• David Lee Brown

Master of Chaplaincy Final Essay



I’ve learned many things about the chaplaincy over the past 20 weeks. Some of my favorite parts were the history, the function, the formal requirements and the pitfalls of Chaplaincy. I love the history and technical aspects, as well as the compassion, empathy and counseling opportunities of the Chaplaincy. In the next few paragraphs I will share some of what I’ve learned.

First, I learned the history and how the Chaplaincy is a unique type of minister for a unique ministry. It started with Roman priests and Celtic Druid priests accompanying their armies into battle. Monks would meet at specific places, many of which became chapels, hence the name Chaplain. The British had a Chaplaincy as early as the 8th century. The US Continental Congress established a Chaplaincy with the first Chaplain posted in 1789 in the late 18th century. There is much more rich history of the Chaplaincy in lesson 4, from the Master of Chaplaincy course, as well as a great deal of information that is available online. One interesting information source I found was the book, “The History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy.” [1]

I also learned that Chaplains, like Pastors have a divine calling for their respective ministries and many Pastors make good Chaplains. I am to seek advice from trusted advisors to verify that I have that calling, and that they and I both see that divine calling in me. This calling would include a self-assessment to determine if I am prepared to become a lifelong learner, and that I’m a faithful, trustworthy person of good character. Evidence that I possess the attributes required by a Chaplain.

I learned about the formal training required to be a Chaplain as a profession. The demands are extensive, including education (usually to the Master Degree level in Divinity or Theology) specialized training and endorsement from your denomination or religious body. Continuing education is also required to maintain your credentials. Additional training and certification may also be required, depending on your Chaplaincy vocation. I learned a great deal about Southern Baptist Chaplains and the training required by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I learned a great deal about Healthcare Chaplains and the requirements necessary to be a Southern Baptist certified and endorsed Healthcare Chaplain. They serve in a wide range of facilities including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and with hospice services. They have a ministry that involves a great deal of death, despair and sorrow. They must be especially careful not to let their service lead to burn out. They must have people, like a soul friend to help them decompress (without divulging any HIPAA protected information).

I learned that correctional institution Chaplains are called upon to be comforters, pastors, teachers and counselors to both the inmates and the correctional staff. These Chaplains listen to the inmates needs and worries, build trust and foster peace within the facility. They must also complete specialized training for their specific correctional facility.

Emergency services Chaplains serve with Law Enforcement Departments, Fire Department and Emergency Services. Their job is similar to correctional facility Chaplains, because they serve and work with criminals, their friends and families, but they also deal with death, domestic violence, trauma and other aspects of Chaplaincy that are similar to healthcare Chaplains. The NAMB has great resources on Prison Chaplaincy [2] and Emergency Services or Public Safety Chaplaincy. [3]

Business, corporate and community Chaplaincy was intriguing to me. I would love to be the Chaplain for my AFLAC Insurance Region, but I asked and they said no. I’ll ask again in the future, or perhaps send a letter to the Board of Directors, suggesting a Chaplaincy program. I think it’s needed. Many agents get very downhearted, because the industry is a feast or famine industry where you can make a great deal of money one day and then not see another penny for a month or more. It can be an emotional roller-coaster ride. Community Chaplaincy is another possibility, I like the entrepreneurial aspect of looking for a place in the community to serve.

I learned about trust and confidentiality too. Those that serve must be trustworthy and elicit trust in those they serve. The confidentiality laws must be adhered to also, except in the laws governing the reporting of juvenile abuse or neglect. These crimes must be reported. The laws governing North Carolina clergy, including Chaplains, can be found in the North Carolina General Statutes 7B-301 and 7B-310 [4]

I also learned about active listening. I learned that keeping good eye contact is important, but don’t stare. Listen until the person is finished without interrupting, unless clarification is necessary. You are there to provide an empathetic ear, not to solve all of their problems. Advice should be limited and provide empathetic and reflective feedback, as well as practical referral to more advanced counseling as needed.

The Chaplaincy application of healing touch is very important but must be done appropriately. Ask permission before you touch anyone and usually limit that touch to their hand or forearm. A touch can be a powerful and healing experience, but it can also lead to inappropriate touching, so you must keep the touching beneficial and ethical.

I have no practical experience in counseling the grieving or troubled as a Chaplain, but I have medical and psychiatric training that I used as a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy. It is important to provide empathetic counseling to those grieving, and not choose sides in a dispute for those that are troubled or upset. You are there to listen with empathy, comfort and provide the grieving or venting person someone willing to listen.

I was particularly glad to learn about the traps to avoid in Chaplaincy, they include: being aware of my limitations, being wary of manipulation, avoiding transference or counter-transference, not expecting pay unless it’s an expected part of your compensation (Military Chaplain, Hospital Chaplain, etc.) You should also avoid the pitfall of pride in your ministry. Most of all you should avoid relational pitfalls, including inappropriate touching, conversations or relations with your counselee. These traps can be devastating to the parties involved, their friends and their families, as well as destroying your credibility and testimony.

I learned about the ceremonies I may be called upon to participate in, including performing wedding ceremonies. I learned what credentials and licensing were needed to perform a wedding in North Carolina and developed a marriage policy for my potential wedding officiating ministry.

I learned how to create a sacred space if a chapel is not available. I learned of all the things that could be used to create a sacred space and then developed my own tool-kit for creating that sacred space. This would include many parts of my Chaplain’s toolbelt and toolbox as discussed in lesion 19, with a few additions.

I learned the importance of having a soul-friend and also obtaining a mentor. Both of which can help keep you grounded and diminish pride. They can also provide advice and act as your counsel during your own troubled times. This can help with personal accountability too. We need to be held accountable for our actions, lack of action, and personal comportment in all aspects of the Chaplaincy.

I also learned that I need to care for myself, both physically and especially spiritually in order to care for others – to serve others. This aspect of the Chaplaincy probably helped me the most, because I often think of myself last in an occupation or ministry situation.

What could improve this course?

Clean up the minor typographical errors. I would also standardize the type of format for the responses to the lessons. I’ve seen responses on the Blog that I would not have accepted, as an instructor. The credibility of the course would be enhanced, buy standardizing the requirements for lesson submission.

What you hope you will accomplish as a result of taking this course.

I took the course to improve my knowledge concerning the requirements of Chaplaincy and to learn more about the experience of Chaplaincy, so my primary take-away would be increased knowledge and skill in all aspects of Chaplaincy. Thank you, I appreciated the experience and information.

References

[1] Lawrence P. Fitzgerald, "History of the Southern Baptist Chaplaincy", Digital Commons @ Gardner-Webb University, last modified 1970, https://digitalcommons.gardner-webb.edu/ebook/1/.

[2] NAMB, "Prison Chaplains," NAMB, last modified 2017, https://www.namb.net/chaplaincy/correctional.

[3] NAMB, "Public Safety Chaplaincy," NAMB, last modified 2017, https://www.namb.net/chaplaincy/public-safety.

[4] Child Welfare Information Gateway, last modified 2015, https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/clergymandated.pdf.


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