Did you know Sarah and I are ordained, licensed chaplains? A lot of people don’t really even know what a chaplain is. I can dispel a few notions about it for you right off the bat here - by telling you what a chaplain is NOT. A chaplain is NOT a pastor, priest or minister of a specific church. And it is just as true to say a pastor is not a chaplain. Pastors work within the setting of a particular church - and oversee, teach and lead within the confines of their particular religion. Chaplains are not necessarily bound to any denomination - and they can find themselves working in a variety of settings with a variety of people in a variety of circumstances.
Hmmmm. Sounds like The Torch might be a good place for chaplains, huh?
We first learned about chaplaincy when an acquaintance approached me and asked if I had ever heard of it. He said he was going through the ordination process and thought it would be a good fit for Sarah and me. At first, I dismissed the idea because I was pretty fed up with religion and I thought chaplains were basically pastors. I knew God was not calling me to put my time into helping yet another church to grow. Sarah and I talked about it briefly, and let it go for a bit. Then, Sarah did some research into chaplaincy. What she found out is chaplain training is all about preparing people to serve God outside the church walls - at work, at school, through a nonprofit, etc. The training can be very emotional, as it touches on the rawest forms of humanity in crisis - and teaches appropriate ways to respond, support and help those in need.
We realized how valuable such knowledge and understanding could be for The Torch, and, hopefully, how we could benefit people we come in contact with - and so we signed up. To be honest, I was not totally prepared for the emotional aspect of the training we received. We both have suffered deep hurts in our lives, and as we learned how to support others in their painful moments, we often came face to face with our own heartaches. Good thing God was with us through the process, because it would have been easy to put all that emotion back into the boxes in our hearts and to just go on living our lives and ignoring our own pain. But we stuck it out and learned much about ourselves and human nature throughout the process.
I think all the deepest needs human beings have have a spiritual component to them. The Apostle Paul wrote: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13). Paul was a man of God who helped change the world; just think about it - those words were written 2,000 years ago and we are reading them today. That is pretty miraculous. Paul reached a level of spiritual peace and contentment that flowed out into every aspect of his life, and no matter what circumstances he found himself in - peace and contentment prevailed.
Sometimes I feel like my heart will break when I hear peoples’ stories and get a sense of the pain in their lives. Chaplain training has helped me to look deeper as I seek ways to help. And boy do I pray. I pray for so many people in so many situations.
The training has also taught me to respect people and their beliefs. I used to be so quick to judge and dismiss, and I am sure I hurt many feelings along the way. Sometimes I was trying so hard to make people want to come to MY church I didn’t take time to hear them out or even try to understand why they believed what they believed. I encountered a woman many years ago - and we were talking about God, and faith. I asked her what church she went to and she right away said, “Oh, you won’t like it. You won’t approve of me.” I pressed her to tell me, because I thought it seemed strange for her to say that and it piqued my curiosity. She said, “I’m Mormon.” And right away, I drew back and pretty much had a surface relationship with her after that. I wish I knew then what I know now. I am sure my insensitivity and judgment hurt her.
Chaplain training taught me to listen with a heart of understanding. People have spiritual needs and they are seeking to fill them - and we are bombarded in our society with all kinds of solutions. Let’s face it, even in small communities there is a church on practically every corner - and they usually all claim to be the ONE with the ANSWERS. The thing is - there is a very good chance you might not find God in a church. You might not find Him in a religion. Sometimes the activities and rituals and requirements clutter things up so much that even though you are involved and engaged, you still find yourself empty and not acquiring the contentment Paul talks about in Philippians. As a chaplain, I have learned the value of not pulling away from people, and how important it is to keep showing up, and praying that when they see me - when they see us - they will see lives that reflect God’s love.
We want to be there for people in a new and fresh way, to throw a lifeline of hope out wherever we go. To smile and love and be strong in our faith, so, hopefully, others will be strong in theirs - or maybe even start to develop some faith if they have none. Chaplains are prepared to go into the world and listen, and love and help meet the needs of the people they encounter. And Sarah and I are chaplains. I just thought you might like to know.