Emma Anderson

Chaplain Emma Anderson playing Jenga with, from left, Kyra, Ashleigh, Tanner and Marleigh.

By Paul O'Rourke

“I get paid to play games with kids,” Emma Anderson says half jokingly.

Emma’s playing handball when I arrive to discuss her new role as Ulverstone Primary School chaplain.

Playing chess, handball, board games, soccer and Jenga are important ways to build connections and create a safe and informal environment for kids to share.

“We bond over an activity and talk about school, life, home, whatever,” Emma said.

“It’s casual, informal unlike an appointment, and I don’t have a teaching load and so I am available.

“The school breakfast program is another way of building relationships.

“Then there are the teacher referrals, and the students seek me out when they want to talk.”

Up to 40 hungry children turn up for the daily breakfasts, some because they haven't eaten, others looking for a little extra or hot Milo on a cold day, or to socialise with friends.

Emma started as a two-day-a-week chaplain in November after friends suggested she apply for the unadvertised role. She handed in her resume and was hired the next week.

“I’d been wanting to work as a school chaplain for years. Now our youngest is in school, I have the time.”

She works two days a week at the school, a third as a volunteer hospital chaplain at the Mersey at Latrobe.

At 30, Emma has an impressive record of caring for children, from babysitting as a teen to working as a teacher’s aide in a remote Aboriginal community during her school gap year; serving as a volunteer with youth at camps and church, and being mum to three children, aged 9, 8 and 6. Her husband Iain is the youth minister at Devonport Church of Christ.

“People are usually surprised that I have been married for 10 years and have three children,” she said.

Emma completed a hospital chaplaincy course, chose pastoral care and chaplaincy units in her Diploma of Christian studies, and did a work placement for a term with the chaplain at Devonport Primary School.

Self esteem-related issues

She said the bulk of her work was addressing self esteem-related issues.

“Issues range from abuse and neglect, family breakdown, relationship issues, rejection or just not getting the attention they need,” Emma said.

“We are seeing a lot of problems related to the sexualisation of culture, affecting how kids see themselves and think they are supposed to behave.

“It’s worrying.”

Head of student support and wellbeing, Kate Larcombe, said Emma was a welcomed addition to Ulverstone Primary, adding much-needed pastoral support to the school community.

She said students missed her when she was absent and asked for her specifically on the days she worked.

“Having the support of a school chaplain has enabled our school to better support students’ social, emotional and overall well-being, feel valued and develop a sense of belonging.''