For the first time in its history, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has appointed two Seventh-day Adventists as chaplains to provide pastoral support for members and their families.
After an extensive recruitment process, which took over 12 months, Pastor Miljan Popovic was assigned as an Air Force chaplain and Pastor Gys Seegers as an Army Reserve chaplain earlier this year.
A Defence spokesperson stated that, on average, the ADF receives 70,000 applications each year for all available positions in the Navy, Army and Air Force. In the current financial year, they are only looking to recruit 22 chaplains across the ADF, proving that becoming an ADF chaplain is not an easy feat. Applicants need to undergo the full ADF officer recruitment process, which includes several interviews, a medical, aptitude testing, psychological testing and gruelling physical training.
The first two years in a chaplaincy position are considered an induction period as there are academic requirements to learn about the ADF and chaplaincy. Both Pastor Popovic and Pastor Seegers are undertaking professional development where they are enhancing their skills and knowledge of leadership, teamwork, ethics, psychology, counselling and other courses and training programs. All these skills will assist them in their new roles as they care for members of the ADF, and they will also be able to bring these skills to their local church ministry.
Pastor Popovic is currently posted at Amberley base in Ipswich (Qld) where he not only provides assistance through spiritual health and wellbeing, pastoral support, advocacy and personal guidance to Air Force members and their families, but he also provides advice to commanders on pastoral, religious, ethical and cultural issues of members.
When asked what it meant to be the first Seventh-day Adventist chaplain in the ADF, Pastor Popovic reflected on watching the ADF’s response to the Queensland floods in 2011 and how they lifted the bar by providing help and support to those in need. This reignited his childhood desire to be part of the Defence Force culture, so when he was given an opportunity to apply to become an ADF chaplain he readily accepted. He sees this as such a “great privilege, honour and responsibility”. Pastor Popovic understands that “this is not a job. This is a call, and it is a passion. A passion to connect, support and walk with people who serve our country and their families.”
Pastor Seegers is based at the Australian Army Cadet headquarters in Perth (WA) where he provides chaplaincy support to full-time and reserve personnel and he is also the coordinating chaplain for the chaplains who support 33 cadet units throughout Western Australia.
Originally from South Africa, Pastor Seegers said that he and his family have come to love the people of Australia, and that serving the men and women who serve our country is his small way of saying thank you. He also feels it is a blessing and privilege to enter into a new mission field on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Pastor Seegers explains, “I am humbled by this opportunity to help raise the banner for Christ’s kingdom within the ADF and the beautiful people who I’m getting to know–men and women of courage and respect who understand order and what it means to serve and sacrifice themselves for others.”
Pastor Michael Worker, general secretary of the Australian Union Conference and the Church’s representative on the Associated Protestant Churches Chaplaincy Board (APCCB), stated that, “It’s important as the Seventh-day Adventist Church that we are involved in all facets of ministry. Being part of the Defence Force chaplaincy gives us a chance to interact with and provide a positive point of contact for many Australians who would never otherwise come into contact with Adventists. It gives our pastors opportunities to have spiritual conversations with our service personnel.”
Being a military chaplain is a strong ministry and the Seventh-day Adventist world Church has had a proud history of pastors serving as chaplains. We are honoured to have Pastor Popovic and Pastor Seegers being the first Seventh-day Adventist ADF chaplains in Australia, and we look forward to having many more in the future.
Lorraine Atchia is Communication officer for the Australian Union Conference.