To complement the integral religious pastoral care and spiritual support services offered by Navy Chaplains, the re-named Navy Chaplaincy Branch has introduced secular maritime spiritual wellbeing officers (MSWO).

Following approval from the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, MSWOs will be introduced from July 2020 to provide Navy people and their families with professional, non-religious pastoral care and spiritual support.

After 108 years of being a primarily religious capability, this is a significant development which will meet the rapidly changing preferences and religious landscape of Navy people, of which more than 50 per cent do not affiliate with a religion.

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mike Noonan said Navy valued the importance of providing spiritual and pastoral care as a primary means of supporting people and their families within the unique military environment.

“Religious chaplaincy has and will remain an integral part to how we support our people and their families at sea and ashore,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.

“In continuing to ensure we meet the needs of all our people, the appointment of maritime spiritual wellbeing officers will create an interchangeable capability within the Navy Chaplaincy Branch.”

MSWOs will be required to have significant professional pastoral experience in a relevant sector and hold a minimum Bachelor’s Degree in a ‘human services’ academic discipline such as social work, social science or psychology.

MSWOs who hold appropriate licences will be able to support Navy people and their families with important secular rites of passage, such as civil weddings.

Like chaplains, MSWOs will be committed to respecting the particular spiritual (or non-spiritual) beliefs of a presenting member and will hold notional rank.

From January 2021, MSWOs and all chaplains will wear the branch’s new non-faith-specific rank insignia of a fouled anchor overlaying a compass rose, which represents a united team front, encompassing all faiths and purpose.

Director General of Navy Chaplaincy, Principal Chaplain Collin Acton, welcomed the introduction of MSWOs, saying they would provide another dimension to the branch and work collegially will their religious counterparts.

“There is no doubt that Navy’s religious chaplains provide high-quality support to Navy people and will continue to do so," Principal Chaplain Acton said.

“However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that some people would prefer to access non-religious wellbeing professionals. 

“The Navy Chaplaincy Branch welcomes the MSWOs, who will ensure all Navy people and their families are able to comfortably access inclusive, client-centred pastoral and spiritual care regardless of their faith.”

Navy will appoint two MSWOs in the second half of 2020 and eight over the next four years.