The end of chaplaincy in Anglican Schools?

To me the word chaplain has always had a passive or reactive ring to it. A chaplain was someone who was present in the school community and if needed they responded. Having been a chaplain for seven years I know it isn’t like that. Chaplains are incredibly creative, proactive people who do all kinds of miraculous stuff even before the first bell rings. But I have a hunch that the role has changed and is still changing. I think this change is being driven by higher expectations about the Christian mission of the school.

For a long time, chaplains were part of the fabric of the school. They were kept busy teaching, leading chapels and counselling, amongst many other activities. Not all of these activities necessarily contributed to the Christian life of the school, but they may have helped the chaplain be more a part of the school community. These activities may have included teaching maths or coaching the rugby team or doing yard duty.  As long as the chaplain’s primary activities were done well and they were there for an emergency, not much was expected of them in terms of ‘results’. The role was more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’.

My hunch is that this is no longer the case

In Anglican Schools in Australia today there is a greater emphasis on the school being part of the mission of the church. Because of this I suspect that there is a higher expectation that chaplains do something or be seen to be doing something that furthers the mission of the church.

This has meant some significant changes to the role of the chaplain.

The end of reactive chaplaincy

When it was assumed that the majority of the school was Christian, the chaplain didn’t need to do too much. Certainly they were busy, but it was enough just to be there as part of the life of the school, building relationships, caring for the community. If chaplaincy ever was a passive or reactive role like this, it isn’t anymore. The demands of mission mean that schools don’t need chaplains as much as they need missionaries. Missionary may be a cringe worthy word for many people; perhaps the word missioner is better but the role is about engagement with a non-Christian community. Now whether schools need a chaplain or not, and I suspect they still do, I think that more schools are wanting their chaplains to do this missional stuff. And that means the end of how chaplains traditionally worked.

The end of solo chaplaincy

For a long time in most schools the chaplain was the God person in the community. Over the past fifteen years there has been a growing realisation that this is no longer enough. Every employee needs to be a God person to one degree or another. In some places the Principal is expected to be a key God person who has to shine the light of the faith as brightly as the chaplain, if not more so. This change is impacting the role of the chaplain denoting a shift from being the face of Christianity in the school to enabling others to be that face.

End of jack-of-all trades chaplaincy

Flowing on from the end of the solo chaplain is the reality that many of the things chaplains once did are no longer sustainable. The work needed to effectively fulfil the new missional expectations goes beyond what one person is or ever was capable of doing. While there are still chaplains who have large responsibilities for religious/Christian education and community service/service learning, as well as the multitude of other things they do, I think this model is on the way out.  Schools need to ask: Is it possible for the chaplain to teach a three quarter or half load and still do what they need to do to make mission happen? Probably not, and this means that chaplains need to prioritise, targeting the things that only they can do. Schools need to be supportive in making this shift occur.

The rise of the mission and ministry team

Increasingly schools are seeking to employ a team of people to drive the Christian mission of the community. This includes a chaplain, a head of religious/Christian education and a community service person.  This expansion of roles is caused in part by the fragmenting of the chaplain’s role under the pressure of increasing demands. In some schools this model has been in place for a long time. I think it is likely schools will employ a Director of Mission who will oversee the work of chaplaincy, religious education and the service learning aspects of the school. In some places this is already happening. It is also likely that other elements of school life may come under this person’s responsibility such as the often secular pastoral care lessons teaching such things as drug and alcohol education. It is possible that schools may keep a chaplain to focus on pastoral care but it is clear a more proactive role is needed to drive mission in the school if it is to be done well.

One big questions from all this is: What is the role of the ordained person in the school?

So is chaplaincy finished in Anglican Schools? Well, I guess it depends on how you define it. Certainly the day of the chaplain as the solo ordained God person doing everything under the sun related to faith are on the way out. However it is highly likely the chaplain as the caring God person will remain alongside a range of other roles seeking to grow God’s Kingdom in the school space.

How do you see chaplaincy changing? Is the traditional chaplain’s role on the way out?

Stephen Harrison Written by:

Stephen has a passion for exploring mission and ministry. He has worked for the Anglican Church for the last twenty years mostly in the area of youth and children’s ministry. In this time he has worked for two churches, two Anglican schools, as a university chaplain and for the Brisbane Diocese as the Youth, Children’s and Families Officer. Currently he is the Director of Mission for the Anglican Schools Commission. He has degrees in Science, Theology, Community Welfare, Education and has completed a Doctorate in Ministry, focused on the church’s mission in Anglican schools.


  1. Stuart
    April 30, 2015

    Interesting article, thx Stephen. I wonder if […] School agreed. They made their school chaplain redundant and are no longer engaging a chaplain in their school. Personally I think for Anglican schools ordained ministry is also about identity and culture. Lose the chaplain, next step lose the Anglican

    • Stephen Harrison
      April 30, 2015

      Stuart you are right, currently chaplains are a key aspect of the identity and culture of Anglican Schools. On the other hand some Catholic Schools seem to maintain their identity and culture without a chaplain or campus minister. It is mediated through what happens in the classroom and religious education and worship. Not all these things require an ordained person. While I think there is an important place for the ordained in schools I don’t think it is necessary for maintaining Anglican identity or a strong Christian culture. I think it is highly dependant on the leadership of the school. This is why the the Principal as the spiritual leader of the school is pushed in many places.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.