What You Need to Know
In the last decade there have been a growing number of chaplain positions and in a growing number of organizations.
Chaplains are in charge of the religious education, programs, and needs of the institution that hires them, no matter what faith the client practices. While chaplains do not have to be Christian to obtain these positions, most people who do hold these positions are Christian. Organizations that hire chaplains include military units (the person must be a member of that arm of the military), government entities such as police and fire departments, prisons, and hospitals.
Some corporations and businesses also hire chaplains to assist employees that do not have a religious home with faith-based struggles. If you naturally reach out to others during emergencies or crises or feel the desire to help others strengthen their faith, becoming a chaplain could be a great career choice for you.
Chaplains minister to the religious needs of the staff members of the organization, as well as the people it serves. In most cases, when a person requests religious assistance, the chaplain first seeks to call the person's own priest, rabbi, pastor, etc. If the person does not have one, the chaplain will work with the person to assist him or her. Chaplains in prisons hold regular worship services for the prisoners. Chaplains in healthcare organizations are expected to make the rounds of the organization and provide pastoral care to the patients and their families. Chaplains at these organizations also provide crisis counseling to patients, their families, and staff members. They work with local clergy to provide the faith-based services their population needs. Chaplains of businesses, government branches and agencies, and prisons provide many of the same services. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the growing number of organizations hiring chaplains, it did not project a percentage of overall growth for this career.
Chaplain Training Requirements
The educational requirements for chaplains depend on the job and the organization it serves.
Many chaplaincy jobs require the person to be ordained, which means he or she has completed a rigorous program designed by a specific denomination that includes a combination of spiritual discernment, counseling, training, and experience leading worship services. In some cases, ordination is required before a person can provide the sacraments or communion to worshipers. To become ordained a person needs to follow the same educational requirements as clergy members, attending a Christian university or seminary, and going through the process mandated by his or her specific denomination. In some cases there will be differences in the education and process for chaplains than clergy, while in other cases there will not.
To know whether the job you are interested in requires ordination, ask the person currently performing those duties, or the human resources department of the organization.
As mentioned, chaplains in the military are usually already members of a particular branch of the military, whether that is the Army, Navy, U.S. Marines, National Guard, etc, or must become members. In addition, the person may also need to be ordained, or have a master's degree in divinity. The National Guard and Reserves do not require that their chaplains be ordained, while all other branches do. The branches of the military offer Chaplain Candidate programs that can be completed while the person is working on his or her master's degree. Some positions also require a minimum of two years of experience as a member of clergy.
For chaplains in businesses and other less traditional places, ordination is not usually a requirement. There are chaplaincy training programs available for those who do not wish to acquire an advanced degree. However, not pursuing an advanced degree will limit the jobs available to you.