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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Master of Chaplaincy Program by Rev. Bowers

Chaplaincy Program Essay:
A Journey
A Mission
A sacred Covenant
Submitted by Rev. Tommy Bowers

Throughout our lives, most of us are nurtured in countless ways. Physically, we care for ourselves through nutrition and exercise. Mentally, we have psychiatrists who prescribe medications for various mental illnesses. However, the spiritual nature of mankind is tragically neglected by most institutions. It is a subject that has become so convoluted and intertwined with the negativity of religion that people dare not touch it.

I have learned in the course, however, that true spirituality does not necessarily require a specific belief system. Expressing spirituality can range from holding an elderly person’s hand in death, reassuring a child that all will be well just before a surgery, or being the bearer of the sad news to the family of a suddenly deceased loved one. Thus, I have discovered my countless, God-given gifts that could be cultivated and used productively as a chaplain.

The course has taught me the vast nature of opportunities for a chaplain. I always thought that chaplains were found in churches and that their jobs were limited to hospitals and funeral homes. I have unveiled a new level of knowledge through this course. A chaplaincy can be a paying job, can involve organizations and institutions ranging from counseling, if qualified, to working for a police force. Also, a chaplain can bring comfort through their sincerity and silence while in the presence of grieving individuals and families. Furthermore, I have discovered that a chaplain can bring their credentials to the table when pursuing other occupations such as marriage counseling. The possibilities are endless.

One of my greatest God-given assets that will serve my duties of chaplaincy well is my strong sensitivity to others. I can often be around a person and sense that they are struggling. Also, numerous friends and colleagues frequent me for comfort and reassurance during a personal crisis. Often, such needs are met by my being a good listener, which I’ve learned from this course is a valuable asset in itself. To pick up on other’s sensitivities avails me the opportunity for personal reflection and a greater understanding of myself which, in turn, gives me resources to offer another person. To look people directly in the eyes and hear their pain is a trait in which the chaplain need say nothing at times, as people are able to sense when they are being heard and cared about.

Furthermore, attaining my chaplaincy gives meaning to my ordination. Without a spiritual commitment, I believe that a title is simply just that. I’ve often wondered which comes first, the spirituality or the commitment to spirituality. When I became ordained, I felt blessed but confused. I wasn’t aware of what it meant to have such a spiritual title. I skimmed through the pages of the university, trying to find my way. When I found the section on chaplaincy, I sensed that I had come home.

Deciding to take this journey into chaplaincy filled me with a sense of spiritual commitment, safety, and joy. At that point, my ordination at last had heartfelt meaning to me. At long last, I found a path leading me to a place where I could help others through God’s gift of compassion offered through me. In doing so, I have learned from this course the importance in one’s continuity of spiritual practice and growth. Although a chaplaincy does not have to be based on a particular religion, spirituality is the driving force and must be nurtured.

In other cases, religion is an important factor, such as working with a church. On a personal note, I want my chaplaincy to be an all-encompassing, loving spiritual quest in which all things good are honored and respected: One’s beliefs, or lack of, do not minimize their value and thus, all people are entitled to the same love and care given by a chaplain.

On the other hand, the job of a chaplain is not necessarily one of greeting and hugs from the people in need. It is likely not uncommon for the chaplain to take the brunt of an emotional situation, such as a violent death, through the words of the grieving. That is, the chaplain may be in a position to be the receiver of harsh expressions of grief, and must be able to handle such. Although no one has to tolerate verbal abuse, I believe that a chaplain should renounce the situation, perhaps by using the prayer of St. Francis in setting self aside, bringing understanding, light, and stillness.

In such cases, I have learned that a chaplain is better off saying nothing than saying too much. Some situations arise in which no words can bring console. Thus, the chaplain must know that sometimes fewer words are better. Perhaps a brief, general but sincere sentiment such as “I will pray for you,” or “I am sorry about your loss. Please call me anytime, day or night, if I can help you in any way. Perhaps give them a business card and offer to pray with them.

If a chaplain is hired to fulfill a duty within public service, such as the police force, much prudence should be used, as their presence is to help in extenuating circumstances, ranging from crime scenes, accident scenes, and working with police officers in dealing with some of the harsh emotions that are affiliated with their jobs. As this course teaches, police officers are a tight-nit group indeed. It is difficult to break the circular bond that exists among them. The chaplain should respect the parameters but should reassure each officer, collectively or individually, that he or she is available to all officers to assist them in any way possible.

