Julie Blanden



By Paul O'Rourke


Call it divine intervention or coincidence, but the national school chaplaincy program began a year after Devonport Chaplaincy board chairperson Julie Blanden (pictured above) promoted the idea to Prime Minister John Howard when she approached him at a Tasmanian event in 2005.

Julie, who had recently joined the Devonport Chaplaincy board, won her opportunity to speak to the PM as the successful auction bidder at an earlier charity event.

The school teacher said it had been a struggle to raise enough funds to employ local chaplains, and seized the opportunity to speak to Mr Howard.

“He listened and nodded as I told him about the importance of helping our young people through school chaplaincy,” she said.

“We had had a chaplain at Don College since 2003 when the principal asked me to organise one, but it had been difficult to raise money.”

Julie found an ally in local pastor Andrew Hillier who was working at Oldaker Street Church in Devonport. Devonport Chaplaincy was soon born with the help of a few other passionate people who caught the vision, including Andrew who remains CEO.

“The idea from the start was to get away from one church sponsoring one chaplain, but for the church of the city to own and support chaplaincy,” Julie said.

“We didn’t want competition, but cooperation.

“It took time to meet with church leaders to explain the concept, and most came on board.

“There were lots of smaller fundraising efforts before our first large dinner event supported by lots of local businesses.''

Julie said schools were quick to ask for a chaplain when word spread of its effectiveness.

The addition of school breakfast programs and leadership training at Camp Clayton also enhanced the appeal of chaplaincy and mentoring.

Learner-driver mentoring was added as growing relationships with parents and teacher identified the crucial need to help people get a licence.

Loaves and Fishes joins the fold

Julie said the birth of Loaves and Fishes to address wider food insecurity and supply the school breakfast programs was an obvious and perfect fit.

She said the importance of Loaves and Fishes became even more important during the COVID pandemic as the lack of food became a huge stress for families.

“It’s really love in action. Young people have always been our focus, but through them, we have been able to help families and the wider community,” she said.

“We have a wonderful team. This was never more apparent than during the pandemic.

"Our staff and volunteers delivered food, homework and provided pastoral care to those within our reach.

“I never tire of the personal stories of people being helped through our work.”

In the midst of a cash flow financial crisis in 2019, Julie said she drew strength and reassurance from the Bible story (1 Kings 17) of the widow’s oil not running out as she used the precious liquid to make bread for the prophet Elijah.

“Four times I felt the Lord reminding me of this passage as we were meeting fortnightly and considering having to put off people.

“It was a very stressful time.

“By God’s grace, the money came in, and we had enough.

‘We are so thankful to those who have been financially faithful to us over our history.

“We are in a much stronger and stable position now, although we still rely on God to provide.”

Julie said Devonport Chaplaincy had a vital role to play in helping other communities replicate the organisation’s community mentoring model.

She said the organisation supported other communities to establish chaplaincy and mentoring, while ensuring the programs were locally owned and administered.

Note: The board of Devonport Chaplaincy Incorporated is responsible for governance of chaplaincy and Loaves and Fishes Tasmania.