Being a Christian chaplain in a government school means you can’t explicitly preach the good news of Jesus to students and, understandably, many people find that a real challenge. But that suits Sharon Salomon just fine because there’s no rule against living the gospel as an example to students.
Sharon, a lifelong Lutheran who has been working as a chaplain at state schools in Queensland for 11 years, believes that’s more her calling and gift.
‘I’m not someone who can really share the gospel, I do better trying to be the person who lives it’, says Sharon, who has served at Oakey State High School and Oakey State School (primary), in Queensland’s Darling Downs, 30 kilometres north-west of Toowoomba, for almost six years. ‘I’d rather live by example and through building relationships. Showing that love … kids pick that up.’
Appointed, trained and equipped by Scripture Union Queensland, Sharon is known as ‘Chappy’ by the students.
As well as providing morning teas and lunches for the school staffs and pancakes for students during the recent Chaplaincy Week, Sharon has been visiting local churches to promote school chaplaincy. This has been supported by the interdenominational Oakey Combined Chaplaincy Committee, of which St Paul’s Lutheran Church Pastor Ken Schultz is vice-chair. Sharon’s work is funded in part by federal and state government funding, with local support critical in making up the shortfall, coordinated by the chaplaincy committee.
Sharon has no doubt about one of the most-needed things Christian chaplains can bring into the lives of students. It’s hope. ‘We’ve got more hope, we bring more hope than any non-Christian person’, she says. ‘These kids need hope. They don’t know they need God, but if we bring the hope that it’s going to be okay, they can say, “Chappy believes this is going to be okay”.’
And some students do face big challenges. There are family breakdowns and the resultant trauma, which may be brought about by alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Others have mental health issues and some face homelessness.
Sharon has introduced programs covering topics such as forming friendships, and grief and loss. In addition, she has enabled high school students to make their own toasted sandwiches – a real benefit for those who haven’t had breakfast. There is also a chaplaincy committee-supported breakfast club at the primary school.
Despite the demands of juggling two roles across five days and endeavouring to serve the schools, the local community and the local churches, Sharon has no doubt what she loves most about chaplaincy. ‘I love the kids’, she says. ‘I love that I can be a support to them through the next stage of their life. That’s what I’d like to see, to see them grow in the way they need to grow. There’s a verse in Proverbs that essentially says, “Grow the children that they should grow” (Proverbs 22:6).’