What's It Like to Be a Chaplain?
With only 44 percent of Americans regularly attending some form of religious service, and only 61 percent of that total identifying themselves as Christian, students and alumni of Northeastern Seminary respond by bringing God’s love to people’s everyday lives—as chaplains.
In this specialized ministry, a chaplain interacts with people in settings outside the traditional church. Lida Merrill (NES ’06), who serves the developmentally disabled and their families, believes her ministry is relevant and necessary amid political and economic uncertainty: “the ministry of chaplain can be a bridge for the unchurched society to test out the truths of the Gospel.”
Chaplaincies offer essential opportunities to reach people who may never enter a church, including the military, hospitals and human services, hospice care, and correctional facilities. In Merrill’s experience, “Many people have questions and deep spiritual hunger, but they will not return or go to a church because of past wounds. A chaplain is a safe person because he or she is usually not working at a church, but in a community or care-giving setting. Chaplains are in a unique position to listen to people’s concerns, discern where God is at work within their lives, and be an ambassador of the Kingdom of God.”
Michael Cerula (NES ‘09), chaplain for the U.S. Army, says the most gratifying part about serving with the military has been how soldiers openly ask for prayer and willingly share their stories with him. Like others, Cerula had been challenged and invigorated through the seminary’s focus on intentional personal and spiritual formation. “What used to be a boring discipline of morning devotions has turned into a joyful time of thanksgiving with our Creator God.”
A chaplain’s motivations go beyond church membership or conversion head counts. According to Bruce Swingle (NES ’01), lead chaplain at a VA Medical Center, “It is about relationships and about competencies.” He explains, “If someone wants to be a chaplain they must be firm in their own beliefs and values while respecting those of others. They must love learning from formal courses, from other disciplines, and especially from the people and families they serve. From my understanding of I Thessalonians 4:8, I see chaplaincy as allowing people to become so dear and important to us that we are willing to share with them not only the Gospel of God, but our own lives as well.”
Click here to find out more about fulfilling chaplaincy requirements with a Master of Divinity.