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A chaplain is typically a priest, pastor, ordained deacon, rabbi, imam or other member of the clergy serving a group of people who are not organised as a mission or church, or who are unable to attend church for various reasons; such as health, confinement, or military or civil duties; lay chaplains are also found in other settings such as universities. For example a chaplain is often attached to a military unit (often known as padre), a private chapel, a ship, a prison, a hospital, a high school, college or especially boarding school, even a parliamentary assembly and so on. Though originally chaplain was a Christian term it is also now applied to people in other religions filling the same role. In recent years many non-ordained persons have received professional training in chaplaincy and are now appointed as chaplains in schools, hospitals, universities, prisons and elsewhere to work alongside or instead of ordained chaplains.

Types of chaplains


A chaplain provides spiritual and pastoral support for service personnel, including the conduct of religious services at sea or in the field. Military chaplains have a long history; the first Englishmarker military-oriented chaplains, for instance, were priests on board proto-naval vessels during the eighth century A.D. Land based chaplains appeared during the reign of King Edward I. The current form of military chaplain dates from the era of the First World War.

Chaplains are nominated in different ways in different countries. A military chaplain can be an army-trained soldier with additional theological training or a priest nominated to the army by religious authorities. In the United Kingdom the Ministry of Defence employs chaplains but their authority comes from their sending church. Royal Navy chaplains undertake a 16 week bespoke induction and training course including a short course at Britannia Royal Naval College and specialist fleet time at sea alongside a more experienced chaplain. Naval Chaplains called to service with the Royal Marines undertake a grueling 5 month long Commando Course, and if successful wear the commandos' Green Beret. British Army chaplains undertake seven weeks training at The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport Housemarker and The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Royal Air Force chaplains must complete 12 weeks Specialist Entrant course at the RAF College Cranwell followed by a Chaplains' Induction Course at Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport Housemarker of a further 2 weeks. In the United States military, chaplains must be endorsed by their religious affiliation in order to serve in any facet of the military.

Military Chaplains are normally accorded officer status, although Sierra Leonemarker had a Naval Lance Corporal chaplain in 2001. In most navies, their badges and insignia do not differentiate their levels of responsibility and status. By contrast, in Air Forces and Armies, they typically carry ranks and are differentiated by crosses or other equivalent religious insignia. However, United States military chaplains Association and every branch carry both rank and Chaplain Corps insignia.

Though the Geneva Conventions do not state whether chaplains may bear arms, they specify (Protocol I, 8 June 1977, Art 43.2) that chaplains are noncombatants. In recent years both the UK and US have required chaplains, but not medical personnel, to be unarmed. Other nations, notably Norway, Denmark and Sweden, make it an issue of individual conscience. Captured chaplains are not considered Prisoners of War (Third Convention, 12 August 1949, Chapter IV Art 33) and must be returned to their home nation unless retained to minister to prisoners of war.

Inevitably, serving chaplains have died in action, sometimes in significant numbers. The U.S. Army and Marines lost 100 chaplains killed in action during WWII: a casualty rate greater "than any other branch of the services except the infantry and the Army Air Corps" (Crosby, 1994, pxxiii). Many have been decorated for bravery in action (five have won Britain's highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross). The Chaplain's Medal for Heroism is a special U.S. military decoration given to military chaplains who have been killed in the line of duty, although it has to date only been awarded to the famous Four Chaplains, all of whom died in the USAT Dorchestermarker sinking in 1943 after giving up their lifejackets to others.

At times, the existence of military chaplains has been challenged in countries that have a separation of Church and State.

Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement Chaplains serve in local, county, state and federal agencies and provide a variety of important services within the law enforcement community. They should not be confused with Prison Chaplains, whose primary ministry is to those who are incarcerated either awaiting trial or after conviction. The role of the Law Enforcement Chaplain deals primarily with Law Enforcement personnel and agencies. Law enforcement officers are faced with having to make split second decisions which at times cause a tremendous amount of anxiety, frustration and criticism for doing their jobs. Many times this will create problems for the officers and their families as well as often being reflected in their job performance and, or, their on the job attitudes towards both others officers and the public that they serve. The chaplain responds to these unique needs and challenges with spiritual guidance, reassuring and trustworthy presence, resources and counseling services. Also, Law Enforcement chaplains are often involved as resource providers in assisting with hostage negotiations, death notifications in the community, public relations and other needs that the law enforcement agency might have.

