What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain?

Historically speaking, the term ‘Chaplain’ has its root in the Christian faith tradition. When one googles the term ‘Chaplain,‘ this is the first definition that pops up:

Middle English: from Old French chapelain, from medieval Latin cappellanus, originally denoting a custodian of the cloak of St. Martin, from cappella, originally ‘little cloak’.

Rev. Dr. Naomi Paget, the author of ‘The Work of the Chaplain,’ defines chaplains as “being clergy members from any one of various religious faiths who are employed by an institution or agency and serve the clients, employees, and families of the institution.” I had the opportunity to attend one of her presentations on Disaster Intervention and it was a very good day of learning.

Chaplains also serve those who do not follow a particular religion or are not religious. The job of a chaplain is to provide effective spiritual care.

There are many different fields of work for a chaplain but some of the most known areas are : Military Chaplaincy, Health-Care Chaplaincy (which is where I currently work), Workplace Chaplaincy (includes corporations), Prison Chaplaincy, First-Responder Chaplaincy (Disaster response). There are also chaplains for fire departments as well as police departments.

Now on to what to expect from a chaplain:

  • Confidentiality : This is probably one of the most important requirements of a good chaplain. Whatever is said between the patient/client and the chaplain stays between the two, unless explicitly permitted by the patient/client to be shared with others. In a healthcare setting, the federal law of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is also applicable to staff chaplains. In other words, the same law that applies to doctors/nurses and other medical staff which protects patient information and privacy applies to hospital chaplains.
  •  Good Listening Skills : Non-judgmental, active listening which is different from hearing. A chaplain invites you to share your burden. Irrespective of the reason for grief/loss or stress, a good chaplain invites you to express your feelings and concerns. It is said to be helpful to verbalize your feelings and emotions – this act results in a certain type of objectivity/distance from identification with those emotions and thus, help your own self.
  • Provide information and guidance regarding medical ethics, living wills, organ donation, life support decisions and more : This is especially applicable in a health-care setting where a patient or family is faced with situation that brings up all these questions that one has not had a chance to confront or even think about before this event. Chaplains can also be a link and a liaison between patient, family and staff.
  • Grief and bereavement counseling in dealing with loss or death : This is applicable across the board, irrespective of the setting in which a chaplain is encountered. Chaplains can provide information on support groups and other resources to meet various needs of individuals and families.
  • Religious services, sacraments and prayer : This is provided as religiously appropriate and accepted by the patient and/or family.

To be continued…

Until next time,

Namaste.

Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.  ~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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4 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain?

  1. Helpful overview, thank you. I would add several other essential aspects of effective chaplaincy: Presence (simply being with people wherever they are physically and mentally), Networking (connecting people with helpful resources beyond chaplaincy) and Education (the teaching/learning circle).
    Also, as you may know, though the word “chaplain” (like “spirituality”) has its origin in the Christian tradition, like many words it has absorbed wider meaning to become more relevant in many venues and diverse traditions (including Humanist, Secular, etc). I always found the “chapels” and “sanctuaries” very portable. . .often messy, and quite unpredictable!
    I wish you well in your chaplaincy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. There will be a part two for this topic. And I agree about the term ‘sanctuary,’ we use that term at the hospital and call it our ‘interfaith sanctuary.’

      Thank you for taking the time to write, Chris. Much appreciated.

      Like

  2. Pingback: What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain? — II | Being Dharmic

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