Over the 26 years that the Rev Greg Webster was chaplain at Trinity Grammar School, he considers it a privilege to have walked alongside thousands of students – he estimates it to be more than 10,000.
When he was a teen he experienced the impact that faithful Christian teachers could have on a young person's life. So it was only natural that he would say “Yes” to the opportunity to play a similar role in the lives of many youth.
“The idea that you could arrest the minds and hearts of young men with the word of God on a regular basis was an attraction for me,” he says.
“Having taught high school Scripture in public schools, I saw teaching Christian Studies as an amazing opportunity.”
Mr Webster began chaplaincy at Trinity in 1997, leaving at the end of May this year to become the rector of Christ Church, Lavender Bay. He says there were many privileges to being a chaplain, but the one that brought him the most delight was seeing students grow in their faith.
“When you see young people’s hearts being warmed to Jesus, that’s a really joyous experience,” he says. “Often I’ll come in contact with [former students] if I visit a church somewhere, or someone will come up to me in a social situation… and start chatting about things they remember about chapel or school. The real surprise is when I come across young men who have become Christians since being at school.”
Multiple generations of teenage boys
Haircuts aside, Mr Webster doesn’t believe there is much difference between the teenage boys of the ’90s and the teenage boys of today.
“Youth culture is a funny thing. When I started, social media didn’t exist. Now it’s a huge part of everybody’s lives – adults and children. When I started, there was such a thing as a youth radio station. Now, with streaming services, you don’t have that one cultural beat that everyone jumps to. What happens is that school becomes the shared experience and the dominant culture.
“I don’t think young people have changed… 15-year-old boys are still playing sports on the weekends, you’ve got hormones flowing through, you’re probably trying to work out how to do simultaneous equations in Maths, you’re thinking about what other people think of you, you’re forming your views about the world and life. These things are still the same.”
Serving not just students
Mr Webster also walked alongside the many staff and families of the school. “That’s a great privilege as well, as we open the Bible and try to communicate as clearly and winsomely as possible.”
And when sickness and death rocked the school community, his presence as chaplain offered comfort and hope to many families.
“Sadly, most school communities, in time, are going to have to go through those things,” he says. “I often feel very lacking in competence, and yet people are really looking to you for a word of hope and to speak to them about the eternal truths. In a lot of ways, your presence is reassuring. The fact that you’re there and saying the things they know to be true deep down is very reassuring and helps people enormously.
“People are seriously spiritually centred in these particular points. They’re asking questions, and wanting to hear answers. It’s not like you’re a lone ranger, but you have a special voice in that situation. The words you say will resonate quite strongly.”
The Christian support goes both ways in the school community, with many Christian families offering prayer and support that warmed Mr Webster’s heart.
“I’ve been well supported by Christian families who have come to chapel services and warmly encouraged the ministry,” he says. “They’ve spoken about how much their children have benefited from it. They’ve prayed. We have prayer meetings and that’s a significant ministry as well. Schools deal with students with complex needs, and to know there are people praying for that and for the way these students are being helped is huge. It’s amazing.”
School chaplains need our prayer
Pray for those who hear the word: “Pray for the hearts and minds of the people who hear the words chaplains say,” Mr Webster says. “School chaplains have a very strong teaching role – they’re teaching young people and speaking to big groups of young people. It’s very much a word-based ministry. The parable of the sower comes to mind. Pray that the word would fall on good soil.”
Pray school chaplains will communicate clearly: “My students have taught me to be a better communicator. Feedback from my students tells me whether I am on the money or not, and so that pushes me to try and be better as someone who has this huge responsibility of communicating the gospel. If we’re not picking up on what people are hearing, we’re not communicating very well. We’ve got to give plenty of attention to what’s being heard as well as what’s being said.”
Pray for the Christian families in the school community: “It is a rich community to have Christians involved, and the impact they can have is quite substantial. Typically, they have a significant Christian presence in the school, and you have other colleagues and students rubbing shoulders with them every day. Pray that many would see it as a partnership.”