Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries

The 1 983 Annual Council created Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) with a mandate to coordinate placing Adventist chaplains in government and private institutions. Former MINISTRY executive editor B. Russell Holt interviewed Charles D. Martin, director of ACM, and his associate, James H. Harris, both of whom have served with the National Service Organisation at various levels since the 1950s, to find out how the new organization can serve ministers who have an interest in chaplaincy.

Charles D. Martin is director of ACM
James H. Harris is associate director of ACM


Ministry: What is Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM)—how did it come to be, what is it all about?

Martin: The Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries came into being at the 1983 Annual Council. The council mandated ACM as "an umbrella-type chaplaincy organization" "to incorporate the present functions and services of the National Service Organization (NSO)" and to coordinate "chaplaincy services for the NSO, military/VA, health-care institutions, prisons, campuses, and other related areas served by chaplains both in and beyond the Seventh-day Adventist Church."

That's the overall description of the program. We have men and women who are serving in the chaplaincy in various areas, and the church's purpose, I believe, is to try to pull this group together, coordinate their program, and provide a clearinghouse that can strengthen the operation.

Ministry: The National Service Organization has been operating a chaplaincy program for a number of years in our church. How does the ACM differ from what we have been doing in the past?

Harris: We began by working with the military chaplaincy program, and later on we got into the Veterans Administration chaplaincy; but more recently the church has become aware of many other openings. The ACM will include the NSO work of helping prepare Adventist youth for the draft, and assisting Adventists in the military with Sabbath problems and related noncombatancy difficulties. And it will also broaden out to other types of chaplaincies.

Ministry: What other types of chaplaincies are you thinking of?

Martin: There is a tremendous potential for expansion. We have just touched the surface. For instance, in 1982 there were 7,169 health-care institutions in the United States and adjoining territories. Adventists operate 99 hospitals—a little more than 1 percent of the hospitals in the United States. So far we have seven chaplains in non-Adventist hospitals.

Ministry: We have only seven chaplains in non-Adventist hospitals?

Martin: Yes, so far we have only one chaplain in a State hospital, and six others in general or community hospitals.

Then there are prisons. We have only three Adventist prison chaplains— Walter Horton, who serves full-time in Ionia, Michigan, and two others serving nearly full-time in two other States.

There are 456 State correctional institutions and forty-three Federal institutions, and nearly every one has a chaplain. Add to that the county and city jails that have part-time or full-time chaplains, and you can see that this is a tremendous field that we have hardly touched. We feel that there is great room for expansion. We have contacted fifty State correctional institutions, letting them know about our organization, and we have had nearly forty responses already. They have been very positive and they will let us know when chaplaincy openings develop.

Another little-known area is the many chaplaincies available in industry and business.

Ministry: This is an area that most of us don't think about the chaplain in industry. Maybe you could explain this role a bit.

Harris: Certain industries have a chap lain on their staff to help with counseling, to assist with morale building and with family problems, and to provide other services, enabling workers to increase production.

Ministry: How would you rate our church in relation to other churches in terms of the emphasis that we place on chaplaincy and the, organization that we have are other churches ahead of us, or is this a neglected area all around?

Harris: As for the military, we are doing well in relation to the size of our church. At the present time we have thirty-six chaplains in the military, which more than fills our quota.

When it comes to prisons and non- Adventist hospitals, we are way behind and are just now trying to catch up. In industrial openings we are certainly way behind—we have none.

Ministry: I understand that in recent years there has been some difficulty in placing all the ministerial graduates from our colleges in pastorates. Do you see the chaplaincy as one way of utilising the commitment and the calling that these individuals have, in ways that would not be economically draining on the denomination? Are these young graduates qualified to be chaplains'! Or do these institutions want someone with experience?

Martin: We feel that there is a tremendous reservoir of talent lying dormant in the church. Many people have gone through seminary and have Master of Divinity degrees, but they are not utilizing that training or their calling. We have not touched this potential. We believe that in these areas, many ordained ministers can readily serve the church in settings apart from the church.

Economically, solving the problem can work two ways. If we take into the chaplaincy work a group of older, experienced men who are ordained, we would open some pastoral budgets for seminary students to fill. On the other hand, we could develop a program with the conferences whereby someone who wants to be a chaplain serves the conference and gains pastoral experience until ordination, then goes into a chaplaincy. The difficulty there is that the more experience a person has as a pastor, the better chaplain he makes. We need to find a balance of youth and experience. We have to have high quality people to fill these positions. We don't want the chaplaincy to become a dumping ground for dissatisfied pastors.

Our hospital chaplains are dedicated workers doing an excellent job. Right now we feel that we have the strongest group of military chaplains that we have ever had—soul winners, personal workers with a real pastoral instinct— and we want to keep that type. We want to take pastors with a concern for prisoners, the military, or hospital patients and channel them into this type of ministry.

