Q & A with three CFA chaplains

Asher Kirby from Burwood HQ, Rachel McLeish who supports districts 8 and 9, and Coordinating Chaplain Stephen Hill give us their insights about chaplaincy support at CFA.

Q & A with three CFA chaplains

Chaplain Asher Kirby

Why did you become a CFA chaplain?

Asher: I like people! With my roles in church pastoring and sports chaplaincy I’ve been involved in supporting people through life’s challenges for many years. I saw the role of chaplain with the CFA as being another opportunity to do this. Having first been introduced to something of CFA life as a young teen through regular visits to a family friend’s farm in western Victoria, I’ve always been interested in the role CFA plays in the local community. When I started work with Converge International and the role of CFA chaplain was suggested, it seemed a great opportunity to support people in an organisation I value and respect.

Rachel: I had thought about becoming a chaplain for many years. I recently became a qualified chaplain and started working with CFA as part of my role with Converge International. I have a passion for supporting people in the workplace, reflecting God’s love and giving people hope. I strongly believe in the work of CFA, so the role of CFA chaplain felt like a great fit.

I want to reflect hope and give support to people who are going through professional and/or personal challenges, and be someone who people feel comfortable talking to, no matter what their faith beliefs are. I’ve previously worked in HR and really enjoyed being alongside people in the workplace. I see my CFA chaplaincy role as one where I can solely focus on people and spend time getting to know everyone in the districts I work in. As such, I see my chaplaincy role as a great fit for me personally and a huge privilege.

Stephen: I joined Converge International in January 2017 to manage chaplains Australia-wide, and part of that was to be coordinating chaplain for CFA. Since then I’ve moved into a principal consultant role which continues to include being CFA coordinating chaplain.

What types of chaplaincy support do you most often do with CFA?

A: Up to now my role has centred around walking the floor. There are more than 650 staff at CFA HQ in Burwood spread across three buildings, plus the staff at the nearby State Logistics Centre. Every week I spend time in the different buildings, saying hello. Sometimes the conversations are simply relationship building, just getting to know one another. Sometimes we talk about personal or work issues that may be impacting a person, and they just want someone to chat to. Occasionally, people ask to take some time out to sit with me to discuss an issue, so we set that up.

R: I walk the floor in District 8 and 9 offices and visit stations throughout the districts.

S: As coordinating chaplain I find, interview, referee-check and then present potential new chaplains to districts. I help to get recruits on board and then supervise and support them, including continuing professional development.

I discuss professional and policy issues with staff at CFA HQ, and work through any operational issues that come up from time to time.

One of the advantages of being full-time at Converge means I can accommodate CFA chaplaincy service requests that might otherwise have been difficult to resource. For example, there have been requests for urgent phone support to members, full-day deployments (that couldn’t be covered by local, two-hour per week chaplains), ceremonial events such as blessing of the fleet and I am currently filling in for an injured chaplain in one of the districts.

Chaplain Rachel McLeish

What has been the highlight so far?

A: Without wanting to sound corny, the highlight is really the privilege of being able to listen to people as they tell me about the challenges they’re facing, whether work related or personal, and how they are dealing with them. I never take it for granted that people are willing to speak to me about such things.

Aside from that, one of the significant moments was RUOK? Day in September 2018 when the CFA Wellbeing Team hosted an event at a local auditorium. About a hundred people gathered from headquarters to livestream the launch of the new Wellbeing Support Line, and then to join in a session learning about mindfulness. It was a great day with interesting input, terrific energy, and a good chance to meet many people.

R: Getting to know people in the districts and building up relationships so people feel comfortable talking to me about work and non-work-related concerns.

S: I think we’re doing much better in finding good-quality replacement chaplains in a reasonable timeline to replace those who retire or leave a district. From a service delivery perspective, it was meaningful and enjoyable to be involved with a recent blessing of the fleet at Nillumbik Shire.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being a CFA chaplain?

A: Remembering the names of hundreds of people! Seriously, the challenges relate to knowing how to best care for each person, given the situation they are going through. While walking the floor, it’s also a challenge to know when to stick my nose in and say hello to someone, and when to leave them alone while they’re hard at work.

R: It’s a challenge getting to know everyone on all the different shifts within each station and meeting large numbers of volunteers, given the nature of shift work and volunteering.

S: It’s a challenge to get the right balance between consistency in service delivery across the CFA as a whole, while allowing for a little customisation to fit the unique needs of each district.

Given the challenges of being a chaplain, how do you look after yourself (self-care strategies)?

A: I try to set up good support structures in my life with regards to relationships, professional support and time. I seek to balance my time with annual holidays, I try to spend regular time with my wife and children, and I see a professional supervisor and occasionally a spiritual director.

I also couldn’t get by without my hobby – strategy board gaming. It’s not the most exotic of pursuits but I love the workout it gives my brain and I love the social aspect of gathering with friends to talk and play – and trying to beat them!

R: I endeavour to exercise (some of the time) and make sure I look after myself. I also ask God to provide me strength and wisdom as I support people and pray God will also comfort them.

S: It’s certainly a case of easier said, than done, but I do pretty well, getting to the gym about three times a week. In stressful moments, I find breathing exercises and even a prayer or two can help. I also enjoy making music – my drum kit gets a good workout every Sunday!

What quote captures your time with CFA?

A: I remember someone saying once when I introduced myself: “You’re the chaplain? Oh – you’re not what I expected!” Now that I think about it, she didn’t actually say if she meant that positively or negatively, but I think I’ll assume the best.

R: “A chaplain’s biggest gift is to present and just listen” – US novelist Diane Johnson.

S: I love learning about the people and work of CFA, and feel privileged to offer any help that I can in return.

/CFA News Release. View in full here.