Q+A with Father Chris

Posted 22 October 2021 10:34am

1.      Start by telling us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Westmead, Sydney, but grew up in Warragamba which is west of Sydney. I am the youngest of three children. In my junior years I played Rugby League for the Warragamba Wombats, the logo is a little wombat running with a football!

For my schooling, I attended Camden High School. I went on to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Wollongong, and studied my Bachelor of Theology at St Marks National Theological Centre, which is down the road from CGGS at Charles Sturt University.

I previously worked for the Royal Australian Navy as a chaplain. I have volunteered for the rural fire service since I was young, and during the Black Summer I was sent to Kangaroo Island to assist with their response to the fires.

My wife’s name is Rebecca, and we have four children, Georgina, Benjamin, Annalise and Beatrice.

2.      When did you decide you wanted to take the path of becoming a Chaplain?

While I was working as a maritime warfare officer, a Navy Chaplain encouraged me to become one. I also found that, while sitting at "guts watch" at the ships anchor, sailors would come and talk to me about issues that were affecting them. I was already involved in my church on the parish council, so it was a natural transition for me.

A specific service to the priestly vocation was what I felt. I experienced some difficult times in my life that, when walking my journey of faith, required me to ask some of the bigger questions. I recall being on watch while at sea, heading south of Fiztroy Island near Cairns, and being informed that I had been accepted to become a Chaplain. I moved to Canberra to complete my training, and was ordained in 2016 at St Saviuor's in Goulburn.

3.      What drew you to CGGS?

I wanted to be somewhere where I could build something. I loved every minute of my time in the Navy, but my experience was quite transient, and I wanted something longer term. I had a few friends in the diocese here who called me and said that an opportunity to become the CGGS Chaplain was available. I looked through the School website and thought CGGS looked pretty amazing, and this was confirmed after meeting several members of staff.

I also garnered the impression that the focus of CGGS wasn’t just on academic results; this was important, but it was one facet of the individual. I found that CGGS was a school that was far more involved in building strong, capable, compassionate women, who will go into the world and change it. The world needs change, and women need to be a significant part of that. And I want to be a part of that.

The final piece for me was the School prayer. After hearing it, I really felt like CGGS was the place I needed to be.

4.      Tell us about your experience in the Royal Australian Navy.

I’ve been in the Navy almost all of my adult life, and I will continue to be a part of it as a reservist. I can’t thank the Royal Australian Navy enough, my experience in the Navy has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve had some remarkable experiences, there are things I did with the Navy that I’ll never get to see or do anywhere else – jump out of planes, fly in helicopters. Even seeing the stars on a moonless night while out at sea is a very special experience. The friendships I made in the Navy, I doubt they will ever be gone. And the training I received was quite remarkable, it prepared me for so many things I’ve faced in life. I am thankful for the experience, but am ready for a new chapter in my life.

5.      You are an avid reader – do you have any book recommendations?

I’ve got heaps! But if I had to pick, Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. Julia has a mastery of the English language that makes for a wonderful book. The book skilfully tells us that there are moments in life that we must hold on to, to find hope. If we can find hope in a moment, we can find hope in a lifetime. I will get all of my children to read Phosphorescence, especially my daughters.

Another I absolutely love is Room on the Broom, because I love reading with my kids.

6.      Do you have a favourite Gospel reading?

I do – Matthew 6:25-34. At its essence, it is about not worrying. I see people all the time worrying about things that are to come or things that have happened. Today is enough. When we worry about what’s gone or is to come, we miss out on ‘this’, and we only have so much of ‘this’. We must cherish the moments we have; what we have to worry about is today, and you don’t even have to worry about it, you just have to enjoy it.

7.      You enjoy meditation – how do you meditate? And how has it helped you?

I was exposed to contemplative traditions very early in my 20s. It allows me to be more grounded, to recognise the gift of the present. When I’m grounded and in the present, I’m more attuned to what is going on around me, and I tend to be a better disciple. Over a period of time it becomes more of a way of being. It takes commitment; there are times I don’t feel like doing it but that’s a part of the discipline of the practice. I can’t imagine life before my contemplative practices.

8.      We hear you’re a big Canberra Raiders fan?

Yes, I am! I supported the Dragons when I was younger, but when I was sent to Canberra to do my chaplaincy training my family and I started getting more into the footy, and we started attending more games at Bruce stadium (I still call it Bruce stadium!). I recall sitting in the late autumn sunshine at one game thinking, this is just amazing. Overtime we followed the Raiders more and more, and I decided that my heart was with them. That was how I knew I’d become a bonafide Canberran!

