Air Force Chaplains travelled to remote Woomera (450km north of Adelaide) for a unique annual Chaplains National Conference. The Chaplains experienced desert spirituality and discussed the role of Chaplaincy in supporting a Fifth-Generation Air Force with the theme - Being the Connection – Being and thinking theologically in an Air Force pluralistic world.
Director General Chaplaincy – Air Force, Principal Air Chaplain (PAC) Mark Willis, said Woomera provided the perfect location for this year’s conference theme.
“Woomera is a unique place; perched on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert in South Australia, cloaked in mystery, and yet vital to Australia’s future,” PAC Willis said.
“Woomera is where we first stepped into space and leveraged Air Force as part of the world stage many decades ago.
“With all the emerging technology that will impact the way Defence prepares for the future fight, Chaplains need to be prepared for this ever-evolving space and how best we can support our personnel.
“Our discussions have been focusing on the ethics of adopting new technology, particularly as we move toward augmented reality and algorithmic technology, which will help prepare the Chaplains for the future.
“We’ve discovered a warm and very welcoming community at Woomera, learned about its fascinating history and gained an appreciation of both the environment and role of this remote Air Force Base.
“The response has been overwhelming, everyone has really appreciated the beauty of the South Australian outback while learning about this highly valuable asset to Defence.
“On behalf of my team, I would like to sincerely thank 20 Squadron, Air Force Test Ranges Squadron (AFTRSQN), and the Woomera community for a truly magical and memorable experience.”
During the Conference, the Chaplains explored Jericho ‘at the edge’ concepts and ethics, toured the Woomera Heritage Centre and Air Force Test Ranges facilities, and re-opened the RAAF Base Woomera Chapel with a Dedication Service.
Chaplain (CHAP) (Squadron Leader) Patrick Garton, one of the support Chaplains at RAAF Base Edinburgh and RAAF Base Woomera, said the re-opening of the Chapel marks the beginning of a new spiritual journey for the local community.
“Built using local stones and labour in the 1950’s at the height of the Anglo-Australian Joint Project, it was a church that captured various Christian traditions. However, this place of worship hasn’t been used in nearly 20 years,” CHAP Garton said.
“This has been a collaborative project between 20 Squadron, E&IG and Broad Spectrum, while Chaplaincy has provided guidance and practical support, to help refurbish and re-open the Woomera Chapel for the benefit of the local community.
“Two local Pastors based in Roxby Downs, 75kms north of Woomera, are ready to provide services for Defence members and the wider community.
“Spirituality is an important part for all human beings and the local chapel will provide a space for people to reflect, worship and pray, and also to meet their fellow community members.”
The service welcomed both Defence and community members with the Executive Officer of No. 20 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Joshua Daish, reflecting on its redevelopment. LACW Natarsha Tebble, represented AFTRSQN and local Woomera resident Jenifer Hofmeier, who was baptized in the chapel back in 1980’s, delivered scripture readings.
During the week-long conference, the Chaplains also enjoyed the warm hospitality of No. 20 Squadron with a movie night at the local cinema showing “The Dish” and a dinner with the community at the Woomera RSL. Additionally, a visit to the Woomera-Baker Observatory kept with ‘at the edge’ theme.
Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal (AM) Mel Hupfeld, AO, DSC, sent his well wishes for the 2019 Air Force Chaplains’ Conference and expressed his long appreciation for the unique role Chaplains, and the value they bring to the organisation.
“Our ability to project Air Power is dependent on a capable, healthy and resilient workforce and, to that end, our Chaplains are ‘front-line’ first-responders who substantially contribute to morale and our overall emotional health and wellbeing,” AM Hupfeld said.