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Chaplains Conferences are the Best Conferences

July 22, 2016
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Closing Panel; photo credit: Steph Robinson

I attended the 2016 Global Conference for Chaplains in Higher Education in Bendigo, Australia, from July 11-15. This is my second time at this conference, which is held every four years, the last one being in New Haven, Connecticut, in 2012. There were clear differences between the two, but one thing stayed the same: chaplains conferences are the best conferences.

Here is a group of people professionally trained to be kind, supportive, open minded, and to care for strangers at the drop of a hat. I made friends starting on the shuttle ride from the airport, which I shared with a Catholic chaplain from Canberra and a Mormon chaplain from Utah. I met the Australian organizer, with whom I’d corresponded for months, with a hug, although we’d never seen each other in person before. One of the New Zealand chaplains cried when she listened to how difficult it is fro the Pagan chaplain from Syracuse, New York, and I (a Buddhist chaplain in California) to find a full-time campus chaplain position in a dominantly Christian country and the lengths to which we’ll go to stay chaplains despite that. Questions during workshops and paper sessions were open, curious, respectful, and affirming. I had a great lunch with a male chaplain from South Carolina discussing the difficulty of Title IX (dealing with campus sexual assault and harassment) and the role chaplains play.

Overall, this conference was smaller then the previous one at Yale, with just over 100 attendees (compared to 400), but many more from Australia and New Zealand for obvious reasons. I presented my paper to about 15 people on Tuesday and we had a good discussion. On Thursday, 8 attended my workshop. The entire group was present for the closing panel I participated in on Friday and several came up to me afterward with positive comments. La Trobe University in Bendigo did a wonderful job hosting us.

Despite the proximity to Asia, only one chaplain from Hong Kong joined us. I was truly hoping that some of the new Buddhist chaplains from Japan or other Asian countries might attend, but perhaps the barriers (language, cost, awareness, etc.) were still too high this time around. The location of the 2020 conference has yet to be announced, but when it is, you can be sure I will be reaching out to my colleagues across the Pacific.

If you are interested in campus chaplaincy or just chaplaincy in general, I highly recommend this conference. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, despite the horrifically long airplane flight.

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Kangaroos at La Trobe University, photo by author

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