A young lifeguard pulls a man out of the water at a beach swimming pool. He and others  perform CPR and call for help, but it’s of no use. They are unable to save him. The young lifesaver returns to the clubhouse, shaken – and at this surf lifesaving club, a chaplain is available to be a listening ear, offer support and continue checking in. 

It’s one of the many ways chaplains to surf lifesavers care for these members of our community.

“We walk alongside people as they seek to help [other] people as surf life savers,” says the Rev Mark Gilbert, who has been praying for and walking alongside surf lifesavers for eight years as the chaplain of Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club. He’s one of 67 surf life saving chaplains who serve at clubs all around Australia. 

Surf Life Saving Australia is one of the largest volunteer movements in the world, with almost 200,000 members and 314 affiliated clubs. Mr Gilbert was invited to be the chaplain of his local club after being a member for years and working as the local minister at the time. He is now community chaplain at St Matt’s, Manly, as well as having an ongoing ministry through Evangelism and New Churches.

The role Mr Gilbert has with the surf lifesaving community is incredibly varied, but no matter what the context, his primary responsibility is to care. One moment he can be offering a listening ear to the president of the surf lifesaving club; the next he might be called upon to conduct a funeral or pray at a significant event. 

The work of lifesavers is dangerous and confronting at times, and many need extra support to process what they’ve witnessed. “It can involve sitting alongside teens for a year or two after they’ve had a difficult resuscitation,” Mr Gilbert says. “I met up month after month with teenage [lifesavers] who had been doing CPR on a man who died in the swimming pool.” 

Yet there are also plenty of joyful moments. Mr Gilbert is asked to pray with people, lead prayer groups, speak at celebrations and even conduct baptisms. “I get to share the gospel with dozens of surf lifesavers,” he says.

“I was conducting the funeral of one member of the club, and afterwards this man came up to me. He asked, ‘Do you baptise people here at the beach?’ I said, ‘Yes I do’. He said, ‘Well, I want you to baptise me!’ 

“I’ve also been invited onto the board of Surf Life Saving Chaplaincy Australia, and now [the chaplains] run a tent at the NSW surf life saving state titles. We get to hand out bibles and sit around on the beach talking to people about Jesus, which is fantastic. I’ve also been appointed for the world masters lifesaving federation, who are running the world titles in the Gold Coast next year. Two years ago they ran the event in Italy and I went as a chaplain to support our surf lifesavers and talk to people from all around the world about Jesus. This goes well beyond the local beach.”

He says there’s plenty we can be praying for our surf lifesavers and the surf lifesaving community this summer.

“The big thing is safety for people at the beaches. Pray for the surf lifesavers impacted by adverse events. [They are often] the first responding to horrific events. And pray for the Christians in these [surf lifesaving] clubs to love the other surf lifesavers and to love Jesus.” 


  • for safety on our beaches; that swimmers would enjoy the water without incident
  • for our surf lifesavers as they enter risky and dangerous situations to protect others. Pray for their wellbeing, especially after difficult events
  • for Christians who are members of surf lifesaving clubs to love others well and be a good witness to Jesus through word and deed
  • for the chaplains who walk alongside surf lifesavers, that they would have wisdom and the words to help those struggling, would care well for others and share the message of hope with them.