OPINION: Spiritual support is essential - even in a secular school


The ACT is banning chaplains from public schools in Canberra by the end of the year, replacing them with secular youth and social workers. Mandy is an ACT chaplain who argues exploring spirituality is an important part of development.

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When I first heard the ACT government was banning chaplains from public schools, I cried.

They're making a mistake - taking away something that's a valuable service, not just for children and young people, but for the greater school community.

I do believe there's a component of well-being that has a spiritual dimension. Ideas around meaning, purpose, direction in life are important, and it's important for school communities who want to promote well-being to have a healthy approach to this.

A part of what chaplains do is give the school community the capacity to explore the spiritual aspect of well-being in a healthy way, respectfully of all beliefs.

Ignoring this aspect of well-being is not healthy and it's not a healthy thing to teach our kids.

Last year, I advocated for a Muslim student in terms of the location and design of our prayer room. It was actually beneficial for her to have someone at the school from a faith background to support her.

I also supported a young person who was working through their own faith journey, as this person had come from a family with a strong Christian tradition, and she was working out what her own beliefs were apart from her family traditions.

I had a situation last year where a member of another school had taken their own life, so conversations took a spiritual direction because that's what the students wanted to talk about; 'What's the purpose of existence?'. And that's different from youth work or social work.

In these types of situations, and others, I believe it is vital to their well-being to have a faith-based position to unpack some of these issues.

I do this with no agenda, not wanting to force them to believe something, but offering them a sense of calm as they think about what matters to them.

Chaplains also offer supports to staff at the school as well and this is different to youth work.

I was approached by a staff member who had terminal cancer because he wanted to talk to me about his beliefs and what he felt was the purpose of his existence.

He told me at the end of our time together that he felt like he was at peace and that he wanted to make sure people around him knew that after his death.

When we got the news - only weeks later - that he had passed away, I was able to support our school community, staff, students and parents and pass on his final messages.

I did this because this is what it means to be a chaplain.

Most of my students are horrified the ACT government is banning chaplains from public schools.

I’ve had a lot of Year 11s say “You’re not going to be here next year; that’s not fair!”  And “Why do they hate you?

They find it really confronting that something they see as a valuable is being taken away.

They are feeling affronted by that. And it's all the students, not just the ones with a faith.