MAJOR SUSAN REESE IS A MOTHER TO THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN SYDNEY. The mother-of-three and grandmother-of-five is the person you see in court holding a charged person’s hand, or on the phone chasing a passport or shoes for someone to wear in court – or, often, just smiling warmly and nodding as someone shares their long and, almost always, sad story. A few times a week, Major Reese, 61, and the other Salvos Legal chaplain Major Margaret O’Neill, can be found at one of Salvos Legal’s free legal advice centres in Penrith, Lakemba, Auburn, Parramatta, Campsie and the city centre. Salvos Legal began in 2011 with two aims: to offer free legal services to people in need and to fund these services through a commercial practice. At the free advice centres, solicitors volunteer their time (often about eight solicitors at any session) as scores of people queue for 30 minutes of free legal advice. About half the cases are immigration matters and many clients are refugees, new migrants and non- English speaking (often with help from interpreters who also volunteer their time). Free refreshments are served and there’s a corner in each centre for children to play. To date Salvos Legal Humanitarian (which is funded by the commercial work of Salvos Legal) has provided free legal advice, help and representation to 10,192 cases. Susan invites JANE SOUTHWARD to sample a day in the life of a Salvation Army chaplain.
My job is all about people. Often all you can do is talk to people about how they are managing each day, how they can manage to stay sane. Sometimes it is about helping them to find some solace despite their devastation. It could be a woman who has found out her husband won’t be coming to Australia, or a parent finding out their children can’t come here. Or it could be someone who has to go to court and has no one to support them there.
To bring a sense of calm and a sense of hope is really important in every situation. Sometimes people have the resources to work it through themselves. As chaplains, we can slow them down and help them see or find solutions.
I was raised in the Salvation Army and met my husband, Lyall, at a youth group in Nambour, Queensland, when I was 15. We didn’t start any romance for many years but we married in 1972 and now have three children and five grandchildren, with a sixth due in August. We both trained as clergy in the Salvation Army and in the mid-1970s, when we had three young children, were moved from Queensland to Granville in Sydney to lead a congregation. I really enjoyed the multicultural nature of Sydney’s west and because our children were young it was easy to connect with people.