What is Chaplaincy?

Chaplaincy is public ministry. A public ministry which serves others in who are in spiritual and emotional need. While each chaplain will possess their own theology and be endorsed by their specific faith tradition, chaplaincy ministry is not denominational or faith-specific.

Chaplaincy is not about converting others to the chaplain’s faith, but for the chaplain to “emotionally and spiritually connect to,” “be with,” and “serve” the other as appropriate and permitted. This often requires relationship-building and is permission-based. For example, I am a hospital chaplain. I possess the authority to walk into any room and introduce myself and speak to employees, patients, family members and physicians. But it will be the relationship, rapport and trust with others which develops beyond my initial “authority” which gives me continue permission to stay and minister.

I asked a close chaplain friend, who is of African ethnicity and trained in hospital and hospice chaplaincy, how he would answer the question, “What is chaplaincy?” Chaplain Zacarias Buhuro gave a great, succinct description:

“A Chaplain is someone in the journey with the patients and families. A Chaplain is not a fixer nor an answer giver. A Chaplain provides a unique presence to patients and families; a presence that allows them to show their deep vulnerability of being humans while facing a diagnosis that may lead to terminal illness. A Chaplain should be able to approach patients and families simultaneously with an agenda and without any agenda; an agenda to engage patients and families in distress situations or facing terminal illness and after they have been told “you have six months or less to live…” Without any agenda because a chaplain, though is a religious /spiritual representative, he or she should not assume and “bring” a God, religious and spirituality agenda to patients. God and hope are already there before the chaplain encounters patients and families.

A Chaplain is a pastoral and spiritual counselor, advocate and a guide. A chaplain should start from where the patients and families are here and now and use their religious beliefs, after an assessment, to articulate hope, despair and coping mechanism of patients and families. A Chaplain should not judge a patient’s of a family’s religious beliefs or non-beliefs, sexual orientation, race and origin; but facilitate the expression of feelings and provide active, empathetic listening to patients and families. A Chaplain should provide an assuring presence to families that may be feeling guilty that they did not do enough for their loved ones or allow patients to die while assuring them that their loved ones will be “ok” and that it is “ok” to die. A Chaplain has to be comfortable to talk about death and dying while some families and patients may be reluctant to touch the “elephant in the room”- Death. A Chaplain is a liaison with local churches, synagogues and mosques. Ultimately, a Chaplain should be open minded, flexible, cross culturally sensitive and understanding.”

I believe Chaplain Zac has an excellent grasp on what chaplaincy is to him and should be to others. Maybe you agree as well?

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