Today’s Chaplain Doesn’t Just Punch Your Ticket
This is a rather long article that appeared in Soldiers magazine, April 1974. It gives a picture of chaplain ministry as it was recognized during the Vietnam War, including issues like endorsers, quotas, minorities in the chaplaincy (women and blacks), education, roles and civilian vs. military clergy. It was highlighted on the cover, with the tagline, “Today’s Chaplain Doesn’t Just Punch Your Ticket.”
The Chaplain Today
Story and photos by SFC D. Mallicoat
Be shepherds of the flock of God that is among you, not as though you had to but of your own free will, not from motive of personal profit but freely, and not as domineering over those in your charge but proving yourselves models for the flock to imitate. -1 Peter 5:2-3, Williams Trans.
These words penned centuries ago could well serve as a guide for today’s Army chaplains. Voluntary personal involvement seems to be their credo. And with critics on every side, both within and without the church structure, the task becomes even more difficult. It takes a special breed of man or woman to accept such responsibility.
“He must be devoted to his Lord and fully committed to his calling,” says Rear Admiral James W. Kelly (USN, Ret.) director of the chaplain’s commission for the Southern Baptists. “He must have high qualifications from a spiritual and intellectual standpoint; and he must really know how to relate to people with integrity. If he can’t relate, particularly at the deep level of faith in Good, then he isn’t going to e successful.”
“We’re not looking for the best preacher or the best administrator,” adds Rabbi Aryeh Lev of the Jewish Welfare Board. “We’re looking for the person willing to share with his troops all the problems they have and to understand them.”
One Such Man. Raymond McCranie, a former airman on his way to becoming an Army chaplain, reasons: “Of all the chaplains I had met, only one seemed to actually care about people as a person whom God loved. . . . I thought about the many opportunities a chaplain would have to help people, counsel and share Christ. It was in this fashion that the idea of aiming for the goal of the Army chaplaincy began to take root in my mind . . . . My wife also shares this conviction.
“Motives for any goal are important. I honestly had no idea what rank I would go in as. I knew nothing about the salary or any kind of program the Army or the Air Force might have . . . . After attending Fort Hamilton, N.Y., I’m convinced even more that the chaplaincy is the place for me.
“Why did I choose the chaplaincy? Because Jesus said, ‘Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men.’ “
Not every such volunteer can or will be selected. They must first meet their own denomination’s standards for ordination and service. In addition there is the military’s criterion for commissioning in the officers corps. Educationally an equivalent of 4 years college and 3 years seminary work is a must.
A few denominations are not entirely in favor of such high educational standards.
“Whereas I feel seminary can be a very fine experience for someone, I don’t feel it is any guarantee of their Christianity, their ability to minister, to truly love their fellow man,” explains Richard D. Kemp, manager of Christian Science Activities for Armed Forces Personnel.
“The stipulation was made in 1956 and we abide by it, but it isn’t the approach our church would take,” Kemp says. “We are a lay church so we don’t have a seminary. We send our men to Boston University, a Methodist seminary, since they will be serving as Protestant chaplains anyway. We do have our own chaplain’s training program which includes a year serving as a Christian Science minister for servicemen and women exclusively.”
But if a church body fails to meet the military standards, the Army doesn’t arbitrarily turn its back.
“We worked very hard with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” says Chaplain (Major General) Gerhardt W. Hyatt, Army chief of chaplains. “We worked it out with the Northwest regional accrediting agency, Brigham Young University and the church authorities, When informed of a person’s desire to enter the chaplaincy, colleges will tailor the course of study so it meets the hours and credits required. Actually it more than meets our qualifications,” he says.
Quotas. Any religious body with at least a membership of 200,000 can upon application and acceptance by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board provide Army chaplains. The board simply insures that military criteria are understood, that applicants will be certified by the denomination and that the principle of double authority provides that churches will furnish certified personnel and the military will control assignments and logistical support. If a person became unacceptable to either authority, he could not serve as a chaplain.)
Denominations are given annual quotas based on national census figures and as the Army grows smaller so do the quotas–and the waiting lists.
“In general we have waiting lists of civilian clergymen who want to volunteer for active duty,” says Chaplain (Colonel) Walter E. Casey, director of personnel and ecclesiastical relations for Department of the Army. “We do have difficulty getting Catholic chaplains. There are those who want to volunteer but due to the shortage in civil life their superiors can’t release them. But it’s a buyer’s market. We are getting quality.
“About two-thirds of our chaplains come from an Army Reserve program. We also have a staff specialist program whereby a seminary student can be commissioned a second lieutenant and then, upon completion of schooling, ordination and any other church requirement, he comes on active duty. All other chaplains receive a direct commission.”