9.      Do you have any other hobbies?

It’s funny you ask. When my daughter Georgina was born, the Navy sent me to work in recruitment in Parramatta. I was interviewing people wanting to join the ADF, and one of the questions I would ask is “do you have any hobbies?”. One time, a guy responded with “not really, I’ve got four kids”.

I thought that was interesting, but now I understand exactly what he was saying. I use to have a range of hobbies, but now my children are the project of my life. Getting them to adulthood as well-rounded, well-formed people is really what consumes all of the time I would otherwise have for a hobby. Reading is probably the closest. I do also watch a lot of footy! It all sounds rather ordinary, but it just feels like life.

10.  If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would these be?

Humorous – I learnt very quickly in the Navy you have to be able to laugh at yourself, but never make a joke at someone else’s expense.

Generous – not in the sense of giving gifts, but I give a lot of myself in most things I endeavour to do.

Thoughtful – I’m quite often find myself thinking about things a lot. Thought is a gift, I love thinking.

11.  Now that lockdown has been lifted and the country is slowly returning to pre-COVID conditions, do you have a destination you would like to visit?

My kids! They’re still in Sydney finishing the school year, my wife and I didn’t want to have an abrupt uplift, so I’m looking forward to travelling freely with them. I haven’t seen my Mum since 2019; she lives in Victoria, and the timing between my deployments and the lockdown hasn’t been ideal. The freedom to move again is something I’m looking forward to.

12.  What name do you prefer to go by?

Father Chris.

13.  How would you describe your chapel services?

I haven’t done one yet! That’s a hard one as I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I feel that worship should be embodied. Embodied worship is so that we engage with the liturgy, and that draws us into a living faith; faith becoming a lifeform. To achieve this we must craft a liturgy that is beautiful, and it should be beautiful because if we deem God to be a God worthy of worship it should be beautiful. It should be something that moves us, because if it moves us there’s a level of involvement that’s far more appropriate. What I would like to see is a service that is transformational, one that is wonderful to be a part of.

I know the school has a very musical element to its services, and my hope is that we can sing together, too.

14.  How would you spend your ideal weekend?

An ideal weekend starts on a Friday afternoon – some form of takeout, then an evening with the kids where we sit back, relax and they do what they want. I will probably watch the footy. On Saturday, my wife and I will take the kids out to do something, not anything extravagant, we just like to take them places. In the evening we watch a movie, or sometimes play a board game. Sunday morning is church, and then not much in the afternoon. I usually cook a roast for dinner.

That’s my perfect weekend, just lots of time with the family. There’s something in the ordinariness of that that I love. I know people that fill their weekends with activities, but that just makes me feel tired! There’s a real joy that I find in an ordinary weekend.

15.  To you, how important is it for students to combine their education with their journey of faith?

I feel that the living faith is something that we truly inhabit. When we have a faith that is a lifeform, it holds everything. I go back to the school prayer, “Almighty God with whom we live and move and have our being”. We are within that. We have this idea of God as this ‘dude’, a ‘dude’ who is somewhere far away and has a wrathful attitude. And so God and faith become this exercise of cognitive dissonance. When we think of it like that, it becomes a piece of our life. If we have a considered and well-formed faith, where we grow, are guided and helped, God and faith don’t become a logical construct we hold on to, rather something we inhabit. Faith and God become all-encompassing things that guide us day to day.

We live within the boundless bounds of God’s grace. When we understand that God and faith require nuance, and are life-giving, we realise that they are beautiful. This gives us tremendous resilience, not as a tool or an idea, but as a total reality, where we are well-formed and on the path to an extraordinary life.

Education takes place within all of this. Faith is in which everything occurs.

16.  Finally, what’s something about yourself that would surprise people?

I wouldn’t say I’m the best singer, but that won’t surprise people when they hear me!

I’m not sure if it would surprise people, but my wife and I, our life is chaos with four children, but I quite like it. We drive a Kia – I like it. I revel in the ordinary, and I’m very at peace with that. I’m just happy with who I am, and the place I have arrived at. There is this ordinariness of life that I absolutely love, and I like it.

There is something in the realisation that every day you’re given is a gift. The ordinary is extraordinary. I can’t express that enough. Through the ordinary is where all the artists through time have created. We have time – if I was talking to the Year 12’s right now, I would remind them that there is this push to find yourself and finish your schooling, but it is only a part of you, not all of you, and you’re yet to discover all these other brilliant things about yourself, the world, about life, about God. What a life, what an adventure, what a privilege. There is an infinite depth of beauty in every moment, and we always need reminding of that.