Law Enforcement Chaplains regularly visit the department for personal contact with law enforcement personnel and staff. They build trusting relationships and establish credibility. Riding with the officers on their shifts is vital to a successful ministry. Chaplains also provide guidance and confidential counseling for personal, family, and job-related problems to both sworn and civilian personnel, their families and others. They refer those in need of professional help to qualified counselors. Chaplains assist families of officers/staff personnel/victims in times of serious injury, illness or death. They respond immediately to emergency situations involving departmental personnel and victims. Chaplains maintain an updated list of spiritual and social service providers, to whom they refer departmental personnel, victims, and their families.

Chaplains also conduct worship services and Scriptural Studies as needed. One aspect of the ministries of Law Enforcement chaplains, like other chaplains working in the public sector (such as those serving in the military) is the need for effective ecumenical outreach, accepting all personnel that they minister to where they are in their faith journey. Law Enforcement chaplains often have information about who can provide worship resources for other faiths, and also for the various denominations and groups within their own faith. They offer invocations and benedictions at academy graduations, award ceremonies, and civic and social events, as requested.

Often the Law Enforcement chaplain is the only minister with whom law enforcement can relate. Occasionally, the chaplain is asked to conduct, or participate in, weddings and funerals by the officers or their families. The chaplain responds to the need as an opportunity for ministry and witness. Chaplains participate in basic law enforcement training. They sometimes become training resource leaders themselves in their areas of expertise, particularly in the cultural and practical aspects of differing faith and ethnic communities within their agency's particular jurisdiction. Law enforcement officers often need someone whom they feel that they can trust to assist them with death notifications, suicide attempts, emotionally upset people who have been traumatized, and a myriad of other problems and challenges. They also need someone to care for their families and themselves during times of trauma or distress.

The Law Enforcement chaplain offers support to Law Enforcement Officers, Administrators, Support Staff, Victims and their families, and occasionally even the families of accused or convicted offenders. The role of the chaplain within Law Enforcement is an important one in American culture.

Health care

Many hospitals and hospices employ chaplains to assist with the spiritual needs of patients, families and staff.

In the United Statesmarker, health care chaplains are typically educated through the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education and may be certified by one of the following organizations: The Association of Professional Chaplains, The National Association of Catholic Chaplains, The National Association of Jewish Chaplains, or The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Certification typically requires a Masters of Divinity degree (or its equivalent), faith group ordination or commissioning, faith group endorsement, and four units (1600 hours) of Clinical Pastoral Education (the Military Chaplains Association of the United States of America does require more, but they are a dod2088 501c-3 military support group founded in 1954 by Military Chaplains).

In Canadamarker, Health Care Chaplains may be certified by the Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education.

In England, Health Care Chaplains are employed by their local NHS Trust or by charities associated with hospice. The majority work part-time, combining their role with another post, either in a local Church or another chaplaincy. The professional body in England is the College of Health Care Chaplains. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the bodies are the Scottish Association of Chaplains in Healthcare (SACH) and the Northern Ireland Healthcare Chaplains Association. Membership of the College of Health Care Chaplains is not compulsory but may be advantageous as it carries with it membership of a Trade Union. Chaplains working in a palliative care setting may also choose to join the Association of Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplains.


Some businesses, large or small, employ chaplains for their staff and/or clientele. According to The Economist (August 25 2007, p64) there are 4,000 corporate chaplains in the U.S. alone, with the majority being employees of specialist chaplaincy companies such as Marketplace Chaplains USA or Corporate Chaplains of America. According to the Marketplace Chaplains USA, turnover at Taco Bell outlets in central Texas dropped by a third after they started employing chaplains.


A sports chaplain provides pastoral care for the sports person and the broader sports community including the coach, administrator and their families.

Chaplains to sports communities have existed since the middle of the 20th century and have significantly grown in the past 20 years. The United Statesmarker, United Kingdommarker and Australia have well established Christian sports chaplaincy ministries.

Sports Chaplains consist of people from many different walks of life. Most commonly, the chaplains are ministers or full time Christian workers but occasionally, chaplaincy work is done without charge or any financial remuneration. Often, sports chaplains to a particular sport are former participants of that sport. This helps the chaplain to not only provide spiritual support and guidance to a player, but gives them the ability to empathize and relate to some of the challenges facing the participant with whom they are ministering.


