Robert Crick, in a recent book (2011) regarding the history and nature of chaplaincy argues that since fewer individuals are choosing to be regular church members, chaplaincy is growing in importance because it places ordained individuals and pastoral ministry in the heart of the everyday world. “...chaplaincy presents a model that goes where the people are, asks permission to enter into their crisis, listens to their needs, and then, together with the care recipients, works toward resolving the present crisis through an understanding of it in its context.” (Outside the Gates, p. 112) The significance of this opportunity, Crick argues, “...has been largely overlooked by the church. However, society is growing in its recognition of the need for spiritual care in a variety of secular and pluralistic settings” (p. 53).
Could this be part of the reason why a growing number of individuals are approaching the Office of Chaplaincy and Care to inquire about being trained as or endorsed as a chaplain? We currently have a list of over 40 individuals who fit this description and we are processing endorsements at the rate of more than one per month.
There are certainly other factors that feed into this equation: more growth in ordinations than in parish positions, perceived lack of excitement or success in parish ministry, clearer role and boundary definitions in chaplaincy, and sometimes better compensation and/or recognition. These are individual motivators.
But the reason that the broader church may need to focus more attention on chaplaincy is that it may present one of the best avenues through which to reach into and influence the secular and increasingly institutionalized world around us. Chaplains are welcomed and even paid to be present in the context of prisons, hospitals, hospices, long term care centers, military populations, workplaces, etc. They intersect with individuals and families at the most critical times when life is most challenging.
Could the church find ways to capitalize on this amazing opportunity to touch individuals and influence the shape of society--especially since it costs very little? Could we celebrate it more or promote it better as an exciting ministry option? Should we have courses devoted to it at the seminary?