Her love of teaching and her strong faith combine in Reverend Karen Eastment’s role as school chaplain at NEGS.
Rev. Karen Eastment doesn’t fit the stereotype of a school chaplain. She is young, female, and uses contemporary techniques to engage students in worship and Christian education at New England Girls’ School and St John’s Co-Educational Junior School. And when she’s not teaching, she could be conducting a marriage for a NEGS Old Girl in the school chapel, baptising a future student, or leading the NEGS Cycling Club on a tour of Armidale.
> Tell us a little of your background?
I grew up on the outskirts of Sydney in a little place called Cobbitty, near Camden. My parents ran a youth camp that catered to school, church, and sporting groups. I grew up with tennis courts, horses, and lots of friends from all over the world at my disposal. I now realise it was an unusual way to grow up.
After university I lived and worked in the centre of Sydney, doing a variety of jobs related to environmental consultancy and public relations. However, it wasn’t until I became a high school teacher that I found something I really enjoyed doing and which had a great sense of purpose attached to it.
> What inspired you to become involved in the ministry?
Becoming an Anglican minister never came close to making my list of ‘things to do in life’. Having said that, I was never someone who set out with a certain course in mind. However, one thing that has grown in strength in later years is my faith in God and who He is as revealed through Christ. And I suppose that as you believe something so strongly, it can’t help but influence what you do with your life.
It’s only now as I look back on all those twists and turns and variety of occupations that I can see how they have prepared me for this work. Although at times it still feels a little odd to don the Clergy robes to, say, conduct a wedding, I do enjoy being able to share my life and faith with the people at NEGS.
> How did your role at NEGS come about?
Initially I came to NEGS because my sister-in-law, Rebecca, was the Chaplain, and she suggested I take her job during her six months maternity leave in 2005 (like a lot of things in life, it’s not what you know, but who you know!) I left NEGS at the end of those six months with no plans to ever return to Armidale.
However, after the upheaval of management at the school, I was invited to return in 2007. I have been back as the Chaplain of NEGS for two years now, and I have to say that the NEGS of today is a completely different place to that which I left in 2005. It is a dynamic and friendly community to be a part of.
My position, alongside my assistant Chaplain, Mrs Kate Jones, primarily involves teaching Christian Studies to students ranging from transition to Year 10, presenting three Chapel Services per week, and providing pastoral care through Bible Studies and lunchtime groups, or simply being available to talk with students. The school chapel is available to Old Girls for weddings and baptisms, of which we have a few each year. This is a lovely way to keep the connections with past students.
Another key feature of our chaplaincy program is that we join with other schools for combined events. I work closely with a number of chaplains at the other high schools in Armidale and at the university. This enables us to spread the variety of activities on offer, giving the students another social outlet and the opportunity to learn and grow in their faith. Two highlights this year have been the NEGS-TAS trip to join thousands of other teenagers at the Katoomba Youth Convention (KYCK) in April and the Pilgrimage with TAS and PLC students to St Christopher’s home in Fiji in October.
Being a small country school, there is greater freedom for the school to offer activities that schools based in the city cannot provide. At present I am enjoying taking the cycling group exploring around town on a Monday afternoon.
> How do you go about engaging children to become interested in spiritual matters?
I know many view the Bible as a difficult and outmoded or irrelevant historical text, but I am more than ever convinced of its relevance for all people of all generations. So from the outset I teach it with that confidence, which I hope the students and teachers can see.
Having said that, I still think God places us into a cultural context, and it is our job to work to engage and communicate through that. And to this end I aim to use a variety of methods, ranging from upholding the traditions of the church and school to using contemporary forms of worship and education.
Our ‘Spicks and Specks’ Chapel service stands out to many as an entertaining highlight of the year. And if that sort of effort doesn’t touch base, I always trust that either way, God is at work and has it all in hand.
At times I wish all my students were like those in the junior school, St John’s, who very happily express their love of Chapel. However, I do actually enjoy the challenge of engaging with teenagers. I love nothing better than being in a classroom with my more senior students challenging and asking me questions. I think it is important they be given this opportunity to explore and reflect openly on spiritual matters.
> Women are still a minority in the clergy – what is it like being a female minister?
Although I have never been one to champion the cause of women through the church, I am aware of the fact that I probably wouldn’t be in this position without the work of those who have gone before me. I do think it is a change for the better that young women are chaplains in girls’ schools. However, no matter the position, I am simply thankful for the opportunity I have to share what I think are the most important things in life.
> Is the ministry a career you would recommend to young women?
I don’t see being a Chaplain as a career, so much as a vocation. I also see it as a huge responsibility. To be honest, there are times when I would love to run away to the coast and not face that responsibility. But, if you have a heart for people of all ages and a desire to tell them about God’s love, then yes this is a great job for young women.
> How do you unwind away from the church and ministry?
During term time I find it difficult to get much time away from work and church related activities. However, I do try. The outdoor pursuits I choose depend on where I find myself at the time. While in Armidale I enjoy a bit of mountain bike riding, and I am proud to boast that I completed the
80 km Westpac Helicopter ride in Walcha a few weeks ago.
I love to swim in the ocean and always look forward to returning to the coast to see family and spend time by the beach. As much as I love the country, I also love returning to the centre of Sydney, where I lived for many of the past 10 years, catching up with friends and enjoying all that the city has to offer for a short time; I do love the country.
> What do you like most about your role as chaplain at NEGS?
Besides the obvious desire to tell people about Jesus and share with them my journey of faith (have I told you that a few times already?) there are a number of things. One of them is the variety of things I get to do in my job. As any teacher would tell you, no two days are the same.
Although it can be a stretch, I also love that I get to teach all ages from four-year-olds up to 18 years of age. And, despite ruining a few pairs of shoes to date and the ridiculous minus degree temperatures in winter, I do love the fact that I get to walk across a paddock to work each morning!
> Thank you Karen.