'Be yourself' to evangelise, navy chaplain tells Anglo-Catholics

In the lead-up to Anzac Day, a navy chaplain talks about life at sea and evangelism

The Revd Kate Lord, Support Chaplain (Anglican) HMAS Cerberus, Victoria

PHOTO: Nina Fogliani, Navy Imagery Specialist

By Stephen Cauchi

April 23 2019“Be yourself” is the best way liberal Anglo-Catholics can evangelise, navy chaplain the Revd Kate Lord has told the Australian Church Union’s Jessie Nicholson Memorial Lecture.

Ms Lord added she had no moral qualms about joining the Navy as it was a defence force and not a force of attack or aggression. But it was still a tough job - for her and the sailors.

Ms Lord told the lecture, held at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Canterbury, that she had pondered how many navy personnel had come to Christ as a result of her ministry.

“I have this question around evangelism, and how we do this in the liberal Anglo-Catholic tradition,” said Ms Lord, a chaplain with the Royal Australian Navy.

“Maybe this, then, is the model of evangelism that I offer this evening: be yourself, you are sufficient. Let God work through you; it will suffice.”

The Australian Church Union seeks to present the Catholic Anglican viewpoint on faith issues within the Anglican Church.

Ms Lord said that at a recent meeting of navy chaplains, some were wondering how many had come to Christ as a result of their ministry.

“I found this conversation awkward, as I cannot say with any surety that a single person has come to Christ as a result of my ministry. Does this constitute a failure on my part to evangelise?”

Ms Lord said that although evangelism was not part of her job as a chaplain – which was mostly pastoral – she recognised that she was still “the hands and face of Christ”.

She said that the “be yourself” model of evangelism had worked for her when she was a teenager attending youth group at St Luke’s Vermont. The “unconditional love of God” shown by her peers at church was “so appealing to me as a teenager”.

Ms Lord said she tried to replicate that experience as a chaplain.

“I approach each person and every conversation remembering that I influence how people view chaplains, and maybe religious people and religion in general.

“I pray that such conversations are the right combination of me being fully myself, since that is all I can be and it will suffice; and me getting out of my own way so that God can minister through me, since that is all I can do and it will suffice.”

Ms Lord said the point of her life was to become “as fully ‘Kate’ as I can”.

Every person is called to become “fully ourselves, fully human, and then offer that as a gift to God.”

In a world that was “increasingly superficial”, there was something attractive about a life lived “richly, generously, broadly and deeply”.

She said the Bible verse most relevant to this was Jesus’ statement that believers are “the salt of the Earth – but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”

“Likewise, if we do not live to the fullest extent the characteristics with which each of us was created, we deprive ourselves, the community and the world of the gifts that we carry within us, of the portion of the image of God that exists only within us.”

Salt, she said, “needs only a pinch to give zest to a bland dish”.

The presence in a warship of a single chaplain can affect the morale of an entire crew, she said, and “lead to endless opportunities for God-filled conversation and community”.

Ms Lord said that although “be yourself” was her current evangelism model, that still necessitated talking about religion to people seeking God.

She feared sounding “awkward and forced” to casually slip a relevant parable or saying of Jesus into everyday conversation.

But it was necessary to do so as young people were seeking God, perhaps without realising it. They were “thirsting for something they cannot name”.

Ms Lord joined the navy in 1989 after finishing high school and trained as a ship driver. She left in 1995.

After studying theology at the University of Divinity, she had a dream in 2012 of being a navy chaplain. She was ordained to the priesthood in 2015 and returned to the navy as a chaplain in 2017.

Ms Lord is currently chaplain at the navy’s Recruit School at HMAS Cerberus near Crib Point on the Mornington Peninsula.

Navy recruits who are sailors spend their first eleven weeks at the school, which has a yearly intake of over 1000. 

Of the navy recruits, just over half are not religious, while one-third are Christian, she said. Of the Christians, half are Catholic and one-fifth are Anglican.

But navy chaplains provided pastoral care for all personnel and their families, regardless of religious affiliation, she said.

“Most people who I see are overwhelmed by the situation in which they find themselves and simply need somewhere to cry and talk.

“Some need more support and I refer them for interviews with the mental health team, or sometimes to our hospital for a good night’s sleep and medical support.”

Ms Lord said she was sometimes asked how, as a Christian, she could justify joining an organisation whose primary business is war.

“It is one that has never troubled me,” she said.

“My first response is that we are a defence force, not an attack or aggression force.

“As an island nation … our travel and trade depend upon safe passage along our sea lanes.

“We … have a responsibility to support our neighbours in times of crisis. Much of the work of the navy is in providing disaster relief in the Asian region and the nations surrounding the Indian and Pacific oceans.”

Ms Lord said that even with these peaceful duties, life in the navy could be tough.

Navy sailors “have to look into the eyes of those (asylum seekers) desperate enough to get into leaky boats, as they send those boats back out of Australian waters.”

They had to “wrestle with whether it is better to pick the bodies and body parts of drowned asylum seekers from the water, or to leave them there – and then suffer nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal (thoughts) as a result.”

Navy work was tough on family and home life, she added, as well as “dirty, boring, lonely, frightening and morally complicated.”

This was true for sailors and chaplains. “But through that work I get to be the hands and face of Christ.”

Ms Lord added that the communal life within a ship and the vastness of the ocean were two “very Christian concepts”.

Aboard a ship, “everyone has a role to play, and everyone else depends upon every person doing their job … there are no passengers in a warship.”

The vast ocean was “but a tiny reflection of the endlessness of space and that can only begin to point to the infinity of our eternal God”.

“While the distances across the ocean are vast, nothing blew my mind like knowing that I was sailing across bodies of water where the depth could be measured in miles.”

The lecture was held on 15 March.