Welcome to a sample of lesson four of the Master of Chaplaincy Studies program. If you subscribe to this course, each week you will receive a discourse that talks about the study of how to be a chaplain. The course is 20 weeks long and provides 4 units towards graduation. It's an elective course for the Seminary Program and a required course for the Chaplaincy Program.
The most common form of chaplain is the military chaplain. It is also the oldest form of chaplaincy with roots found in the Roman army. In the United State, Congress has authorized chaplains for the armed services. One of my favorites memories of the military chaplain is when I was an “army brat” living at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I remember my first visit to the local chapel for Protestant services. Fort Wood was a basic training post and it was the beginning of a new training cycle. The pews were filled with young, freshly shorn, privates in their summer tan uniforms. The chaplain had everyone’s attention when he walked up to the podium and began the service.
The movie, “Battleground,” has one scene during the Battle of Bastogne where the chaplain uses the hood of a jeep for an altar. He asks a Jewish soldier if he did the Sabbath services well. He recognized a couple of Catholic soldiers who attended the earlier Mass. He calls himself a “holy Joe” and is himself a Lutheran. In five minutes, I learned that military chaplains tend to be very flexible and focus on the spiritual needs of all military personnel.
A Credentialed Religious Leader
All military services require the chaplain to be a credentialed minister. Basically, a chaplain is loaned to the military. In the history of the United States, pastors would go and serve with military units. They were already “credentialed” in that they were ordained by their respective religious bodies. They were experienced with working with people as ministers.
In the beginning, the religious bodies were the denominations. With the increase of independent churches and congregations, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) authorizes endorsing bodies (Example: The North American Mission Board, Baptist Bible Fellowship International, Buddhist Churches of America, etc.).
Chaplains that are accessed into the military are representatives of their faith. They enter the military to meet the needs of a population of those who hold to the same faith. For instance, a Catholic chaplain will hold Mass for Catholic soldiers at the installation he is serving. He does not give up his faith or practices when he dons the uniform.
The DOD has set some guidelines for the endorsing agencies to follow when endorsing a candidate for the chaplaincy. These include:
Ordination by a religious body.
Two years ministerial experience.
72 hours of graduate work with a minimum of 36 hours from an academic institute accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
Candidates for military chaplaincy must also meet the requirements for commissioned officers. These include age, physical, and security requirements. All candidates must have the emotional, spiritual, and mental abilities for the work of a chaplain. Candidates must be willing to work with people of all backgrounds.
Unlike many other chaplains found in society, the military chaplain receives pay and benefits. They take the oath of office of a commissioned officer and sign a contract for a period of time. Chaplains are a special category of officer similar to physicians, dentists, and lawyers who are commissioned without the need to attend a military academy, officer candidate school or ROTC.
Accessions into the military are always based upon the needs of the service at the time. Complicating the entry into the chaplaincy may be the shortages of a particular type of chaplain. At the time of this writing, there is a shortage of Catholic Chaplains. Also, with the increase of Muslim personnel enlisting in the services, there will be an increasing need for Muslim chaplains.
Chaplains are accessed into the military to meet the spiritual needs of the services’ personnel and their families. At a minimum most installations will have a Catholic and a Protestant Chaplain. They often share the same chapel facilities with offices nearby.
In peacetime when events tend to be routine, the chaplains tend to minister to the personnel of their faith group. They lead worship services, they lead and coordinate religious education, and they provide counseling. In general, the chaplain is not required to perform religious duties that are contrary to their faith practice. For example, a Baptist Chaplain may refuse to perform an infant baptism because of the Baptist practice of believer’s baptism. A Catholic Chaplain may refuse to offer communion to a non-Catholic.
The services offered by military chaplains to their flock are done without charge. Weddings, counseling, funerals, and other services that a civilian pastor normally receives an honorarium are done without charge. Though worship services will take up an offering, the funds go to a “Chaplain’s Fund” which is tightly regulated and accounted for. There are specific military guidelines for the disbursement of these funds in support of ministry functions.