Minorities. Still when turning the spotlight on the broad spectrum of the Army chaplaincy, two needs stand out–the woman chaplain and the minority chaplain, especially the black. It’s easy for the Army to turn its head and say the responsibility is on the individual denominations to attract such chaplains. Still it is the soldier who suffers from lack of them.
It is understandable to some extent for women entering the chaplaincy–only a few are entering the ministry. It was only recently that many denominations opened the doors to ordination for them; others may never do so. Still the Army had a woman chaplain during the Civil War and at least one denomination–Christian Science–was founded by a woman.
The Catholics don’t expect women priests anytime in the foreseeable future and the Jewish faith only has one woman ordained thus far, and not in the chaplaincy. Still there are those women who are considering a military parish, unfortunately not too enthusiastically.
The story is similar with black or other minority clergymen. In most denominations their numbers are few if any and in those where number is no problem, education and enthusiasm are.
“At my convention last year (in an all-black denomination) it was stated that we have some 25,000 churches in the U.S. and in our seminaries we have roughly 1,000 young men,” says Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Edward O. White. “The Army is competing against this. Until recently I was the only chaplain from my denomination.”
“Nearly every significant fact about black community and church life represents a deterrent to recruitment on either a temporary, short-term or long-term basis,” says Dr. Charles Shelby Rooks, an executive director for the Rockefeller Foundation.
“The black chaplain in a so-called integrated Army is called upon to be available to whites as well as blacks in the worship setting and in counseling sessions–in short, in the whole of what he does in ministry. So he can’t completely identify himself with the overwhelming preoccupation and commitment of younger blacks with what is called black power and liberation.
“The chaplaincy can’t compete with the power possibilities available to a black pastor. The black pastor is not only a pastor but a community leader . . . . And the fact is that some 90 percent of black clergy in America don’t have theological degrees or even collegiate degrees.
“in addition, the overwhelming majority of black seminarians whom I know are fundamentally and primarily committed to helping change the conditions of life in the black community and to altering the powerlessness of black people. It has not yet been demonstrated to them that black chaplains can be a viable part of that struggle.”
Broad Base. The education base has been broadened. No longer is a fully accredited school necessary. Waivers can be obtained in religious groups where shortages exist. Still the problem is there.
“American educational standards have developed along the lines of what the white man wants and needs,” Chaplain Hyatt explains. “More important in my mind, church worship styles are white. We expect parishioners of minority groups to find meaningful expressions in white terms. Perhaps they don’t.
“We don’t want to practice racism. We do it unconsciously. We need to convert the institution.”
Chaplain’s Role. You could say that being a chaplain is like being an executive in a large corporation–if conferences and staff meetings, reports, workshops, program coordination, supply requisitioning, budgets and overall supervision were the whole ball of wax. Yet all those tasks barely scratch the surface.
Actually the chaplain’s primary duties fall into three categories: ministry to the individual, to the military community, and to the military system. But first and foremost the chaplain is a clergyman, a spiritual leader, a pastor.
“That term pastor. That’s what it’s all about,” says Chaplain Hyatt. “It signifies a healer of souls. I like far better the German term seelsorger–carer for souls. The care of souls is our first concern as chaplains. We have become so absorbed in crisis problems that now we need to direct our concern once again to our continuing role as pastors.”
A major part of that pastoral role, according to Chaplain Hyatt, is speaking the truth. That, he says, requires boldness, self-forgetfulness, persistence, and a willingness to be vulnerable. But will the system allow this?
“We view the Army system as our client as well as our employer,” the chief of chaplains says. “You might say we view the Army system as being a soul which needs to be watched over. It’s true the religious program is the commander’s and not our own but the commander is also our parishioner.”
The chaplain must discover where the system is hurting or hurting others, identify the problem and propose solutions.
“The church too often waits until all decisions are made and then criticizes them,” Hyatt says. “Collecting information, developing alternative courses of action, weighing them in the balance of God’s justice, love and mercy, selecting the most appropriate course and proposing and defending it to the command and assisting in its implementation are part of our responsibility as staff officers. It is what our commanders expect.”
Command Relationship. It should also be remembered that a chaplain’s advisory capacities are not limited solely to matters of a religious nature. At staff meetings policies concerning the entire command are discussed by all staff members–and that includes the chaplain.
“If a chaplain hopes to have any impact in this decision-making process,” Hyatt points out, “he must understand the pressures and demands placed on commanders, he must have gained the respect of his fellow officers, and he must be willing to take risks.”
