A New Venture in Bruce Tindale’s ‘Ministry of Presence’ 

22 Feb 2024

By Amy Galliford

Having recently taken on the role of Chaplaincy Ministry Team Leader for churches of Christ, Bruce Tindale (also an elder at Seechange Community Church) is gearing up for a new adventure following 40 years of service as a paramedic and chaplain for the NSW Ambulance Service. 

Bruce began his career as an ambulance officer, soon moving into the Ambulance Rescue Squad. As he describes, “We were running around in trucks, cutting people out of cars, hanging off the side of cliffs – basically rescuing people.”  

Pictured: Bruce Tindale, in his role with Special Operations Paramedics, involved in the rescue of two individuals over a cliff.

In 2007, he signed up for the newly created Special Operations Unit, which moved him into a new level of crisis response. Working as the medical component of teams including the Bomb Squad, Special Weapons and Tactics and Marine Operations, Bruce found himself responding to problems as complex as chemical-biological radiation and terrorist threats.  

When he chose to take on chaplaincy in 2016, following his return to standard paramedic work, Bruce found his approach to people required a substantial gear shift. In his words, he had become a ‘fixer’, and he carried that posture into everything – always poised to react to the kinds of acute crises he had grown used to alleviating.

“Suddenly, people weren’t problems to fix but people to walk beside – I was there to sit with them in the hurt, not rush them into finding remedies and pain relief,” he explains. 

The call to chaplaincy had its roots in frustration. Heavily involved in the union, Bruce observed it was ineffective at supporting people in their personal challenges. At the encouragement of former Senior Chaplain Paul McFarlan, he instead turned to faith as a mechanism for supporting others and completed a chaplaincy course.  

The first 12 months immediately tested his love for people. He was posted in the Call Taker Unit – the unit responsible for taking the 000 calls and dispatching teams – who he knew as being responsible for many of the intense jobs, overtime hours and difficulties he experienced as an ambulance officer. In short, he was tasked with loving the very people he found most difficult to love. 

From there, he elected to use his firsthand experience and personal knowledge by serving his old unit in the Special Operations Team. This task presented its challenges, often in the form of human resistance.

Bruce explains, “That team is unique because they are typical alpha male, alpha female types – they think they’re bulletproof. It’s not easy to offer chaplaincy in that space because they tend to have a resilience against self-care – they believe bravado will get them through.” 

Much of Bruce’s time in those first two years was spent demystifying the chaplaincy role. He would explain to people, “I’m not here to make you believe what I believe; I’m here because my faith compels me to love you.” 

Remaining present and building relationships over time meant that when the moment came that someone did need help, they felt familiar enough with him to talk without pretence or suspicion.   

Bruce began his initiatives to establish a presence throughout the Ambulance Service. He would visit ambulance teams with packets of red frogs, a catalyst for conversation, which allowed him to check in with individuals and build rapport with the teams. During the first winter of COVID, he would travel through Sydney with large containers of soup and turn up at midnight to the ambulance teams offloading hospital patients. Within months, he had a group of volunteers regularly cooking soup for him to distribute.  

“They couldn’t get their heads around why I would come back in my own time. People were amazed at the generosity of me and the team and just felt very grateful that someone would see them in their hardship and love them.” 

It is this heart for chaplaincy, alongside the wisdom and experience he has gleaned from years of service, that Bruce is carrying into his new role as Head of Chaplaincy with churches of Christ. While he speaks modestly of himself, highlighting that he felt “overwhelmed and under-qualified” when invited to be interviewed, he has a strong vision for the ministry’s growth. 

With his heavy involvement in workplace chaplaincy, Bruce is passionate about expanding the ministry into a wider range of industries, including anything from sports to the mining sector. He hopes to release many more people into the workplaces they are familiar with to harness the diversity of people’s specific backgrounds and experiences. 

“If you have significant workplace experience in an area, I’d like to consider how we can marry those two together,” Bruce explains. 

In his view, this kind of care that chaplaincy offers is crucial for our current cultural moment – the love that is mostly likely to cut through the noise and demonstrate the heart of God to the world.  

For Bruce, the true role of a chaplain is simple: “It’s a ministry of presence. It’s about being present and carrying the presence. Let Father do the work.”  

 As Bruce begins to lead the chaplaincy ministry of churches of Christ, he is seeking to connect with the chaplains across our network’s churches, no matter which chaplaincy agency or organisation they serve with. If you or someone you know in one of our churches is a chaplain, Bruce would love you to head here to pass on your details so he can connect with you!

Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE