Notes to a New Chaplain: 1

I thought it might be interesting to pass on some thoughts on chaplaincy to those who might be thinking of it as a career.  It’s a pretty specialized field, and it’s hard to find someone who is a chaplain at times to talk about the position. Plus I think there’s a lot in chaplaincy that can – and should – carry over to ministry in general.  So here goes-

First of all, don’t take yourself too seriously.

I know that might sound a little strange as this blog comes off as really serious most of the time. This is where I get that serious stuff out. However I’ve found that the best approach to ministry, especially with the dying, is lightness. Things are dark enough already, and adding weight to weight just doesn’t help.

I take my position seriously, but I don’t have to take myself seriously. I don’t wear a collar or anything else that readily identifies me as clergy. If I do come to work wearing a suit people usually assume I have a funeral or a job interview. Others wear clerics and that’s fine – in some places like the VA hospitals it’s a requirement. I can see times where adding weight and seriouslness to my position is beneficial, as when I need to take on a position of authority in a situation or with a family. However I have seen many times when that collar doesn’t even get you through the door.

Then again, it isn’t just the collar but how it’s worn that makes a big difference. I’ve had some chaplains be so tied to the externals of their position, whether through collars and vestments or even through how they pray, that it gets in the way of their calling, which is soul care. I think if your identity is too tied in with externals it can be a hindrance. Your identity as a chaplain and as clergy in general needs to be tied to who you are and what you bring to the situation. And what you as a chaplain bring to an encounter is, at it’s core, yourself and Whom you represent. Yes we are often called to do things that only we can do because we have been given the external mantle of clergy, whatever that mantle looks like. But if you can’t divest yourself of all those same things and lay them at the cross in service of another you aren’t a minister of Christ.

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