When you think of where you would find a chaplain serving, you could be forgiven for think of schools, prisons, or maybe the army. So, it could be surprising to discover that there are also chaplains in the business world. It is not where you would expect to find a chaplain, but it makes sense – business sense.
Deliotte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2017 report reveals that 85% of companies in Australia cite the employee experience (including employee wellbeing) as critical to the company. A wise business leader, who desires to be a market leader, knows that providing support services for their staff will ensure a strong triple bottom line for their business.
It is for this reason that Lindsay Packer asked Graeme Carnell to join his family business, Packer Leather, as a chaplain in September 1996. Well ahead of current employee management trends, the Packers saw the need to ensure the wellbeing of their staff and families. Graeme recalls that Lindsay approached him and asked him to come in and meet with the leadership.
“I was not a qualified chaplain, I don’t think they even had a qualification back then. The boss knew me from church and asked me to come in,” he recalls. I discussed key areas that would help develop the staff, such as job fulfillment, building trust and integrity, and teamwork. “While I did some work in this area, the most productive time for me was walking around the business. This is how I got to know the people, I wanted to know who they were and what they did.”
Graeme assigns great significance to this time of creating relationships with the staff. “It was important to build trust amongst the staff, they could see I was genuinely interested in them. They then began to open up to me about their lives.” Eventually, Graeme could see a reformation taking place amongst the staff as they entrusted him with their concerns.
“Along the way, I have been in their homes, I have stood beside their hospital beds, I have prayed with them, and welcomed them into my home.” Graeme shares, with emotion in his voice, how blessed he has been to share their journey.
“The factory has become like a second home to me. If I am away for a week, the staff often ask, “Where is the Rev this week?” It has been a blessing to me, considering I was asked to be a blessing to them.”
Being a chaplain has led to some adventures, including coaching an employee soccer team. “Some of the staff wanted to form a sports team one year. They decided to join the Baptist Soccer League, but this required a minister or chaplain to manage them. So, they asked me to be their manager.”
Despite being an avid AFL supporter and having little knowledge of soccer, Graeme took on the challenge. “Most of the players, not being believers, would get heated and use very colourful language on the field – a few red cards were issued!” He laughs and shakes his head at the memory. “I wondered what I had got myself into, but I realised I need to teach them how to play sport with a different attitude. That was a challenge, but they did well and we made it through.”
Graeme laughs when he thinks about his twenty years serving at the tannery. “I didn’t want to go into ministry originally. I am a third-generation preacher now, but when I was younger I was shy and I didn’t want to preach or pastor.”
He reminiscences about growing up in Melbourne, where he completed his schooling and went to work for Myers. “I left school and joined Myers where I actually topped the department for selling. I was earning more money than the manager, due to commissions.”
Then one day he watched a movie that altered the direction of his life.
“After I watched “The death of a salesman”, I just knew that I could not stay in that job. I was also aware of a growing burden”. Graeme had a desire was to alleviate the struggle of pastors who often had to work two jobs for financial support. Although uncertain how to do this he felt called to the ministry.
Graeme loved worship leading and felt confident in that role, but being behind a pulpit was a different matter. “I remember I had a preaching class at bible college and I struggled!” He chuckles thinking about how far he has come. “The Lord certainly helped me over the years”.
This help came in different ways. Such as his time with leadership expert John Maxwell. “There are significant people that God brings across your path and John was one who influenced me in church growth.”
After leaving bible college and pastoring for a few years, Graeme headed to the USA where he worked for John Maxwell. “Back then he was a Wesleyan Pastor in San Diego, California. I would drive him every Monday to Los Angeles where he would lecture in the Glendale Graduate School.” Graeme learnt as much as he could during that time and then returned home to Australia.
He took up a calling at the Maryborough Church. “We had 40 people when we arrived and we built the church to 400 members by the time we left. Next was Narangba, there I had to plant a church, and that was challenging! We stuck it out and it grew to a good size.”
Living a Life that Adds Up
Since then Graeme has returned to his original desire to support churches when pastors are on leave and support new leadership. “I preach a lot these days,” he says quietly, smiling at the goodness of God in his life. “I move around but I have always loved my role as chaplain at Packer Leather.”
As we finish our interview, Graeme looks at me and says, “A friend once told me we teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. We have a lot of teachers but it is living the life by our walk and our talk that adds up. I have tried to live out my life in front of the people at the tannery as best I could. No matter who we are with, we are meant to be the hands and feet of Christ and people need someone who can be that.”
This is what differentiates chaplains from other support staff, they do more than engage employees at a seminar. They walk with people and care for them long-term, and that is guaranteed to be good for any business’s bottom line.
Brett Walsh, Erica Volini. 2017. Deloitte. February 1. Accessed May 7, 2017. www2.deloitte.com.
Charissa Steffens is a teacher, writer, and speaker. She is the former editor of Indulge Magazine and still enjoys writing about faith and family at her blog She Matters ( www.shematters.com.au ). Charissa is actively involved as an elder and leader at Nexus Church in Brisbane. She has two precious children and has been married to David for many a moon. She loves cooking shows and coffee!