One of the keys to a successful ministry in the military is the reciprocity of respect which a chaplain shares with his commander. Another is his ability to use his rank. Most chaplains could care less if they had rank or not. In fact, the less visible it is the more they like it–most of the time.
Rightly or wrongly, though, rank opens doors, makes some commanders more responsive, allows the chaplain to minister to fellow officers more readily, and often establishes confidence with the troubled soldier.
“A chaplain bears rank not to exercise authority but to serve his people,” says Dr. Chester A. Pennington, a former chaplain. “He bears rank for others. It is an instrument by which he not commands, but serves.
“A chaplain’s uniform . . . is no more a handicap than a civilian’s clerical collar. In both instances it all depends on how the wearer uses it.”
On the subject of rank and the uniform Chaplain Hyatt doesn’t mince words: “You don’t have to wear a uniform to be a pompous ass,” he says. “With rank you can negotiate for the soldier, tell his side of the story to the power structure as a peer of that power structure.”
Rank is just one of the resources a chaplain can use to minister to the entire command.
Reaching the Community. The soldier’s relationship with his family and others is important to the military community as a whole. And since these relationships are often placed under great stress, the chaplaincy is extending its ministry into this dimension of military life. One method being used to combat this problem is the Family Life Centers now established at four posts–Fort Dix, M.J.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; and Fort Ord, Calif.
“You don’t heal broken relationships in 15 minutes or even 4 hours,” says Chaplain (Captain) Lindell Anderson, who directs the center’s activities at Fort Campbell. “You take an hour a week until a person begins to relate again. Become their neighbor, their friend and then wait for them to come to you as they will.
“We do everything here from broadening the worlds of German and Korean wives by introducing them to new friends to helping families learn to live together again or giving teenagers the extra push they need to adjust to a new home, school or community.”
Classes at the center range from cooking and crocheting to child care and exercise. A day nursery is also available for working wives. Free for all residents, it’s operated by volunteers.
Fort Campbell’s center was opened in the summer of 1972 in Lee Village, an area which accounted for 60 percent of all the domestic disturbances on post. Located in a three-bedroom set of quarters close to the community’s center it was accessible to almost all residents of the village.
The program is one of both prevention and treatment. Working closely with center personnel are the Army Community Center, Army Health Nurse, Provost Marshal, Social Work Services, the Soldiers Service Center and a psychologist.
The chaplain also serves as the community pastor and spiritual leader. Services are held in the community school auditorium.
Since the center’s establishment there has been a dramatic decrease in the rate of disturbances and the post commander even has noted a definite improvement in the appearance of the village.
Family Enrichment. Chaplain (Captain) Gene Hanson is involved in another community project at Fort Campbell. “If any of the families on post happen to be in a financial bind, we can supply them with groceries, clothes and other items until their money problems are under control. We have a store of items donated and funds to purchase food.”
Throughout the last half of 1973 the chaplains conducted a Family Enrichment program, a model for future chaplain ministries and a service to post housing areas.
Included in the program were a marriage counseling seminar led by Chaplain (lieutenant Colonel) Richard Nybro of Fort Benning and Dr. Clint Phillips of the California Studies Center in Los Angeles; retreats for teenagers, youths in grades 4 to 6, and families and classes on Transactional Analysis led by Warren Dale of the American Institute of Family Relations, Los Angeles, Calif. Another model program was developed around the theme of communicative arts.
“This is community building,” says Chaplain Hyatt. “Bringing people together in a community to work together better and provide better interpersonal relationships. command programs must be cognizant of the religious dimension and be prepared by chaplain staff action and chapel groups to respond in helpful, personal ways. These mentioned are just a sample.”
Individual Ministries. Still, with all this responsibility, it’s the individual, one-to-one relationship that pays off in the end.
“My desire is not to fill pews in the church, to get everyone to attend services each Sunday or to have them go through a programming for religion,” says Chaplain (Major) Bernard L. Windmiller. “I just wish everyone would have a living relationship with God.”
“The chaplain has grown and developed in the areas he needs most,” says Chaplain (Captain) John M. Allen. “But the chaplain who looks down his nose from his lofty perch, educational or otherwise, is going to have problems.
“You have to be willing to walk where the soldier walks, hump the boonies with him. You have to establish an identity which is valid. To some chaplains it’s a waste of time to freeze your rear end off or to get out and get wet. But that’s what I do. I let the soldier know I’m no better than he is and being over 40 it gets mighty hard to keep up with some of these young cats.”
But how do you reach this new breed of soldier? The chaplains have a great variety of ways. One uses a coffee house ministry, another has his office in the battalion headquarters with the door always open and still another tries the service club.
