How To Become Military Chaplain

How To Become Military Chaplain – Rev. Nathan Ferrell, U.S. He was commissioned a Reserve Chaplain in the Navy on April 23, 2017. Photo: Adam Burt/Two Infinite Things, via Bishop’s Office for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries

[Episcopal News Service] Joshua Woods felt the call while ministering to hospice patients in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

How To Become Military Chaplain

Many patients are military veterans and spouses. As he counseled them, Woods asked civilian chaplains what impact military chaplains had had on their lives.

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Woods, now 34, knew he wanted to be a military chaplain. Such chaplains are members of the clergy who provide spiritual leadership, counseling, and religious services to institutions other than parishes, such as prisons, universities, hospitals, or branches of the armed forces.

But the process of becoming a military chaplain is particularly difficult. Woods doesn’t know a seminary with such a concentration of military chaplains, and there are so many requirements from both the church and the military that it’s a tedious and frustrating road to navigate.

“One of the reasons it’s been a long and winding road for me is because I’ve done it without guidance,” Woods said, though he had help from Rev. Dave Scheider is a 25-year retired US Army chaplain and faculty member at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Woods is now a senior at an Episcopal seminary, but whoever comes after him should have it easy. On September 12, Southwestern Seminary announced the launch of a military chaplaincy concentration for its Master of Divinity degrees. It was the first of the Episcopal seminaries.

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Eric Scott, the seminary’s director of communications and marketing, said the seminary didn’t create this focus from the start. For 15 years, Southwestern Seminary has been the only Episcopal seminary to offer students an accredited master’s degree in mental health to become licensed professional counselors, Scott said. It is a medical degree, completely separate from the religious world.

Retired Rear Admiral Dan Muchow (left) and two military recruiters have lunch together during a Sept. 12 event at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Photo: Southwest Seminary

“Because of these counseling classes, and a large part of the military chaplain practice is mental health counseling, the pastoral part, we’re able to offer some subject-specific elective classes like these counseling classes, PTSD, addiction and recovery — all things that we know Soldiers are dealing with,” Scott said.

Seminarians in the military chaplaincy track take the same required courses as their Master of Divinity counterparts, but use their elective courses for concentration.

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It also helps that the seminary is less than 100 miles from three of the nation’s largest military bases, so seminarians can do needed fieldwork in nearby parishes that support soldiers and their families: the U.S. Army Fort Hood; Killeen and the U.S. at Air Force Bases Lackland and Randolph.

Rt. Rev. Elector of the Armed Forces and Federal Ministry Bishop Carl Wright visited the Austin campus when the program was officially launched. Wright provides ecclesiastical oversight for 130 Episcopal military chaplains on the federal payroll and wants to double that number if enough chaplains are trained and called to ministry. He sees growth in established ministries as a trend in the Episcopal Church.

“The M.D.V. military track is great, and it’s the wave of the future in our church, because we’ve always known that not everyone is specifically called to parish ministry,” Wright said, recalling his visit. He praised Southwestern Seminary, which “created avenues for us not only to recognize other callings but also to pursue them.”

Rev. Hope Benko, Director of Registration, and Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, Bishop Elector for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries, attended the proclamation event on September 12 at Southwestern Seminary. Photo: Southwest Seminary

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These seminarians receive training in suicide prevention, marriage and relationship counseling, and ministry to soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction issues and other types of crises. This degree requires fieldwork at Veterans Affairs hospitals and other medical facilities.

Scheider said there is a shortage of Episcopal chaplains in the military, where those who don’t align with more conservative beliefs need spiritual guidance and counseling. He oversees the seminary’s three graduate programs designed for laypeople and clergy in counseling, preaching, and spiritual formation. Scheider mentors student faculty.

“The ability to serve everyone in an entity that spans the entire political and theological spectrum is very challenging. That’s very difficult to do, and that’s what we want to create,” Scheider said.

Chaplains want to enter the Army equipped to handle the cultural and political pressures that young soldiers joining the ranks, often minorities, can counsel to escape poverty. Scheider said chaplains also have to earn the respect of higher-ranking officers, who tend to be more conservative.

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He said there is an increase in sexual minorities in the military, but fewer chaplains from denominations that are more accepting of their beliefs and lifestyles. During the week when chaplains are not leading services, they counsel people with serious problems, and although they are not officially mental health counselors, they are probably the most available members of the unit.

Rev. Dave Scheider, Rt. The Reverend Carl Wright and the Reverend David Peters, a Southwestern Seminary alumnus and US Army chaplain, participated in the Sept. 12 proclamation program at the seminary. Photo: Southwest Seminary

“All they have to do is go up to the chaplain and say, ‘Hey, you got a minute,'” Scheider said, and service members can expect complete privacy, even if they have suicidal intent. Chaplains are considered clergy, not medical professionals, and therefore are not subject to the same exemptions to federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) regulations, as well as state exemptions, that require patients to disclose or permit serious and definite thoughts of harming themselves. These rules, requirements and exemptions can be complex, along with the liabilities involved, but the goal is to ensure that people seeking help feel safe and build enough trust to do so.

“Chaplains are very safe for service members to open their hearts and suffer any consequences,” Scheider said.

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During his last decade of active military service, Scheider specialized in helping couples who owned businesses, some of whom married young, get out of the barracks and receive benefits. She earned an additional counseling degree and marriage and family therapy license to do it better.

“All couples should have that level of support and not be discriminated against, and we’re one of the few denominations that encourages our clergy to offer that kind of support to same-sex couples,” he said.

Above all, Scheider and Woods agree that a military chaplain must first become a chaplain and a military service member. That is why a solid foundation in seminary is so important.

Until now, there was no specific path at an episcopal seminary for students who wanted to train to become military chaplains instead of serving in parishes. The Episcopal Church has a program for seminarians to become “candidate priests.” They enter the reserve for training during the summer between their junior and senior seminary years. Priest candidates continue to train and drill as reservists until they complete their mandatory parish experience (up to two years), according to the Reverend Leslie Nunez Steffensen, Canon for Bishops of the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries.

Seminary Of The Southwest Helps Smooth The Path To Becoming A Military Chaplain

Interested seminarians or clergy should enter the US military chaplain recruitment process. and, at some point, received the confirmation of a church called by his denomination.

Reverend Todd Delaney is a chaplain in the US military, serving wherever he is stationed. Photo: Bishop’s Office for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministry

Some were in the military first, and then left for their ordination and leadership training in seminary. Others were priests first, and then entered the army. For example, the US Army describes three main hurdles: receiving ecclesiastical confirmation, earning a master’s degree, and becoming a full-time graduate student at a seminary or theological school.

For Woods, he first had to know that he wanted to be an Episcopalian. He previously worked as a lay pastor and pastor’s assistant in a nondenominational church. Before that, he graduated from Vanderbilt University Seminary with a master’s degree in theological studies and attended his childhood church, the Assemblies of God. But as Woods grew older, he found the denomination limiting, and he liked the openness to question and involvement of the Episcopal Church.

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During the Obama-Romney presidential election, the Episcopal Church, St. Inside Simon

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