session where three people who had been in prison came and talked about their different experiences and the challenges faced on re-entering the community; it gave us an insight into how prison can impact on a person’s life, even after release,” Ms Kottek said.
“Their session was the absolute highlight of the conference – these three people who came in and spoke courageously, sharing their stories – each different and each real.”