The pluralistic flavor of the military, combined with emergency situations, does call upon the chaplain to be flexible at times. A Baptist Chaplain on call to the hospital may be confronted with a couple whose baby is dying. They are Catholic and desire their baby be baptized before it dies. A wise chaplain would take some water, bless it, and baptize the infant as a means of comforting the family. One friend of mine went one step further. He collected the tears of the mother, mixed it with the water, and then baptized the baby. His prayer of blessing was:
O God you are the God of love. We baptized this child not only with holy water but with the tears that comes from a mother’s love for her dying child. We recognize that you give life and will receive it back. Though this baby did not get a chance to know you and your Word, you know it. We will claim the cross of Christ, the promises of salvation, and eternal life as we baptize this child in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What About Evangelism?
Though chaplains are to adhere to their faith and doctrines, there are some limits on evangelism or proselytizing. The chaplain, by being an officer, is prohibited by law from abusing or taking advantage of his or her position. He can pray as she was taught. He can share the testimony of his conversion experience. But the initiation of the “conversion” must come from the individual.
One Protestant chaplain was visited by a soldier who was a Jewish. No Jewish military chaplain was available. The chaplain contacted the local synagogue and a credential rabbi nearest the installation agreed to perform the services on Friday for the soldiers of Jewish faith. The same Jewish soldier was so appreciative that he visited again to ask about the differences between the Jewish and Christian faith.
A primary duty of the military chaplain is counseling. Every enlisted person is instructed in Basic Training that if one has problems to make an appointment with the local chaplain. When military personnel with problems go to their superiors, one of the first questions will be, “Would you like to make an appointment with the chaplain?”
Military chaplains counsel. The nature of the military is to train for battle. When battle comes, there will be casualties. The casualties include the dead, the dying, the permanently maimed, emotional trauma of the survivors, and mental issues. Some will become depressed and suicidal. And these are just the issues of those in uniform who are in combat. The chaplain in a garrison environment also deals with marital and family issues as well that run from communication, finances, addictions, abuse, to depression.
Preaching and leading worship services are actually the smallest part of the military chaplain’s duties. She is a counselor, par excellent! The duties of counseling are also encouraged in that the chaplains “are the only military personnel who hold total, legal privileged communication for clients (Paget and McCormack, The Work of the Chaplain, 45).
To the Command and the Staff
A chaplain serves on a command staff. He or she provides counsel to the commander and the staff on matters relating religion. This may be to deal with issues of religious accommodation. As persons from other religions enter the military, there may be conflict with work and worship. Not all religions hold Sunday as the day of worship. Some worship on Saturday (7 th Day Adventists and Jews for example) and some on Friday (Muslims). Note that we are discussing this in the peacetime or garrison environment. In war time, military personnel fight even on Sunday!
Chaplains also provide input to the command and staff on morale and welfare issues. I remember one particular lesson on this when I was still on active duty. I was on staff with the 220 th Military Police (MP) Brigade and we were meeting with our sister unit – the 16 th Military Police Brigade – in preparation of the upcoming joint exercises. The 16 th MP Brigade commander gave us a brief overview of the brigade’s mission at Fort Bragg and made mention of how the post’s image and relationship with Fayetteville, North Carolina had changed. He informed us that one notorious district in Fayetteville had been cleaned up due to the initial of the post chaplains who had advised the commanders of the vice and problems they encountered in counseling the soldiers and families. The lead chaplain at the post headquarters made it a point to convince the installation commander that the military needed to work with the community to help clean up that area.
Some of my best education in the military occurred when the chaplains came to teach. The military when not engaged in war, is constantly training. There are some topics delegated to the chaplain’s office to include suicide prevention, depression, and others related to morale and welfare.
For Additional Study.
Read through this about three times.
Print out a copy for your notebook.
If you know a chaplain in the military, interview them and discover what the military chaplaincy is like. If not, do some additional research on your denomination’s representation in the military chaplaincy.
Post your findings on the ULC Discussion Board.
Thank you for your time and consideration. Remember that this training is being undertaken for the benefit of others. We are ministers after all. I will do my best to keep it interesting and a benefit to your ministry. If you find anything that you do not fully understand, or if you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . God be with you all.
You are encouraged to post your lesson experiences on the forum (www.ulcseminary.org/forum) or send them to email@example.com and she will post them for you. The goal is to begin some meaningful dialogue with other ministers and to learn from the different exchanges.
See you next week!
Copyright 2009 - 2010 by Rev. Daniel Moore. All rights reserved. No part of this lesson may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.