Just What Is Chaplaincy?
by David B. Plummer

Rev. 2014

In the twenty-two years that I have served within the endorsing community, I receive calls asking that very question. Such calls often included questions about the necessity and quantity of education and professional experience, the locations of the chaplaincy fields, the role of chaplains, and a myriad of other highly specialized questions.

So, just what is chaplaincy? Chaplaincy is a very specialized ministry where the minister serves not in a church nor "para-church" ministry, but in an institutional setting. The chaplain ministers not to a congregation, but to the public at-large. The people who make up this community may wear military uniforms, hospital gowns, hard hats, badges, and inmate orange-glow jumpsuits. Like the Apostle Paul, chaplains are generally "tent-makers": they usually have institutional administrative and staff jobs in addition to their ministries. But that is acceptable to chaplains, for serving in such "non-ministry" roles puts them in places where people – people with needs who ordinarily would never darken the doors of a church (much less talk to a minister) – come to talk and interact with the chaplain. The chaplain is there to listen, care, and respond appropriately to the agenda of the client. Such is the ministry of chaplaincy.

There are a number of different types of chaplaincy. The following is a brief description of some of the more common chaplaincies and their requirements.

Military. Young people preparing for and going to war need pastoral care! There are Active Duty, Reserves, National Guard chaplains in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Requirements are a Bachelor's degree and a Master of Divinity degree, usually earned before the fortieth birthday. The Air Force and Navy also sponsor volunteer chaplaincy in the Civil Air Patrol and Sea Cadet programs, respectively.

A Note of Concern in November 2014. There seems to be some confusion of roles, responsibilities, and opportunities within the military chaplaincy. Some endorsing bodies seem to think that producing chaplains is a “right” of their faith group and, more troubling, that chaplains have the “right” [and perhaps God-mandated requirement] to attempt to evangelize and proselytize military personnel and their families as they see fit. That was not what I believe the Founding Fathers intended when they established chaplaincy in the military in 1775. And as our nation becomes increasingly religiously and philosophically more diverse, so does our nation’s military. Today’s chaplains who serve our military must be acutely aware of their responsibilities — and potential impact – within this unique context for ministry and influence.

In Huffington Post (see Religious Accommodation — A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing ) an endorser has written:

“Military chaplains exist first and foremost “to perform or provide for the free exercise of religion.” There is a sacred institutional trust that chaplains must save their theology and creeds for formal worship services and/or private, client-invited pastoral counseling. Suicide prevention presentations and other mandatory presentations, ceremonies, and personnel formations are NOT the time to theologically opine and sermonize. Chaplains should and are mandated to be sensitive to the needs of A-L-L in their spiritual care and institutional responsibility — and they are never to attempt to proselytize or even opine when such possibly can be construed as either coercive or an undue influence! I would think that such actions in the context of mandatory formations and presentations and even written columns in official unit publications could easily be construed as command-sponsored or command-endorsed policies or positions and as such are likely violations of that sacred trust, if not outright illegal. If professional military chaplains are uncomfortable laboring with sensitivity and sincere adherence to and genuine respect for their proper roles in such contexts, it may be time for some chaplains to reconsider their sense of calling and definition of ministry — before the military is compelled to take action to insure the rights as well as the (career and emotional) safety of personnel.”

I feel that this is really good and accurate — and a great quote to place here!!!!

Healthcare. Veterans' Affairs and civilian hospitals, as well as hospices, hire professional chaplains. Who better to reach the hopeless, hurting, and dying of society than caring well-trained chaplains? To be a healthcare chaplain generally requires a Bachelor's degree, a Master of Divinity degree or equivalent, and one year of clinical pastoral training in a healthcare context.

Correctional. God has seen to it that the felon has a chance to contemplate his/her crimes against society. Who better to reach out to the lost, hopeless, desperate, and forgotten of society with a message of deliverance, and hope than a dedicated chaplain? There are professional and volunteer opportunities in our nation's Federal, state, and local facilities. It is said that corrections is presently the fastest growing industry in America. Could the Lord be calling you to minister true freedom to those who have known nothing but bondage? Or, to support chaplains who do? Requirements vary according to the correctional facility; most require at least a Bachelor's degree. Volunteer positions are plentiful and do not require degrees.

Workplace. Business and industrial chaplaincy is a new and growing field. Employees not distracted by marriage and family crises, alcohol, drugs, and other addictions, as well as a myriad of personal and spiritual problems are safer, more productive employees. Studies indicate that for every dollar spent on workplace chaplaincy results in a $4 to $7 saving for business due to absenteeism, accidents, medical and counseling intervention and treatment, etc. Specializations in the field of workplace chaplaincy include union, truck stop, airport, seaport, fire department, police department, race track, and college chaplaincies. Requirements for these chaplaincies vary considerably.

Educational. Public School Chaplaincy for America™ is the only organization that equips clergy for ministry to students, faculty, and administrators in public schools in the US. A quick glance of the top tragedies of the last several years makes the mandate for this new genre of pastoral care painfully clear! Requirements are appropriate specialized training, criminal background check, and ecclesiastical endorsement.

Professional Counseling. While professional pastoral counseling is not chaplaincy, it is an endorsable ministry that desperately needs Spirit-filled representation. Professional counselors hold state licensure(s) and/or secular certification(s) as marriage and family therapists, alcohol and drug rehabilitation counselors, psychologists, etc. Requirements for professional counselors are generally a Bachelor's degree, a graduate degree in psychology or counseling, and a number of hours in a supervised counseling practicum. While these requisites may seem "stiff," think of the impact that pastoral counselors would have on the lives of those who has lost their way, as well as the people of faith who may need a little extra help in life!