Is Awareness and Appreciation for Chaplains on the Rise?

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Father Mulcahy, portrayed by William Christopher in the television series M*A*S*H, passed away at the age of 84 on the final day of 2016.

Christopher was one of the cast members of the show to remain with it through the entire eleven-year production run. His wife of nearly 60 years, Barbara, was at his side as Christopher passed from this life. The couple devoted much of their lives to care of their autistic son, Ned, and championed care and support for the developmentally disabled using his fame to champion a worthy cause.

Though the fictional character was widely criticized for his milquetoast approach to our profession, Christopher's portrayal earned respect and brought a spiritual dimension to the program which affected multitudes as they considered the reality of conflict through the cast of characters brought to life before us each week. Perhaps Father Mulcahy was there for a time such as this.

There have been times in which chaplaincy was viewed as an anomaly—a few pastors who volunteered to be with the troops during wartime; or worse, a second-class service opportunity for pastors who couldn’t make it in the real church.

Recent developments in the world of chaplaincy have encouraged a more positive image of and more interest in chaplaincy. Among those developments are:

  • news coverage of the importance of chaplains following major terrorist events like 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, and other tragic casualty events like Columbine
  • a movement toward professional training, standards and credentialing of chaplains which has made it a very specialized and credentialed practice of pastoral care
  • expanding non-military arenas in which chaplains have become accepted and expected—hospitals, hospices, prisons, police and fire departments, educational campuses, airports, professional sports franchises, workplace settings, etc.

These developments might explain the growing interest in chaplaincy among seminary students, the growing number of of chaplains in our denomination (now over 150) and others, and the younger demographics within chaplaincy.

Have you observed a greater awareness of and/or appreciation for chaplains? How have the developments listed above, or your own experience with a chaplain, influenced your view of chaplaincy?

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