At last, my duty as a chaplain will be in a potential (not frequently) controversial area: That is the niche of paranormal investigations. Having been a member of such an organization for over a year, I have seen a great need arise among investigators. Spiritual advisors and prayers for safety and protection are all too often thrown aside, simply because the availability of such a person is nebulous. Also, many homes need blessing and deliverance prayers with a possible clergyman, or through the guidance of such.

Depending upon the type of case, the [ chaplain] is likely to have the authority to perform the house blessing and prayer without another clergy member present. Such a case would be a cleansing ritual to reinforce the purity of the home. The course has emphasized. However, a few paranormal cases would need the absolute assistant of a more experienced clergy person (in the case of demonic hauntings, assuming that such is within the chaplain’s belief system). This decision is usually made by the team leader of such groups. The best and safest rule is that the chaplain consult a higher clergyman before conducting any rituals whatsoever. The main duty of the chaplain is to oversee the spirituality of the team and to assure their safety.

Most importantly, the families that have been plagued by paranormal happenings have much tumult and chaos among them. The chaplains duty is by far greater after an investigation than during. All too often, investigators make their appearance, collect their data, take photos videos, tell the family of the findings, and leave with no explanation on follow-up or specific instructions on who to call on for spiritual guidance. In such cases, I believe that the chaplain should follow up with the families on a regular basis, offer appropriate spiritual help within the family, such as prayer and counseling (if the chaplain is trained to do so).

Some examples of appropriate actions would be to participate in guiding the family in prayer, inquiring about any further happenings, and immediately contact the group should that be the case. I realize that this area is not emphasized directly in the course, but it is a deprived need that I have noticed and have attempted to remedy with much success. Ephesians contains information about what would be considered paranormal, and could be used as a reference, in some cases, for the family.

Furthermore, spiritual warfare is extremely important and highly underemphasized whenever a team of investigators enter a dwelling. First of all, I believe that I have a spiritual obligation to my team of investigators. Having much training in this area, I emphasize the right and wrongs involved in investigating. As a chaplain, I must drive home the fact that we are not attempting to play with, challenge, or replace our faith through the paranormal. Biblically, these presences are validated, but one must also be very cautious in how far they stretch these endorsements. Also, as a ministry, I could assist my group in techniques that I am already familiar with such as various methods of meditation and pointers for prayer.

A fine line exists in which a vulnerable person could become overly obsessed, too weak from illness or mental problems to participate. I have learned the importance of the duty of having a discerning eye and a protective heart over my team. Also, the crucial nature of “armoring up” spiritually can be taught to help my members in their safety. As the ULC course emphasizes, my spirituality as a chaplain is of utmost importance as I must have it in order to give it. Also, the importance of developing a sacred place for spiritual growth, although I will not necessarily have a ministry, is vital for my team and anyone who else who wants to participate for the aforementioned reasons.

My wishes are to assist my team members, as well as any others who express a need, to discover their relationship with God. I’ve discovered through the teachings of this course that my understanding of God is vast (not narrow and exclusive) and that He is available to all of us in a way that we can understand. I’ve found this through reading the various scenarios presented in the midst of the lessons and asked myself in each case, “What, exactly, am I referring these people to when I give them the needed reassurance? Who am I referring to when I speak of the Almighty?” It was then that I discovered that my understanding of a loving God stemmed from an essential belief system which allows me to relate to Him.

This course, I believe, is not an ending but a catalyst in a whole new beginning. A title alone is simply that. The course clarifies the vague ideas that many have of a chaplaincy. It can be difficult, complex, demoralizing perhaps, and frustrating. Yet, the Almighty has called on a measure of his children to take on the humble duty of serving others in this special way where words, or lack of, may count in tough situations. The course has deemed itself beyond invaluable in explaining detailed scenarios that a chaplain might be faced with. Although I admit, I slacked on a few of the lessons, I’ve learned that we are here to commence, not to be perfect.

My beliefs are strongly centered around the idea that only two forces are at play in our consciousness, and every thought, action, idea or attitude is based on one of these traits: That is love and fear. Being on a loving path, I view the course as a stepping stone to a higher level of love and service. I would recommend that anyone who is truly dedicated to loving thoughts, actions, beliefs, and thanksgiving pursue this course as a means of learning the specifics and logistics of a chaplaincy. In fact, I am going to strongly recommend that two of my valuable team members pursue this course for their own growth and gift-giving abilities.