How To Become A Chaplain
Chaplains are spiritual counselors who work in various locales to provide comfort and other ministerial services to troubled, ill, or dying people. Similar to other ordained religious leaders, chaplains provide faith-based services but at specific locations, which may not be religious in nature. They commit their life to serving others as a mentor, counselor, and advisor.
Why Become A Chaplain
Chaplains offer people many types of services within each setting, but some roles are dependent upon their places of employment. Some services of chaplaincy include the following actions:
- Preparing and conducting funeral services
- Providing grief support counseling
- Facilitating group counseling/prayer sessions
- Conducting religious ceremonies or services
- Praying with people in need of support
- Visiting people in different institutions or at home
- Holding office hours for counseling or guidance
Chaplains must be mentally and emotionally strong, offering this strength to complete strangers. Sometimes they have an opportunity to build relationships, but many of these are temporary. Being a chaplain requires empathy and objectivity; it is common for chaplains to provide spiritual guidance to people not of the same faith. A chaplain should not deny anyone services based on these differences. Above all, chaplains, like all ministers, must maintain confidentiality and ethical behavior.
Chaplain Work Environment
Chaplains’ jobs are unique from other religious leaders in that they typically work in secular settings, such as:
- Military facilities
- Universities and others schools
- Fire departments
- Police departments
- Nursing homes
- Hospice care centers
Chaplains must be available all times, especially in emergencies. People can need spiritually supportive services at any time of the day or night, on weekends, and during holidays, which is why some chaplains are on call.
Chaplains can make anywhere from $30,863 to $64,922, annually. The national median salary for chaplains is $45,848, per year. Salary is determined by geographical and employment locations.
Chaplain Career Outlook
The career outlook for chaplains in the United States is modest. From 2012 to 2022, this occupation is expected to grow 10 percent.
To practice as a chaplain, it is necessary for a candidate to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Additional education, ordination, and certification may be necessary depending on the type of work one wants to perform.
Step 1: Complete an undergraduate program. Individuals who want to become chaplains should have a bachelor’s degree in theology, counseling, or other relevant program. Studying in a particular religion or partaking in a chaplaincy program may also be possible, depending on the institution.
If there is a particular institution at which an individual would like to work, it is recommended to volunteer or work in this type of establishment to receive practical experience.
Step 2: Complete a graduate program. While many entry-level positions do not require a graduate degree, the majority of hospital and military positions will require at least a master’s degree. A graduate degree in divinity or relevant field will prepare candidates to provide spiritual counseling services. Some positions may require a doctoral degree. Regardless, a variety of seminaries and educational institutions offer accredited programs.
Step 3: Go through Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) (if applicable). Because some chaplaincy positions require that services are offered to a diverse array of individuals, many hospitals, military institutions, and prisons require chaplains to receive CPE. Many certification programs also require this step.
CPE programs are divided up into various units, depending on the relevant population. Each unit should take approximately 3 months to finish. Certification programs can require a completion of numerous units.
Step 4: Become ordained (if applicable). Although not all chaplaincy positions will require ordination, it is common for chaplains to be ordained in their particular faith group. Ordination depends on each faith group, and an individual must meet these needs. This step often requires a graduate degree.
Step 5: Obtain a certification for chaplaincy (if applicable). Many institutions that hire chaplains will require them to obtain certification. The Association of Professional Chaplains recognizes many certifying organizations. Each chaplain must find the best path for him or her, depending on faith and place of employment. Certification typically requires the following:
- At least 4 units of CPE
- A graduate degree
- Endorsement from faith group
Step 6: Complete a residency (if applicable). It may be a requirement of an employing facility to complete a residency before becoming a permanent employee. Residencies typically take 1 to 2 years, under the direct supervision of a senior chaplain.
Note: To advance the prestige of practice, chaplains may want to join a professional organization. This is an opportunity to learn about other faiths and build associations within their own faith groups.