I have always felt that pastors, evangelists, and teachers are called to their specific ministries. I believe that the Lord will call people to prison and institutional ministries that heretofore have not been open to them. Once it becomes known that there are openings in these areas, I believe that the Lord will call talented people to fill these needs.

We have a pastor whose church is near the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. He has worked into the prison with Bible classes. He called me recently and told me that he was having another baptism. The military people have asked him to extend his visits, to increase them, and he has an open door to that prison. I told him that he should think about going into the prison ministry, but he just laughed and said that he thought that he was too old. Here is a case of a man who has a real burden and a real skill. Others who are younger and have the same interest could qualify and go into the prison system.

Ministry: How will ACM be able to expand? How can it recruit and screen new chaplains?

Martin: We would hope that through MINISTRY we can alert the workers and ministers to the available openings. We had a letter from Ohio some time ago saying that some openings were developing. Now if we had a group who, ahead of time, had expressed an interest in the prison chaplaincy, we could have had them already screened and could have contacted them to see if they were interested. So through MINISTRY and possibly through the union papers we could occasionally let some word be sent out regarding this.

Ministry: This is really like a new daylinking workers with needs. We have always done this on more of a word of mouth, who'knows'whom basis, but this is a real effort to prepare a group of workers for a specialized task and to match them with those roles when positions become available.

Martin: Of course, this may be some time yet, but I can envision keeping in our computer a record of workers who have an interest in a certain type of chaplaincy. Then as openings develop, they could be notified.

I don't think that we are going to be looked at as a placement agency. We will be more of a clearinghouse, letting folk know what is available, offering able openings to those interested.

Ministry: What sort of screening do you do on those who are interested in chaplaincy?

Martin: We have the individual fill out an application form and send it to our office. The form includes a list of references. We contact his conference president and get approval and then we send out evaluation forms to the references. Then we summarize these and take them to the ACM Committee. (Military chaplaincy applications will continue to be screened by the NSO Committee.) In addition an ACM staff member makes a personal visit to the husband and wife in the home.

Ministry: You take a careful look at these individuals.

Harris: A very careful look. We want the best quality possible to represent the church in these institutions. Once the ACM Committee has taken action, the name goes to the General Conference Committee for approval.

Ministry: What opportunities do chaplaincies offer for women?

Martin: As far as the military is concerned, ordination is required; consequently Adventist women cannot be included as yet. There are excellent opportunities in the hospital chaplaincy service, however. Among the women who have finished their ministerial training at Andrews University, several have become hospital chaplains.

Ministry: Is there any thought being given to some sort of classification short of ordination that gives ecclesiastical recognition that might satisfy some of these requirements?

Martin: Yes, provision has been made to supply commissioned minister credentials to those who qualify and are in such work as associates for pastoral care, hospital chaplains, and others.

Further, for women with ministerial training who wish to enter the chaplaincy and who have been screened, the ACM provides a letter of endorsement that has been accepted by hospitals requiring ecclesiastical recognition of some type.

Ministry: But this still is not adequate to get them into the military chaplaincy?

Martin: This is correct. Full ordination is required.

Ministry: But if a young lady feels that God has called her to this type of work, there are ways that she can find fulfillment, maybe not in all areas yet, but she shouldn't be discouraged from pursuing some form of ministry.

Martin: I feel that as we get further into this program, we are going to find other hospitals that will recognize this type of credential, perhaps some prisons, too. This will provide new opportunities for women to serve as chaplains.

Ministry: You mentioned cooperating with local conferences. How does a chaplain fit into the conference where he is assigned?

Martin: The Annual Council action indicates that those endorsed by ACM will normally continue to receive credentials from the conference. The credentialing conference will assist the ACM in monitoring the chaplain's work and strengthening his ministry as much as possible. As the church's nearest organization to the chaplain, the local conference is in an important position.

We want to develop a strong working relationship with the local conference, not to take away their best individuals, but to offer placement to those ministers who have the skill and concern for the chaplaincy ministry.

Ministry: How do you hope to overcome the idea that if a man puts his name in the hopper, perhaps his conference administration will immediately look upon him as dissatisfied in his current responsibility and simply marking time waiting for a slot?

Martin: This further emphasizes the need of a good understanding between ACM and conference administrators. We plan to make clear to all applicants just what is included—certainty or uncertainty of the opening, time frame involved, et cetera—urging them to carry on effectively the work they are presently engaged in. As time goes along, I believe, by working closely with conference leadership, we can overcome this problem.

We hope that even when a young unordained pastor expresses an interest in the chaplaincy, the conference administration will work with him. They will obtain several years of service from him before he is ordained and qualified for entrance into the chaplaincy.

