Father Mulcahy, the Catholic chaplain from the 6073rd division in the
television show M.A.S.H.?
Chaplains provide spiritual or pastoral support to individuals or
groups of people gathered together for
reasons other than their shared faith. For example, the patients and staff in a
hospital or inmates and staff in prison individually subscribe to different
spiritual practices and/or faith traditions, but have access to spiritual
support by the same chaplain who seeks to ‘minister’ in a pluralistic manner.
Each chaplain is simultaneously informed by the lens of her or his own practice
while also being able to provide care for people within a plethora of different
There are many varieties of chaplaincy: hospital
chaplains, campus chaplains, prison chaplains, military chaplains, workplace
chaplains, and more. The Work of the Chaplain, (McCormack, and Paget, 2006) says that “today chaplains are found in many settings. Placement is
limited only by a lack of imagination.”(2) This paper seeks to expand our imagination to include a new placement,
namely eco-chaplaincy, rooted in the same skill-set shared by all chaplains
while focusing specifically on the current ecological crisis as a spiritual
order to be a professional chaplain, one generally needs to participate in an
established religious or spiritual tradition and have endorsement from that
community, have a theological degree from a divinity school or approved
seminary, and participate in some form of on-the-job apprenticeship training.
While each tradition, school or seminary, and apprenticeship varies, there are
some consistent skills which all chaplains share. These next few paragraphs
will summarize the skills shared by most chaplains. I am relying on both my own
experiences and heavily summarizing a chapter titled “Ministry Tasks and
Competencies for the Chaplain,” found within The Work of the Chaplain, (
McCormack, and Paget, 2006, 14-34), a new and useful survey text of the field.
The skill-sets of chaplains can be summarized into four distinct categories:
1)Chaplain as a Religious or Theological
2)Chaplain as Spiritual or Pastoral care provider;
3)Chaplain as Healer; and
4)Chaplain as Change-Agent.
first, chaplain as a religious representative has everything to do with the
outward expression of practice: rituals, rites, ceremonies and personal
testimony of faith or practice. Chaplains are able to perform appropriate
religious functions with or without the use of the traditional setting such as
the chapel, synagogue, or temple. Chaplains are expected to be able to conduct
various rites and rituals such as baptisms, funerals, and inter-religious
services; as well as officiating ceremonies such as weddings and graduations.
The chaplain is expected to be a religious witness to her or his individual
religious or practice tradition, while also having an intellectual understanding
of diverse religious beliefs and practices.
all chaplains are expected to be able to provide pastoral or spiritual support
for their clients, defined often as anyone within the institution – such as
staff and patients. Pastoral support here involves accurately being able to
assess one’s needs, spiritual or otherwise; offering counsel; and providing
appropriate care which can mean offering a service directly, or making a
referral. Chaplains are also often intercessors, meaning that they can be
called upon to act as both an advocate and/or a liaison when and where
necessary, offering mediation, conflict resolution, and communication skills.
least tangible, albeit arguably the most important aspect of chaplaincy, comes
in the role of chaplains as healer. This role is perhaps the hardest to train
for in school and easier to learn on the job. “As a healer, the chaplain is
concerned with a person’s holistic condition-physical, psychological, and
spiritual. Therefore, the healing function of chaplaincy encompasses key skills
that address the whole person: being present, listening, encouraging,
intervening in crisis, and teaching, or providing information.” ( McCormack, and Paget, 2006, 27) By
offering undivided attention and reflective listening, chaplains can open a
door for great healing through the gift of presence.
a change-agent, a chaplain engages their institution or the wider world
actively. One of the common ways this role manifests in hospital chaplaincy is
through directing the ethics committee for the hospital, or facilitating an
ethics consultation with families, patients or staff struggling with issues of
value. Other activities involved in this role manifest through teaching,
leading seminars and workshops, talking at conferences, and writing books. The
sky is the limit.
McCormack, Janet R. and Naomi K. Paget, The Work
of the Chaplain, Valley
Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2006.