The newly formed International Association of Community Service Chaplains, a branch of the Church of God Chaplain Commission, held a chaplain training this week for those interested in starting the rigorous process.
“This is serious stuff, folks; this is not a Sunday school lesson,” said Steve Wallace, senior master chaplain who was leading the three-day level one training.
While the Church of God Chaplains Commission was formally established in 1978, some argue that the history of chaplains goes all the way back to biblical times.
“Chaplaincy in the Bible is that ministry or service in God’s name to others that took place outside of the space officially designated and sanctified for religious purposes by Moses and Jewish priestly leadership,” according to the chaplain association manual. “These priests provided a ‘sanctuary’ of care for those persons often disenfranchised from the community of faith. They also accompanied the armed forces into battle, reminding the warriors of God’s word of truth, integrity and justice. As the chaplains of today, the priests were called on to give unconditional care to the hurting in the world.”
Today, chaplains still serve communities that might come as a surprise, such as brothels, Wallace said.
“Sometimes people say, ‘What if a woman in a brothel decided to turn her life around because of a chaplain, don’t the employers get upset?’ No, they will always have potential employees, that’s just a fact of life. But they know people are spiritual creatures. We need to know what the meaning of life is … People want what you have, they just may not know you have it. Once they see what a chaplain really is, they’ll get behind it.”
And while the organization goes through the Church of God, a chaplain doesn’t have to be a Christian, Wallace said.
Chaplain training requires years of classes, papers, exams and hundreds of dollars, but those who attended the class this week weren’t deterred.
Eric Duvall, a disabled veteran, hopes to return to serve the military as a chaplain one day, partially in response to alarming suicide rates, he said. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 22 percent of suicides in 2010 were veterans.
“I’ve been led to give back to the military,” he said.
Another attendee, Melissa Jones, wants to go into disaster relief chaplaincy, she said. Disaster Relief is one area that needs more chaplains in the region, Wallace said.
“(I was motivated by) just compassion,” she said. “You see their heart and their hurt and you have that desire to help, whatever you can do.”