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What does it take be an Army chaplain?

10/25/2002 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This following article may be used as a sidebar to UMNS #489

By United Methodist News Service









Some United Methodist pastors who have answered God's call to become chaplains in the U.S. Army have felt misunderstood and even abandoned by their church.

They have been asked, "Why are you leaving the ministry?"

Being an Army chaplain means spending more time in foxholes, on ships and jumping out of airplanes, than behind pulpits in church buildings.

Chaplains are trained to "perform or provide, cooperate without compromise, and do anything for the good of the solider," says Chaplain Col. Samuel J.T. Boone, deputy commander of the Fort Jackson U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Columbia, S.C.

"These are gifted men and women, who bring both discipline and grace to a challenging and potentially dangerous context," says the Rev. Pat Barrett, staff executive in the denomination's Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries.

"In addition to being spiritually fit --and spiritual maturity is essential to this ministry -- they must be physically fit enough to keep up with the troops. They must have both the gifts and the skills for the public and the personal ministry, caring for the heart and speaking to authority."

In the United Methodist Church, applicants for chaplaincy in a military branch must obtain ecclesiastical endorsement through the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries, Nashville, Tenn. Applicants must be ordained and in full membership in an annual conference and they must graduate or have graduated from an accredited college and seminary.

"I believe there is one ministry of Jesus Christ, expressed in diverse ways and many places, and utilizing a variety of gifts. The ministry of chaplains is one of those expressions, and calls for particular gifts," Barrett says. "From time to time we hear that we have 'left the ministry,' but in reality by appointment we are extending the ministry of the church to persons and places beyond the local church. So we are partners in ministry, not deserters," Barrett says.

Applicants for U.S. army chaplaincy must have:
· An ecclesiastical endorsement from their faith group
· Spiritual, moral, intellectual and emotional qualifications to serve as a chaplain
· Sensitivity to religious pluralism and the ability to provide for free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army
· A baccalaureate degree of not less than 120 semester hours
· A master's degree in divinity or a graduate degree in theological studies, which includes at least 72 hours.
· U.S. citizenship or green card
· Physical fitness for general service based on an examination by the military

Ordained United Methodists may serve in the Army as a full-time active or part time as a reservist. Army chaplains enter the service as an officer after attending the Chaplain Officer Basic Course.

"Some tell me they chose to be Army chaplains as a way of expressing citizenship; others, who met Christ through the ministry of a chaplain, want to share Christ in that community; some grew up in the service, others were introduced to the setting through retired military or reservists in their congregations. But all affirm that this is first a call to ministry," Barrett says.

For more information visit the section of chaplains Web site at http://www.gbhem.org/chaplains/ or http://www.usachcs.army.mil/ for information about the chaplain school at Fort Jackson, S.C.
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