Religion & Beliefs

The Ever-Present Chaplain

When I say chaplain, what comes to mind? Are you picturing an aging priest performing the last rites on woman in a hospital bed? That’s pretty much what my chaplain prototype has always been. Chaplains, as far as I understood, … Read More

By / March 20, 2007

When I say chaplain, what comes to mind? Are you picturing an aging priest performing the last rites on woman in a hospital bed? That’s pretty much what my chaplain prototype has always been. Chaplains, as far as I understood, were the people you prayed with when you were dying. And in that very context I know some great chaplains who do awesome work at the hospice where I volunteer. But chaplains aren’t just for people who are dying. When I lived in England there was an American couple acting as the Jewish chaplains for Oxford University, and they were fantastic. They put people up for Shabbat, hosted student parties and meals, helped plan programs and put together all kinds of Jewish learning programs. My college in Oxford, Christ Church, also had a chaplain, who was called Rev. Ralph and who always seemed really kind and sweet, but who I would never have gone to for pastoral counseling simply because the whole collar thing kind of weirded me out. I’m actually not big on pastoral counseling in general (for myself, that is), but I’m clearly in the minority, since chaplains are becoming commonplace for companies and non-religious organization. The Christian Science Monitor had a whole article about how helpful chaplains can be in a corporate setting. Apparently, when you add a chaplain to a Coca-Cola bottling plant the levels of productivity, safety, quality, profitability, and employee perspective all go through the roof. And you don’t even have to go find your own chaplain, you can contract it out to a big firm like Corporate Chaplains of America who will find you someone close-by and appropriate for your workplace. Prisons usually have a chaplaincy staff of some kind, so I guess it makes sense that the police force would have a chaplain, but I honestly never thought about it until now. When a policeman has to make a death notification in the middle of the night, I can imagine how he might want a chaplain around to talk to, and there are in fact many chaplains volunteering their time with police departments. You probably remember that a New York Fire Department chaplain was among those killed on 9/11. Those are all pretty conventional chaplaincy programs. What about a chaplain for a college sports team? When I managed the girls basketball team at my Orthodox high school we traveled with a frum woman who said tehillim on the sidelines and was generally a snooze. I think she was more of a chaperone than a chaplain, though. Some teams, though, hire their own spiritual counselors to travel with them and give guidance to players. This article about such chaplains is pretty interesting, but it seems to refer exclusively to Catholic clergy, and of course there are plenty of Jewish chaplains, although I doubt many of them are on the road with NCAA teams. So now I know that chaplains aren’t just for the dying and bereaved. It’s still not entirely clear to me what a chaplain on, say, a football team, would do all day, but I get the impression a lot of people wonder the same thing about bloggers, so maybe I should mind my own business.