Chaplaincy Course Essay
By Michael L Disney
First I'd like to begin my final essay with a brief Introduction and/or background to my 'calling', which wasn't to be a Chaplain – or at least so I thought at the time. My spiritual journey began as a young child with parents concerned enough for the spiritual well-being of us two boys (me and my brother) that they often took us to churches to attend Sunday schools (that were age-based for our ages). I didn't think much of it at the time, but our parents didn't stay for Sunday school classes themselves, or for church services. I questioned it later on, but at the time, I enjoyed the Bible stories and 'refreshments' and meeting new friends my own age. However, being from military family, we moved a lot and so our churches (the on-base chapels for the most part) were not permanent fixtures in my life. I always knew the minister at these base chapels were called "Chaplains", but always figured it was mostly a "military title" or designation.
When I was a teenager, dad retired from the Air Force and we "retired" to a small town in North San Diego County in California. One afternoon, an older guy stopped by our house and introduced himself as 'Chappie', a retired Air Force Chaplain who stopped by to visit a 'fellow Air Force retiree' who he heard had just moved into the neighborhood – and of course, it was an instant 'brother in arms' kind of bonding, both having retired from the same branch of service. He was quite cordial, friendly and warm and didn't linger around trying to talk for hours on end – and he simply and quietly wanted to invite us to his local Baptist church the next Sunday, as his guest. We attended and as it turned out, my brother and I became very active in their youth ministries (whereas my parents attended semi-regularly). I was about 13 yrs old at the time.
On January 8th, 1967, the day I attribute my spiritual 're-birth', I fully realize that this one-time visit, from a retired Air Force Chaplain, ultimately lead to my becoming 'born again'. So from practically the beginning of my young memory, God has used Chaplains to be very instrumental in paving the way of my spiritual journey. If I become fortunate enough to be called "Chappie" one day, I would feel He would have brought me full circle. While God's Word is a Lamp unto my Feet, I now feel that the Lamp was being "kept" (held) by a Chaplain at key points in my life! Which leads me to my next section in the essay … what did I learn from this course.
Immediately, I learned that the word Chaplain comes from the Christian tradition and the word 'capella' or cloak was a type of garment that was shared by St Martin with a person in need; over time this 'cloak' became a 'relic' and relics and sacred things were kept in "chapels"; and those who ministered in chapels were seen as "keepers of that which is Sacred". This is so true and I lived this reality for all those teenage (& following) years … but never knew what it MEANT! Coming from a military family, Chaplains, as a title, is a house-hold word – but we always knew the Chaplain was the 'keeper of the Sacred'. This course pulled that all together into a clear and cohesive concept – now it seems so 'obvious'!
What was especially helpful was the section on "the Call". There are so many times when doubt and discouragement raise their ugly heads to make you call into question, the very idea that God would even care to "call me" into a ministry. The review of how many other spiritual 'pillars' found in the Bible were 'called' and 'set apart' for their ministry, really helped to drill home the point that a calling isn't always just a one-time event, but that a lifetime of ministry is being 'called' into action as well. Knowing that you know, deep inside that I am here to minister to others IS clear – but it is also "quiet". It's a 'calm assurance' inside and not some loud banging, disturbing, saber-rattling noise. This lesson was a 're-affirmation' of the call I believe I received while in college as well as a re-FOCUS on the calling being a lifetime path to follow. The call being so "quiet" at times, I have drifted away from ministry – this course has helped re-establish the 'call'.
Another help was in the area of 'crises counseling' and that a "touch" is probably the most powerful comfort 'tool' we have – to connect with a grieving person and to establish the human 'touch', drives home the idea of 'suffering together'. While the loss is their direct and personal loss (2 co-worker's husbands died unexpectedly in the past 90 days) and was able to put this "to the test" immediately. And that you don't have to have a bunch of words to say, or Bible verses to quote or anything else – just a silent presence with an occasional touch speaks so much more to the heart!
A solid concept – being accountable – was another excellent area to review from Chapter 13 – "Traps to Avoid". Too often there's the false sense of security and/or protection that being a "keeper of the sacred" that the "carnal nature" will be forced to submit to His Holiness and His Way of thinking. So that chapter was a good review that we are all human and 'fall short of the glory of God' and to be ever vigilant of the traps that are always out there.
I'm not sure what more could be done to "improve" the course – as from my perspective, I simply don't have the background and/or experience to know what might be "missing" or taught differently! I am still at the novice level of "Chaplaincy", but not novice at being a minister. Perhaps an additional section or chapter might expound on the typical "duties" a Chaplain is often called upon to perform (I know many Pastors are asked to conduct weddings, funerals, visitation, etc) but I'm not sure CHAPLAINS are asked to do the same things. So a review of a basic wedding ceremony, or funeral ceremony or baptism or other similar duty or function might be useful (even though those topics WERE discussed, perhaps just a little more insight into the planning and coordination; even a sample service/sermon/presentation might have been helpful). Or even as the area of preparations for ministry (e.g, the Tollbox Chapter) was quite helpful, maybe some additional insights into various administrative reports for those to whom the Chaplain reports to, would be nice. I felt the 20 lessons for the course covered a wide-spectrum of areas to discover and as such, was quite effective in opening up the 'Chaplain's World' to us students who wish to pursue a Chaplaincy ministry.
What I plan to accomplish following this training is to first, seek out local opportunities to become a "Chaplain Intern" and to work with an established Chaplaincy ministry and be able to offer additional support help and the chance to apply what's I've read and studied about and will learn 'on the job', lessons from real life, real ministry, ministering to real needs. I mentioned earlier that I had a 'calling' back in College and soon thereafter I served in a local church in a full time ministry position (Associate Pastor/Minister of Education) for 2 years as well earning a Master's Degree in Ministries (Christian Education and Counseling). After my 'interning' is complete, I then plan to seek part-time or possibly a full-time local Chaplain position. It is possible that I'll be retiring from my 'secular career' in 2 – 3 years and so continuing to contribute to my community in a ministerial way as a Chaplain would be the ideal situation for me. Putting all these 'pieces' together would be re-focusing on my ministry as I approach those 'golden years' into retirement and being able to leverage my earlier experience and education with more current education and experience and to be a useful vessel unto the Lord as a Chaplain.
Rev. Michael Disney
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