Call is God’s invitation to use God-given gifts and talents to minister in the church and in the world. A chaplain is called to serve people, particularly the poor, the sick, the troubled, and the oppressed, in ministries of compassion, justice, and service in the world. Help in determining God’s call is available at www.isgodcallingyou.org; specific information for youth is available at www.ExploreCalling.org.
Overview of the Role of a Chaplain in the United Methodist Church
A United Methodist chaplain is a clergyperson called by God and ordained by a bishop to minister outside the walls of the church, caring for those with deep needs. His or her ministry of witness and service extends God’s love and service in various settings and requires specialized training to qualify for endorsement by The United Methodist Church.
To ensure high standards of competence and uniform standards, the United Methodist Endorsing Agency is responsible for enlisting, endorsing, and supporting ordained clergy serving in ministries of pastoral care in specialized settings. The primary difference between these appointments and those to local churches is the nature of the institution and the role of the minister in relationship to institutions with the primary purpose of education, international security, peacekeeping, incarceration, hospitalization, or profit.
What Do Chaplains Do?
A United Methodist chaplain’s ecumenical ministry includes duties and responsibilities that include:
- Military—A military chaplain’s role is not to justify war but to minister to the needs of service members preparing for war or other deployments. Counseling on flight lines, in motor pools, aboard ships and in field positions; worship services in chapels on military posts inside or outside the United States; and religious education and youth ministry may be among the services provided for service members and their families.
- Hospital—A hospital chaplain provides pastoral care for patients, families and staff, helping them cope with sickness, disability and death and working with medical, psychiatric and social professionals as part of a team. He or she may serve on ethics committees dealing with complex issues of modern medicine, and lead Bible studies and worship services in hospital chapels.
- Industrial/Workplace—An industrial chaplain provides a ministry to people in business and industry, responding to individual and family needs as well as job concerns. He or she provides a preventive as well as a problem-solving ministry on several levels, including supervisor training in relationships, conferring with management on policy and individual counseling and referral.
- Prison—A prison chaplain serves inmates, staff and families, regardless of religious affiliation, providing for spiritual needs through preaching, teaching, baptizing, serving Holy Communion, counseling, and visiting. He or she serves as a link between the religious communities outside and inside prison by recruiting, training and supervising volunteers.
- Pastoral Counseling—A United Methodist pastoral counselor’s specialized training enables her or him to bring together resources of Scripture and faith and the insights of the behavioral sciences. He or she may work with individuals, families and groups within the tradition, beliefs and resources of the faith community.
Where Do Chaplains Serve?
A chaplain may serve in civilian endorsement settings including children’s homes, clinical pastoral education, hospitals, hospices, marriage and family therapy, mental health, nursing homes, police, correctional institutions, retirement homes, substance abuse care facilities, veterans’ affairs organizations, and workplaces.
Military chaplaincy appointments may include U.S. Army, Navy or Air Force, in active, reserve, National Guard and Air National Guard units.
Captain Jay West, Chaplain
"There's no place I can go that God isn't there."
United Methodist Army Chaplain Jay West says he has the best job in the world.
“I get to stand as a visible reminder on behalf of God’s holy church and say that even in the midst of the most unholy there is the presence of the holy.”
Jay, Army broadcast chaplain for American Forces Network Europe, was first a battalion chaplain at Fort Campbell, Ky., and spent a year in Iraq. While there, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.
He is familiar with the pain, anxiety, adrenaline rush, loneliness, and flood of emotions that wash over a soldier and his or her family in times of war.
Growing up in a little country church in West Va., Jay says he never thought he would be a pastor. The idea of being a chaplain “wasn’t even on my radar screen.”
Jay credits many mentors, including parents who raised him in the church, for helping him become who he is today. A Sunday school teacher, Miss Edith, taught him how to pray in the third grade. “I can remember clearly her sitting down in Sunday school and really step by step walking us through how to pray.”
"There is a significant role the church plays in nurturing folks along their spiritual path," he says. It was a conversation with another United Methodist chaplain, the Rev. Terry Bradfield, that helped him hear his call into chaplaincy.
