It’s been ‘a wild ride’ in the military for Grant Dibden, who was inducted and installed as Anglican Bishop to the Defence Force at the Royal Military College Duntroon Chapel on 18 March. Bishop Dibden was a career soldier, rising to colonel and commanding the Force Support Group when in 2004 he left the army to pursue full-time Christian ministry. He returned to the Defence Force as a chaplain in 2007 with the rank of captain. Now, as head of the Defence Forces’ Anglican chaplains and a member of the 10-strong Religious Advisory Committee to the Services, he has a nominal rank of Major-General.
‘I got a call from the Primate when I was in the Middle East on full-time service, asking would I consider becoming the Anglican Bishop to the Defence Force? I’m not sure you should say “gobsmacked” to the Primate, but … I thought and prayed for 10 days and let my name go forward and was subsequently selected. I’m comforted to know that it didn’t take God by surprise,’ Bishop Dibden said. ‘It’s been about following where I thought the Lord has been leading me’, he said. ‘I’m also comforted by the fact that God promises to be with all of us until the end of the age (Matt 28:20) and so I can rely on Him and know that with His help I will be able to fulfil this most important role.’
His most important job in his new role is the pastoral care of the Anglican chaplains in the Defence Force: 43 full-time chaplains, 43 part-time and another six now in training. All have to live and work in a multi-faith environment in which there is great diversity of ethical and cultural views.
Two other key responsibilities are recruiting chaplains, making sure they are a good fit, and helping them transition back to their dioceses when they leave the service, which includes liaising with local bishops.
‘We are short of army reserve chaplains at the moment. If we could find another 15 Anglican chaplains who wanted to do some reserve service, the Defence Force would take them in a heartbeat, as long as they were good quality people,’ Bishop Dibden says. Also, the Chief of the Defence Force is eager to get more women chaplains – ‘and if the Chief of the Defence Force is interested in it, then the rest of us are fascinated by it’.
The main challenge is working in such a diverse environment, he says. ‘One of the key things in my role will be bringing unity to that, that’s what the Gospel requires. There’s a range of views in the Anglican Church, and we have to live in harmony.’
The COVID-19 pandemic provides another challenge, finding ways to minister to people when chaplains can’t just walk around and chat. Many in the Defence Force, as in wider society, are working from home.
‘I want to encourage the chaplains to make disciples who make other disciples’, Bishop Dibden says. ‘Chaplains don’t preside over large churches or enjoy a big preaching ministry – it’s more personal interaction with ones and twos, building trust and rapport and encouraging people.’
This article uses some material by Barney Zwartz previously published on melbournearchbishop.org.au and by Russell Powell previously published in the Southern Cross.