Hitting the Road – Chaplaincy on the Move

During the first few months of COVID after Easter, our part-time Operations Manager Stan Fetting pulled on his boots to respond to the opportunity to serve with the Australian Army in response to the pandemic. This story from Defence media gives an insight into his ministry during this time:

Faced with the challenge of providing chaplaincy support to soldiers deployed in remote locations hundreds of kilometers apart, there was only one thing for Chaplain Stan Fetting to do: hit the road.

Living out of a duffel bag, CHAP Fetting travelled more than 11000km around Queensland as a member of Joint Task Group 629.3, embedded with soldiers providing pastoral support and also feeding back advice to command from the field as part of Operation Covid-19 Assist.

“I felt it was important to be out on the checkpoints with soldiers, experiencing what they were and being on hand to provide support to help them stay on task,” he explains.

“It took me to places I’d never heard of before and enabled me to meet a lot of inspirational people.”

Throughout his time on the road, a few events stand out for CHAP Fetting such as the work completed by JTG629.3 soldiers helping the elderly mother of a deceased ADF member by cleaning her garden during their off duty hours in the remote town of Hebel. (Mrs Tonia Ellis’ son SGT Hugh Ellis died in the 1996 Blackhawk disaster)

Australian Army soldiers from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, assisted with yard work at Mrs.Tonia Ellis’ home in Hebel, Queensland. (Rear L-R) Private Levi Lewis-Smith, Lieutenant Matthew Benn, Private Maeson White, Private Reilly Dalton, Private James Hayes, and Corporal Keith Hughes. (Front L- R) Lance Corporal Justin Wells, Lance Corporal Gregory Meyer and Lance Corporal Jake Mason (Copyright Department of Defence) http://images.defence.gov.au/S20201799

“I was very privileged to go back and visit Mrs Ellis a second time and deliver a personal letter from the Minister of Defence on the anniversary of her son’s passing. It was a very low key and personal way to join with Mrs Ellis in marking her tragic loss.”

Then there is the renovation of the Catholic Church in Windorah, again completed by soldiers in their downtime.

CHAP Stan Fetting leading the celebration of the re-opening of the chapel at Windorah. (Copyright Department of Defence) http://images.defence.gov.au/S20201940

“What was memorable for me was that the project to restore the church was led by the local pub owner, who personally showed me around the church and community centre before the service to tell me the local history and stories of the families who have been a key part of the region for generations,” CHAP Fetting recalls.

“It was a privilege to be able to participate in an event that was so meaningful for the townsfolk, and it was also great to see what a difference the soldiers had made through donating their time and skills.”

While most of the soldiers serving in the operation in the initial stages were sourced from the Army, Air Force, and Navy reserves, Chaplain Fetting quickly gave up guessing what deployed personnel did in their civilian careers.

“I met people from an incredibly wide array of backgrounds including physicists, archaeologists, a professional UFC fighter, farm butchers, tax inspectors, and just about everything else under the sun,” he notes.

“It meant that wherever we were as a presence, we brought an immense amount of skills and knowledge into the mix.”

The sun sets on the red dunes of Windorah in the western Queensland Outback.