By Pastor Craig Pederson
Immersed in the major existential questions and day-to-day minutia of congregational life, it is easy for church leaders to forget about some of our most valuable colleagues who are not under the same roof as us. I’m talking about chaplains – those ministers of the gospel who are called to provide spiritual care in hospitals, senior living facilities, prisons, and other non-congregational settings.
One of the many hats I have the privilege to wear on the synod staff is to serve as liaison to the chaplains in our synod. In addition to the occasional visits I enjoy to their sites for installations, retirements, and other celebrations, we host a twice-yearly breakfast gathering for chaplains at the synod office (one of which was just two weeks ago). These gatherings are rich times of conversation and sharing. Bishop Ann has the opportunity to share synod updates with the chaplains, and then we get to hear about the amazing work they are doing their settings.
I AM REMINDED OF how a chaplain’s context for ministry is often a microcosm of the broader culture in which we live. We listen to stories about the stress of rising health care and housing costs for patients, residents, employers, and families. We hear about the joys and challenges of multi-cultural dynamics for both staff and residents. We learn about the exploration of interfaith practices in providing spiritual care in these remarkably diverse places. We are reminded of the isolation that can occur among those who are ill, or elderly, or imprisoned, or addicted. And we are affirmed in the valuable partnership these colleagues provide to congregations throughout our synod.
A chaplain’s context for ministry is often a microcosm of the broader culture in which we live.
Diane Greve, retired chaplain and current Synod Council member, serves as convener for the chaplains group. She has also assisted our office with formalizing the process for chaplains to receive a specialized call from our Synod Council to a non-congregational setting. To receive authorization for this type of call, chaplains are now expected to have attained, or be working toward, two important approvals: 1) ELCA endorsement, and 2) board certification. These two qualifications represent best practices in the field of chaplaincy for maintaining professional standards and for fostering the connection of our chaplains to the broader church.
Next time you visit a church member in the hospital, a loved one in hospice, a friend in prison, or a relative in a nursing home, give thanks that a chaplain has likely been there ahead of you or will follow shortly after you. Theirs is a special call to serve among the most vulnerable of God’s people. We are grateful for their ministry!