Chaplain’s journey to support youth
Mark Macrae says God has taken him on a “roundabout way” to working with young people.
The former fruit farmer has volunteered at a drug and alcohol recovery centre, was involved in prison ministry, worked in residential care, and taught agriculture.
He is now chaplain at Carinity Education Glendyne, an independent school in Hervey Bay which provides education, vocational training and life skills for teenagers having difficulty succeeding in mainstream schools.
“Staff refer students to me who need a bit of extra support. A lot of that need comes about from the majority of students having had learning difficulties, disengaged from school, or come from challenging backgrounds,” Mark says.
“Working in an environment like this we rejoice in the little wins and the little improvements that we see students making.
“We see that turn into something substantial in the end when our students are able to break the cycle of disadvantage from which they originate.”
Previously a youth worker and agriculture teacher at Carinity Education Glendyne, Mark has been the chaplain at the school for almost a decade.
“I have a job that’s a lot more varied than chaplains in state schools. I catch up with students who need support and do home visits to support families,” Mark explains.
“I’m in a very privileged position because when I ask a student to have a supervised chat, they can be free to talk to me about anything in confidence.”
Student Harley says Mark “was very supportive when I wasn’t feeling right”, while fellow student Zara believes the chaplain is a “very genuine” person who “dedicates his time to each student to help them change their life for the good”.
“I was a very troubled girl before I enrolled here. With support from the staff, youth workers and Mark the chaplain … I am a more happy person overall,” Zara says.
Mark’s chaplaincy work extends to assisting school staff to maintain their mental health, particularly with the extra demands of teaching and supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Staff can experience high stress levels at times, so for those who aren’t doing so well I am a listening ear for them,” he says.
“The COVID-19 situation has placed additional demands on staff, as they have been delivering subjects in a totally different way while still having to maintain class control and engagement of students that come to school.”
This includes having to teach in a new way, by assisting students who are learning from home to engage with online learning.
Andrew Bollom, one of two chaplains at Carinity’s Shalom Christian College, supports students from Prep to Year 8 with issues such as conflict with friends, family concerns, confidence and self-worth.
“My role is to listen and become aware of the heartbeat of the surrounding places and people. Similar to a thermometer, a chaplain needs to read the temperature of the place such as the unity, the anxieties, the highs, the lows,” Andrew says.
“I think a trusting relationship, joy and consistency are the most important things to offer Shalom students. These should provide safety and support as you become someone they can be honest with.”
Andrew, who hails from Sydney, believes supporting students at the school in Townsville differs from his previous role of pastoring young people in a church environment.
“I think a key difference is seeing students five whole days in a row, which exposes you to a lot more highs, lows and moods, yet also an incredible opportunity for deeper relationships,” he says.
“This can equally prove a challenge as it is less ‘special’ than the one or two times they might see a youth pastor or leader.
“I think the principles of supporting young people remain the same in both: representing God’s goodness, love, care and power to transform their lives no matter what they face.”
Meanwhile, Mark says supporting young people to live happier and more fulfilling lives has been part of a “long journey” planned for him.
“I have a strong confidence that I am doing what God wants me to do, and he’s opened doors to enable me to do that,” Mark says.
“I wanted to take a quicker trajectory towards working with youth but God has taken me in a roundabout way to learn.
“It’s been a longer journey than what I anticipated but I can see God’s plan in doing that.”