Chaplaincy: When the news is not new at all

News this week comes from Washington DC and from Melbourne. And both carry stories about chaplains on active duty. In DC it is a military story, and historic, and in Victoria it’s about schools and conversions. But they are both relevant.

The DC story is actually a revelation of 13 Jewish chaplains who served with other chaplains and with military units over the decades and who died on active service. The story from CNN Religion Blogger Eric Marrapodi, tells about 4 chaplains who died together, giving their lives so their charges could live.

The sentiment is thick as thieves in this section of Marrapodi’s article. “On February 2, 1943, the USS Dorchester was transporting 902 U.S. servicemen to war. Only one torpedo hit, but it struck a deathblow - killing scores instantly and resetting the ship's course to the bottom of the ocean.

Amid the chaos four U.S. Army chaplains fought to bring calm and comfort, praying for the dead and encouraging the living to fight for survival. They helped frightened servicemen find life jackets and head to rescue craft. Each of the four chaplains gave up his life jacket to save the life of another.

All four stayed on the ship's new course to the bottom of the ocean and gave their lives so others might live. The last thing survivors saw of the four chaplains, they were huddled together praying.”

One of those was a Jewish rabbi, Lt. Alexander D. Goode. He has not been ceremonially honored as yet. The others were given burial in Arlington National Cemetery, in either the Catholic or the Protestant sections. There is (as yet) no Jewish section there. Some folks are trying to make that happen. Hence the story.

The other story comes from the Melbourne Age today. Seems the authorities have discovered something at the bottom of their piles. It’s not really news, and is more historic than the sinking of the Dorchester. It’s about Christianity.

The Age reported about chaplains considering their work a mission. Yes, that’s the word: mission. Like missionary. Like the Blues Brothers “on a mission.” On 24 April Michael Bachelard reported “The Christian organisation that provides chaplains and religious instruction teachers in state schools has advertised its services as a ''mission'' in an area of Melbourne with a large Muslim population.

An Access Ministries advertising feature shows a Christian chaplain at multicultural Glenroy Primary School talking to two Muslim children wearing hijabs. The headline is: ''Your Community Our Mission''.

In the accompanying article, published last year, Access Ministries' chief executive Evonne Paddison wrote that: ''My prayer is that each child in Victoria, with your help will experience the transforming love of God and his son Jesus.''
More of this story in Age on Mission

Then today Jewel Topsfield reported in The Age, that there are some who want the schools chaplaincy program, begun under the (John) Howard government, scrapped. [“Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the comments highlighted the dangers of the program, which should be scrapped.”]
Why? Seems a 2008 audio recording of Ms Paddison, demonstrated the chief executive telling a conference: ''We need to go and make disciples.''

The remarks appear to breach guidelines governing school religious programs, which ban trying to convert students to any one religion.

This story is here in today’s Age

Here’s my surprise. Did the government just now find out that the Christian church has a mission? Did the words of Jesus quoted by Ms Paddison in 2008, “Go and make disciples” just come up on Google for the Age reporters? Or for the government? The church has always been about going and always about helping and always about making disciples. That’s a natural and supernatural result of the real discipleship of believers in Jesus.

After all, He was on a mission. The Bible says “God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3.16). The Apostle Paul, a rabbi named Saul of Tarsus said this of the mission of Jesus, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (recorded in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, chapter 1, verse 15)

No hidden agenda. No surprise revelation after the fact. The angel Gabriel told the stepfather Joseph to “call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” Yes, He taught. Yes, He did miracles. And yet, the reason He came was to restore us to relationship with the Father, to whom we had turned our back. That’s what sin does. And how was Jesus going to restore us? By dying for us, and thus saving us from our sins.

The Church has for 2 millenia been about doing good, healing, helping, and proclaiming this Good News message.

How fitting that this should come into the news as Billy Graham, the 92-year-old American evangelist, is fighting for his life suffering pneumonia. It was when Rev Graham came to Australia that the Melbourne Cricket Ground saw its largest crowd ever. This from Wikipedia, “Until the 1970s, more than 120,000 people sometimes crammed into the venue – the record crowd standing at around 130,000 for a Billy Graham evangelistic crusade in 1959, followed by 121,696 for the 1970 VFL Grand Final. Redevelopments have now limited the maximum seating capacity to just over 100,000. This makes it the tenth largest stadium in the world.”

If anything is clear from Rev Graham both in 1959 and to this day, he is on a mission. He wants everyone everywhere to believe in Jesus. And the Melbourne crowds were well aware of that. No one should be surprised at that.

And an evangelical Protestant mission like Access Ministries or Billy Graham Evangelistic Association or the Anglican church or the Hillsong folks…everyone wants people to find the joy and peace and life and eternal life that’s found in Jesus. This is not new news, but it is Good News.

Even for Peter Garrett. Even for Julia Gillard. And even for you.


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