“We started out in the service club some 18 months ago with a play and a discussion but since then the program has varied,” Chaplain Allen says. “We’ve had German wives sing German Christmas carols and tell of their customs, but mostly I guess it’s just “rap with chap.’ We’ve hit topics from abortion to Watergate but never limit ourselves to religious grounds, at least to start. After all, it’s pretty much a captive audience.
“I go back Sunday mornings from 9:30 to 10:30 as soon as the club opens. They have coffee time, show movies and sometimes some counseling results. It’s sort of a ministry of presence. It’s opened a lot of doors.”
And then there are the Christians On Patrol, or COPs of Fort Knox, Ky. “A lot of our best counselors come from the trainees because they’re solid Christians,” says Chaplain (Captain) Tom Bryon. “So we arm them with Bibles and devotional guides and point them in the direction of their barracks. Now we don’t want any hard sell in the barracks but there are several men who feel funny reading the Bible all by themselves, so our COPs start a small group.”
Several posts have telephone assistance programs such as H-E-L-P, where you can call in and ask about anything from the weather, a scripture verse, or an answer to loneliness and a dissuasion from suicide (See “Dial H-E-L-P,” September ’73 SOLDIERS.)
Varied Appeal. What kind of worship service appeals to the trooper in today’s Army? Some prefer a quiet liturgical service while others move right into a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, Jesus-praising, charismatic service.
For Chaplain Bryon, music is the thing. He preaches less than 10 minutes a Sunday and draws an average of 450. Of course it could be the pretty girls in the folk-rock group who come in to lead the singing. It could be, except the chaplain gave away more than 3,000 hard-backed Bibles last year alone–and without coercion. He just leaves them on a table in the back.
Many chaplains and parishioners believe there’s too much liturgy in the General Protestant Worship service, much passed along by tradition. But the fault lies, according to Chaplain Hyatt, not with the service but with the chaplain, for he is the one who designs it.
“The chaplain if he is wise at all will take into consideration who his parishioners are and will work out an order of worship suitable to their needs,” Chaplain Hyatt says. “The people are the only ones who are important, not the chaplain.”
Chaplains never compromise their faith or belief, but sometimes they must adjust their method or format to what their people need. This is especially true of the Jewish rabbis who must serve all the factions of their faith.
My training is in the Conservative group,” says Chaplain (Captain) Aaron Michelson. “There are differences in passage selection and the ratio of Hebrew to English among our groups. Basically I look at the congregation, try to figure out who is there, and tailor the service accordingly.
“I don’t feel compromised doing this. The Jewish Welfare Board has come up with acceptable standards and approaches which offer a good deal of harmony. Every once in a while there is a person who will not yield and must go to a local synagogue if possible. But then we have so much more in common than the things which divide us.”
Why Not Civilians” The question always arises, “Why not use civilian ministers? Even from the House Appropriations Committee the question comes.
“There is a very proper move on within the government to save money and the chaplaincy is as subject to manpower studies as is any other branch of the military,” says Chaplain Hyatt. “I think there should be cuts as long as they are not arbitrary without consideration to the soldier’s need.
“It’s true the civilian clergy can fill the pulpit on Sunday and in some cases offer counseling, but what of the other responsibilities? What of the times when the troops see a chaplain in the field, an integral part of the military organization he is in? Here is the man they can rub elbows with. Here is a man who can help them cope.
“Again, chaplains have traditionally helped soldiers in ways which are not thought of as spiritual. He is the man who can cut the red tape surrounding the soldier’s need for an emergency leave or a compassionate reassignment. What if the man is a conscientious objector or his pay is messed up or he has girl friend or wife problems?
“Compare the ability of the Red Cross representative to get something done with that of the chaplain. How capable then is the civilian clergy to replace the Army chaplain?
“Many times a younger soldier has said to me, ‘I wouldn’t have even told my pastor that, chaplain.’ I feel we can do the job we are doing with fewer chaplains as long as the quality remains high. But I don’t feel we can do without chaplains.”
Arthur Carl Piepkorn summed it up will in an address given during an annual chaplain training conference:
Ultimately, however, it is neither by law nor by tradition nor by the protection of the courts nor by the tolerance of the people of our nation that the chaplaincy gains its security and its real legitimacy. The only real validation of the Army chaplaincy must come from the Army chaplains themselves. It must come from the chaplains’ personal integrity, from the chaplains’ evident concern for the members of the commands to which they are assigned as individuals and from the chaplains’ genuine love for people.
The chaplaincy is secure as long as the chaplains are men of God in uniform.
Here are the actual pages from which the above article came (author’s collection):
Article and photos from Soldiers, April 1974, pages 5-12 (author’s collection).