Historical and Legal Foundations for Chaplaincy, Pt. 2


The simple purpose of this podcast is to help those who are interested in serving others through chaplaincy, pastoring, coaching, and counseling learn the basics of the profession.

Our Work of the Chaplain passage of Scripture for this episode is Philippians 2:4 which says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

Our Work of the Chaplain quote for this episode is from Samuel Chadwick. He said, “Compassion costs. It is easy enough to argue, criticize, and condemn, but redemption is costly, and comfort draws from the deep. Brains can argue, but it takes heart to comfort.”

In this podcast, we are going through the fine book: “The Work of the Chaplain” by Naomi K. Paget and Janet R. McCormack.

Our topic today is “Historical Foundations for Chaplaincy.”

The origin of the word chaplain comes from the early history of the Christian church. Traditionally, a story relates the compassion of a fourth-century holy man named Martin who shared his cloak with a beggar. Upon the death of Bishop Martin, his cloak (capella in Latin) was enshrined as a reminder of the sacred act of compassion. The guardian of the capella became known as the chapelain, which transliterated into English became chaplain. Today, the chaplain continues to guard the sacred and to share his or her cape out of compassion.

Perhaps the most documented history in chaplaincy is in the area of military chaplaincy. From the settlement of Caanan, the Middle Ages, and the American Revolutionary War, chaplains have served the armies of the world. The Continental Congress recognized the need for professional chaplains and authorized salaries equal to regimental surgeons, thereby elevating chaplaincy to a professional status. Today, chaplains serve in all branches of the United States military as officers and professional caregivers.

Healthcare chaplaincy has also been well documented from the early twentieth century. When hospitals were first created, they were usually an extension of a religious group who provided care for their own followers. Later, hospitals began to care for people of many faith traditions. In doing so, multifaith needs were identified. When physicians recognized the advantage in providing spiritual care in addition to medical care, healthcare chaplaincy was born. Today, many healthcare chaplains in the United States are trained in theology, psychosocial development, ethics, and a variety of other disciplines through seminaries, supervised clinical training, and other highly specialized forms of learning.

Many other types of chaplain ministry have developed as an outgrowth of military and hospital chaplaincy. Industrial and workplace chaplaincy existed in seventeenth century Massachusetts where religious instruction was required in many factories, mills, and worksites. By the twentieth century, workplace chaplaincy expanded into many new areas, including corporations and small businesses, race tracks and casinos, homeless shelters and retirement homes, poultry plants and truck stops. As people identify special-interest groups that benefit from spiritual care, chaplaincy positions are created. Many new agencies have instituted chaplain programs to first responders or emergency personnel. It is fairly common to find chaplains serving agencies that provide law enforcement, fire repression, and emergency medical response.

Chaplain ministry developed because people needed spiritual care even when they were not in church (or their faith’s equivalent) and especially when they were in a crisis situation — war, sickness, specialized occupations, or disasters. Today, there is much clinical evidence that supports the benefits of spiritual care — chaplain ministry — for people who suffer during critical events. This ministry was once initiated by employers, governments, and agencies. Today, it is often initiated by religious organizations and the victims of critical events.

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