Chaplain Gary Pope, of the 3rd Brigade Headquarters, delivers a field service to soldiers during Exercise Talisman Sabre at Townsville Field Training Area, Queensland. Photo: Corporal Brendon Grey. Image used with permission.

Following Jesus in Combat Boots: Embarking on the Enriching Journey of Defence Chaplaincy

Tim (not depicted in the photo) is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Divinity and working as an ADF Chaplain in the Army Reserve. If you would like to know more about Chaplaincy careers with the ADF, come along to our Ask me anything information evening (6pm, 14 August at St Paschal Campus in Box Hill).

Since childhood, I had a burning desire to join the Army.

My father, an Army Reserve veteran who proudly enlisted in Perth during the 1960s, used to entertain my brother and me with captivating stories from his military days. He was an accomplished business leader, who always credited the Army for instilling in him the principles that enabled him to thrive. Respect, courage, discipline, punctuality — these invaluable traits were forged in the field, alongside his mates.

One tale, in particular, resonated deeply with me. It involved my Lieutenant father imparting instructions to a group of new recruits one evening, deep in the bush. He informed them that the next morning, they must pack up their belongings and be ready to move by 8am. However, at 7:45am, believing my father still slept, they lingered around the campfire, oblivious to the reality that he had already awoken. While lying down in his hootchie, and barely moving, he had already shaved, cooked and eaten breakfast. Dad tricked them into thinking they had more time. With just minutes remaining, he abruptly leapt out of bed, packed up his hootchie, and stood ready right on the dot of 8 o’clock. Realising their mistake, the recruits jumped up and ran around getting themselves ready, feeling ashamed at their tardiness, and more importantly, disobedience to his command. While my father was never one to raise his voice, he ensured that they learned that 8am meant precisely that.

You can imagine the twinkle in my Dad’s eye, as he told us these stories around the dinner table. It was these captivating anecdotes that kindled a fervent desire within me to experience the Army firsthand. In my final year of high school, I had mapped out my path to the Australian Defence Force Academy, envisioning a future as an Army Officer. Yet, that year my life took an unexpected turn. I had a profound encounter with Jesus, and within weeks, I found myself enrolled instead at Bible College, ready to serve God as a pastor and missionary.

Over the next 15 years, I grappled with the unfulfilled yearning to embrace military life, all while happily serving in Christian ministry. I even fervently prayed, asking God to remove this desire from my heart. Then, just last year, a conversation with a close friend – himself an Army Reserve Chaplain – revealed a remarkable possibility. I could have the best of both worlds. I could continue to serve as a Baptist pastor and become an Army Reserve Chaplain.

I asked God to show me if this was indeed his plan for the next stage of my life. At the time, my part-time PhD studies with the University of Divinity had taken me to Mount Athos in Greece, the spiritual centre of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. While staying at Iveron Monastery, I was able to spend some time with an Australian Greek Orthodox monk. At one point in the conversation, he unexpectedly blurted out, “I think military chaplaincy would be a good idea.” He had no knowledge that I was seeking God’s guidance about this very thing. I asked him, “was that a prophecy?” He smiled, and with the typical humility of an Orthodox monk replied, “might be.”

I’ve now been in the Army Reserve, serving as a chaplain, for about two months. I have, like my father in the 1960s, relished every single moment. Chaplains bear the profound responsibility of providing pastoral care to all unit personnel. This grants me the privilege of experiencing the captivating facets of military life while making a tangible impact on the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of people I would have never otherwise had the chance to meet.

Furthermore, this all seamlessly integrates with my roles as a pastor and part-time PhD student at the University of Divinity. As a pastor, I wholeheartedly serve my church community. As a student, I immerse myself in intellectual growth and academic engagement. And as a chaplain, I venture beyond the confines of the Christian bubble, extending my service to the brave women and men of the Australian Army. Each sphere of responsibility bolsters the others, empowering me to fulfil my calling and ensuring that my life remains full of meaning and possibility.

If my story strikes a chord with you, come along on the 14th of August to learn more about chaplaincy in the Australian Defence Force.


Ask me anything: Chaplaincy career with the ADF

Come along to an information session to learn about the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Chaplaincy program and meet with personnel from Defence Force recruiting.

In the session you will learn more about Chaplaincy work presentations from tri-service Chaplain representatives who will share their experiences and discuss the role chaplains play in the ADF and the career opportunities available, and an “ask me anything” Q&A. You’ll also hear from a University of Divinity student who is currently working as an ADF Chaplain while studying.

This public event is open to all who are interested in exploring a Chaplaincy career with the ADF.

Date: Monday, 14 August
Time: 6:00 pm–7:00 pm AEST
Venue: University of Divinity (Box Hill campus), 90 Albion Road, Box Hill, VIC 3128 Australia

1 comment

  • I can absolutely support Tim in saying that serving as a Reserve Air Force Chaplain, then later as a full time Chaplain, was one of the most exciting and rewarding experience in my ministry. So was completing Ph D through the University of Divinity. Every blessings, Tim!

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