A domestic chaplain was a chaplain attached to a noble household in order to grant the family a degree of self-sufficiency in religion. The chaplain was freed from any obligation to reside in a particular place so could travel with the family, internationally if necessary, and minister to their spiritual needs. Further, the family could appoint a chaplain who reflected their own doctrinal views. Domestic chaplains performed family christenings, funerals and weddings and were able to conduct services in the family's private chapel, excusing the nobility from attending public worship.

In feudal times most laymen, and for centuries even most noblemen, were poorly educated and the chaplain would also be an important source of scholarship in the household, tutoring children and providing counsel to the family on matters broader than religion. Before the advent of the legal profession, modern bureaucracy and civil service, the literate clergy were often employed as secretarial staff, as in a chancery. Hence the term clerk, derived from Latin clericus (clergyman). This made them very influential in temporal affairs. There was also a moral impact since they heard the confessions of the elite.

The domestic chaplain was an important part of the life of the peerage in Englandmarker from the reign of Henry VIII to the middle of the nineteenth century. Up until 1840, Anglican domestic chaplains were regulated by law and enjoyed the substantial financial advantage of being able to purchase a license to hold two benefices simultaneously while residing in neither.

Many monarchies and major noble houses had, or still have, several domestic or private chaplains as part of their Ecclesiastical Household, either following them or attached to a castle or other residence. Queen Elizabeth II has 36 Anglican chaplains, in addition to chaplains extraordinary and honorary chaplains appointed to minister to her. Castles with attached chaplains generally had at least one Chapel Royal, sometimes as significant as a cathedral. A modern example is St George's Chapel, Windsor Castlemarker, also the home of the Order of the Garter.


Chaplain’s Office, York Railway Station.
Chaplains also can be attached to sports teams, emergency services agencies, educational institutions and colleges, private clubs, groupos such as Boys and Girls Brigade companies and scout troops, ships, hospitals, prisons, nightclubs, private companies, theatres and corporations. Chaplains also serve in hospice programs and retirement centers. The term can also refer to priests attached to Roman Catholic convents.

Chaplains in fiction

Chaplains have appeared as characters in several works of fiction about historical and imagined militaries. Father Mulcahy, a character in the M*A*S*H novels, film, and TV series, is a well known fictional chaplain.

In addition, Chaplains have been featured in mass media channels, such as the popular comic strip Doonesbury, authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Trudeau. The Rev. Scot Sloan is a character in Doonesbury inspired by real people: Stanfordmarker's Dean for Religious Life, Scotty McLennan, along with his mentor, former Yalemarker Chaplain William Sloane Coffin.

The Chaplain is also a key figure in Albert Camus' novel "L'Etranger" (i.e. "The Stranger").

The profession of military chaplaincy is reflected in several major works of world literature, such as in the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd, Jaroslav Hasek's novel The Good Soldier Švejk, and Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22.

In the brutal dystopian future of Warhammer 40,000, Chaplains are Space Marine warrior priests. They are typically the most pious and zealous warriors in a Space Marine chapter and always fight at the forefront of an engagement.

Chaplains serve as combat soldiers in the Mobile Infantry from Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

See also


  1. Norman, J. (2004). At The Heart of Education: School Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care. Dublin: Veritas.
  2. > Army Chaplain Corps > Requirements
  3. Air Force Chaplain Agency - Home
  4. Full debate between Christopher Hitchens and Rev. Al Sharpton (from which this quote was taken) is available on Google Video
  6. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  7. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  8. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  9. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  10. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  11. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  12. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  13. Chaplain Fellowship Ministries, a national Law Enforcement Organization
  15. Gibson (1997) pp1-6

Further reading

  • Paul Alexander, (2008), Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing/Herald Press. This book contains a scholarly analysis of the impact of Pentecostal military chaplaincy during the twentieth century.
  • Bergen, Doris. L., (ed), 2004. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century. University of Notre Dame Press ISBN 0-268-02176-7
  • Nay, Robert "The Operational, Social, Religious Influences Upon The Army Chaplain Field Manual, 1926-1952"
  • Norman, James (2004) At the Heart of Education: School Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care. Dublin: Veritas Publications. ISBN 1853907529
  • Paget, Naomi & McCormack, Janet (2006). The Work of the Chaplain. Valley Forge: Judson Press. ISBN 0817014995
  • Smith, John C., Chaplain (International Chaplains Association)
  • VandeCreek, Larry & Lucas, Art (2001). The Discipline for Pastoral Care Giving: Foundations for Outcome Oriented Chaplaincy. Binghamton: The Haworth Press. ISBN 0789013452

External links

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