Chaplains work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, hospice organizations, fire stations and the military. They are trained in theology, psychology and sociology through extensive education and professional practice spanning nearly a decade or more. The voluntary certification process for chaplains is involved and includes becoming ordained in your church denomination, acquiring experience and undergoing review by a certification committee. Certification makes a chaplain more employable because it infers certain standards of practice in ministry and a commitment to professional excellence and continuing education.
Chaplains perform many duties that are similar in all settings. They may tailor their duties to the population they serve, which may include inmates in a prison or soldiers in a warzone. Chaplains organize religious services, facilitate multifaith discussions and offer an ear to people going through difficult times. They pray with groups and individuals, share communion and offer baptisms. In hospitals, they sit with the sick and dying, and perform last rites.
Chaplains undergo extensive education, beginning with a four-year bachelor's degree at an accredited institution. Following undergraduate education, chaplains must attend seminary and earn a Master of Divinity degree at an accredited institution approved by their church denomination. Seminary may last from three to four years. Some schools offer concentrations in pastoral care and counseling as part of their master's programs.
Chaplains are required to gain experience through Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, which typically takes place in hospitals, social service organizations or counseling offices. Some students participate in CPE as part of seminary, but almost all chaplains complete a two-year CPE residency following seminary. Some church denominations also require candidates to serve a church for two years, meaning some chaplains will spend four years in residency following seminary before they are ordained by their denomination and certified by a national chaplaincy organization.
Chaplains are ordained by their denomination for service. Processes vary by ecclesiastical body, but typically require candidates to complete written and oral exams; preach a sermon; and sit before an ordination committee that either approves or denies the request for ordination. Most ordinations take place during a special religious service attended by friends, family and church members, where there is preaching, singing and laying on of hands.
Army Chaplain Requirements
In addition to meeting all denominational requirements, army chaplains are required to meet a host of other mandates. They must be U.S. citizens for active-duty or permanent residents for the reserves; meet age requirements; pass a physical exam; be endorsed to serve in the military by their ecclesiastical body; pass security clearance; and go through training. Active-duty chaplains must serve the Army in active duty for three years, while reserve chaplains must train one weekend each month and two weeks each year.
Once educational and experiential requirements are met, candidates are ready to apply for voluntary certification through the International Fellowship of Chaplains or the Association of Professional Chaplains. They must provide documentation of all education, professional experience and ordination, along with letters of recommendation and an application fee. Certification candidates are interviewed and approved or denied for certification by a certification committee. Once certified, chaplains may find it easier to secure work and advance within the field, even working as CPE supervisors and heads of chaplaincy in major hospitals, colleges, universities and seminaries.
- United States Army: Army Chaplain Corps Requirements
- Union Theological Seminary: Ordination Process by Denomination
- International Fellowship of Chaplains: IFOC Membership Requirements
- International Fellowship of Chaplains: I.F.O.C. Membership and Credentials Application Checklist
- Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc: BCCI Certification
- Association of Professional Chaplains: Common Standards
- Association of Professional Chaplains: Common Standards for Professional Chaplaincy
- Association for Clinical Pastoral Education: ACPE Residency Opportunities
Anne Kinsey is a writer, business woman, minister and coach who is passionate about inspiring others to walk out their career dreams and believe in possibilities. She resides in rural North Carolina with her husband and three children, where they enjoy the great outdoors and serve at-risk youth together.