Jay and his wife, Pam, felt God was calling them in a different direction after their fourth year in ministry at a local church in West Va.
Now, Jay, Pam and their two children Zachary, 16, and Samantha, 9, are living in Heidelberg, Germany. They attend Patrick Henry Village Chapel and are involved in a ministry for single soldiers called, “The Edge.”
“My family worships every Sunday with folks who are as diverse theologically as can be imagined, but we come together as the body of Christ,” he says.
“I truly love being with soldiers, and my preference would be to be out there living in the mud, in the dirt and the sand,” he says of his current position. “Nevertheless, this is where God, through the Army chaplaincy, has assigned me.”
He says it has been a bit of an adjustment in this new ministry, where he can’t see the tangible results.
“I’ve got a handful of soldiers now that I get to work with as a unit chaplain, but my parish stretches from Iceland to Turkey to Afghanistan to Iraq, all across Germany, Europe, Italy … to 56 countries.”
Jay uses the Apostle Paul’s analogy of the planter in his daily work.
“Paul says some of us are planters. One plants, one waters, one cultivates. And I don’t know from one day to the next—Am I planting a seed? Am I carrying a watering can? Is that the day I pull out the hoe and do a little bit of weeding? I don’t know. I just offer it up and say ‘Okay God, you transform my words into the message that that one person needs to hear today.’”
Frequently Asked Questions About Chaplains
Chaplains Respond to Challenges
We are a nation at war. And the church has been challenged to reconcile its historic pacifist stance with the responsibilities of ministering to the emotional and spiritual needs of military-service members. The increased number and length of deployments of military personnel, which can be as long as 18 months or more, have created several challenges. Those include questions related to appointments and reappointments, legal and pension issues, and reintegration issues for families and churches due to post-traumatic stress from combat or prolonged separation. Information on how the church can respond to these issues is available at www.gbhem.org.
Local churches can support the efforts of military chaplains by “adopting” soldiers or families, holding special worship services for military personnel, and advocating for returning military personnel.
It is especially important that the church, conference, and the United Methodist Endorsing Agency continue to work together to ensure that military chaplains and their families are well cared for during deployment and transitional periods.
Since all chaplains — military, hospital, industrial, and pastoral counselors — serve an ecumenical community, it is important that the church develop and support the use of resources that are relevant and theologically sound in arenas outside the traditional church setting. One critical factor in personal and spiritual formation of chaplains is time away from all distractions for rest, reflection, prayer, and study. The church offers one retreat per year, all expenses paid excluding travel, for endorsed persons and their spouse.
As in other areas of ordained ministry, the church faces declining numbers of young people entering chaplaincy. Half of the total number of United Methodist elders are older than 50. Those elders, as well as their younger counterparts, must be made aware of and trained to meet the needs and issues facing emerging generations—most of which were not available when older clergy received their theological training.
Steps Into Ordained Ministry as a Chaplain
Endorsement for Ministries of Pastoral Care in Specialized Settings
If you believe God is calling you to service in a specialized ministry beyond the walls of the local church and wish to be endorsed, you must meet certain requirements before applying:
- be an associate member, commissioned on probationary track for deacon or elder, or full member of an annual conference
- have graduated from an accredited college and seminary.
- meet any additional requirements required by the setting.
Contact the United Methodist Endorsing Agency for an application by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will be asked to provide a life history and statement of your understanding of ministry in the setting for which you are seeking endorsement.
You will be asked for references from your bishop, district superintendent, and two others.
An interview committee of endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors will conduct a peer review.
Areas examined will include your moral and emotional stability and ability to face crises and adversity, your ability to evaluate your present ministry, to clearly express your theory of Christian ministry, your motivation, continuing education, sense of humor, cooperativeness, your understanding of the difference in institutional and congregational ministry, and your ability as a pastor.
The interview committee will make a recommendation to the endorsing committee.
The endorsing committee, composed of members of the Division of Ordained Ministry and a bishop, will make a recommendation pertaining to your endorsement.