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Fellows scholarship opens research door for Salvos chaplain

Fellows scholarship opens research door for Salvos chaplain

Fellows scholarship opens research door for Salvos chaplain

14 July 2017

Major Chris Cohen (pictured right) is congratulated on her Fellows Program scholarship by  Lieutenant Colonel Kelvin Pethybridge , Chief Secretary-in-charge, Australia Eastern Territory.

By Simone Worthing

Every year in the Australia Eastern Territory, The Salvation Army Fellows program, sponsored by Aged Care Plus, awards scholarships of up to $5000 to employees, officers and volunteers towards their professional and personal development. 

Major Chris Cohen, who serves as Chaplain at Southport Courts on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane Women’s and Numinbah Correctional Centres, is one of 17 recipients of this year’s program.

The focus of Major Cohen’s scholarship will be “Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger: Narrative therapy and community work through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lens”.

For the “hands on” part of her research, Major Cohen will travel to Cairns next month and spend a week as part of an Indigenous story circle – a place where Indigenous aunties train their own people in how to draw out the inner strengths of a person as they share their story – and so enable that person to build on those strengths and to go from a place of brokenness to a strong, positive and dignified future.

In response to this training, Major Cohen will complete a research project from her findings, and prepare affirmative training programs for Salvation Army chaplains, Doorways workers, and others who work in the social services space.
“I want to learn from our Australian ‘Desert Fathers and Mothers’ and draw on their ancient strengths,” Major Cohen explained. “My dream is to create opportunities to train chaplains and Salvation Army personnel to replicate the Indigenous model.”

The prison roundabout 

As well as her chaplaincy roles in Queensland, Major Cohen has also worked in Bomana Prison in PNG running programs for women.

She was deeply concerned that so many of the women she visited in Australian prisons, came in and out of prison, constantly.

“The catalyst for this concern really came in PNG last year, when I saw people in prison who were just as broken, and whose lives were just as messy as those in Australia – but most of them didn’t expect to ever be back in jail again. 

“They look at the situation from a positive perspective. The disparity between the sense of hope and a future there – and demise here because of recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) was stark.

“An Australian Bureau of Statistics report says that, from July 2015 to July 2016, 48 per cent of people in custody in Queensland had been there before.

“I just knew we had to do something to improve this situation. Recidivism will continue if corrective and support services, and chaplains, just keep doing the same thing.

“Also, 28 to 30 per cent of women prisoners are Indigenous. Our nation is trying to close the gap for Indigenous people in health, housing and education – we need to see it in the rate of recidivism as well.

“This is where the Aged Care Fellowship program comes in.”

Story focus

“It’s all about the story,” says Major Cohen. “I want to understand, through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mindset, ways of listening to and really hearing a story that draws out the strength of the teller and brings healing and hope.

“Our general welfare approach is more problem based – tell us the problem and we will fix it. Yes, we do listen to people’s stories, but often it’s listening to see where our strengths as an organisation can fit in and be applied, so we can fill the gap.

“It’s so much better for people to dream of what could or should be for their lives, by drawing on their own strengths, than for us to organise it all for them.

“It’s darkness that feeds the deficits. People in custody, the homeless, those on welfare, have so much tenacity, courage and strength within their often messy and broken lives. And we are all broken in some way. We need to learn the questions to ask to bring out the story, and enable them to build up the positives and reframe or reimagine the future.

“It’s care in the midst of despair. It’s making the space and time to listen and really be in their presence, it’s caring, and it’s really not rocket science!”

Pathway to hope

Major Cohen says that this model is reflected in the ministry of Jesus – who recognised the strengths in people as part of their pathways to healing and hope.

“As we acknowledge those strengths, and learn from them ourselves, we can all be a lot stronger, as can be the ministry of The Salvation Army,” she explains.

“This is what the Aged Care Plus Fellowship makes possible – the opportunity to go and learn something, become better at what you do, and bring it back to help others,” she said.

The Fellows program has awarded 115 scholarships since its inception, with an investment in people to the value of $363,225.


  1. How marvellous and what a passion Major Chris Cohen has for all people in our world.
    Congratulations ,well done . God will bless you as you listen and help to bridge the gap with those who have fallen into the cracks of life. My heart goes out to people,but Chris has the opportunity to listen and help. with a passion for real change.
    I pray that as the Spirit of Christ radiates through Chris that people will want to change and that the Salvation Army will have the doorway to facilitate this program. I pray that more men and women will be challenged to become officers or soldiers to help the Army do this urgent work.

    God bless Chris
    God bless the Salvation Army.

    Mrs Joy Brown.

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