As they see possibilities of an expanded chaplaincy, I believe that our conference leaders will better under stand our goals.

Ministry: And see this as an extension of pastoral ministry and a specialized form of it.

Martin: It may be that we will have to develop some new procedures to take seminarians with chaplaincy interests into conferences, permit them to do their internships and their pastoral duties, then have the opportunity to respond to chaplaincy calls as they appear. This is not going to take large numbers out of the worker group; only a small number will be involved.

Ministry: It seems that this is an opportunity for our church to have a ministerial presence beyond its organizational structure. And even from a financial standpoint it is advantageous because here are salaries that the church does not have to pay.

Martin: I hope we don't miss this point. To have Seventh-day Adventist ordained ministers serving in non- Adventist hospitals, the military, and in prisons, at no cost to the church, is an open door we should have entered more actively long ago. Many other churches are far ahead of us in this area.

Ministry: What relationship will ACM have to the professional organizations of these various chaplaincy groups?

Martin: Each of these groups is tied to its own professional organizations. For instance, consider our hospital chaplains. The Seventh-day Adventist Chaplains' Association has a very close relationship with the College of Chaplains and regularly meets with the Protestant Health and Welfare Assembly. Such activities will continue. The ACM will not change the pattern of any chaplain group, and will coordinate the various chaplaincies.

For years we have had an annual conference for military and VA chaplains. This conference has served an extremely important purpose because these men are continually with non- Adventist chaplains and military personnel. It is good for them to get together once a year and fellowship with other Seventh-day Adventists. This will continue. Plans call for such meetings to be held for the various chaplain groups each year, and then one plenary session with all of them together every quinquennium. Our next military chaplains' meeting will be at the 1985 General Conference presession, when they will meet with the World Ministers Council.

The Annual Council's provision for all chaplain groups to meet together once every five years will enable ACM to serve as a bridge. It will provide for our chaplains what their professional training elsewhere cannot.

Ministry: This is important, I think, because these men are working outside the structure of the church, as you point out, and they need that tie-in to the church structure.

Harris: I might mention too that the chaplains appreciate it when local conferences invite them to workers' meetings, camp meetings, and similar meetings. It means a great deal to meet with their own Adventist people; they are isolated out there.

Ministry: If a pastor in conference employ feels a call to chaplaincy, what steps should he take to make his interest known and to facilitate his moving into an area like this?

Martin: We suggest that the first thing he do is write to us, the Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, at the General Conference. We also suggest that he contact his president at the very beginning so that he will understand.

Ministry: So the pastor shouldn't try to go on the sly without his president knowing it, but should let him know from the beginning?

Harris: We feel that this is how ACM should operate. All involved should know what is developing. Once a man has filled out an application, been screened, and approved, we will grant an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Ministry: Will you give this endorsement before there is an actual opening, or will you hold it in abeyance until the man is actually being considered for a specific spot?

Harris: We have missed several opportunities because we had nobody to suggest. I know of at least four prison openings that we have missed like this. Looking at all the chaplaincies, we suggest that we get these people processed and have them ready.

Ministry: Carry them right up through General Conference Committee approval?

Martin: Right, so that when an opening comes, they will be prepared and we will be able to present their names to be considered.

Ministry: There are certain requisites—a person has to have certain training for the chaplaincy. What would you suggest for a pastor who has an interest in this field and who doesn't have any background or training? What basic steps should he take to prepare himself, to reach the point where he is qualified to send in an application?

Martin: Being an ordained minister is basic. He should have a Master of Divinity degree. This is required for most chaplaincies, especially military. For hospital work, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is essential, and a person should have as many quarters as possible.

Ministry: I know that Kettering Medical Center offers CPE training; it even has certain stipends available. *

Harris: Loma Linda University Medical Center and the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Hospital (VA) also have established CPE training programs. This training and the Master of Divinity degree are key factors in entering the hospital chaplaincy. The military does not require the CPE, but prisons are giving preference to men with this training.

Ministry: In summary, what do you see as the work of ACM?

Martin: It serves as an umbrella-type organization coordinating the work of the various chaplaincies of our church. As the Annual Council action states, the ACM is to "select, screen, endorse, and nurture persons in chaplaincy ministries in any organization requiring General Conference-level endorsement." And, also, to "serve as an active agent in discovering and circulating nontraditional service opportunities for ministry, and assist in filling positions according to the requirements of the employing organizations."

Ministry: It leaves the door wide open, doesn't it?

Martin: It does—it's nontraditional. There are many service opportunities. A tremendous field is open out there.

* See Shop Talk, MINISTRY, November, 1984.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Charles D. Martin is director of ACM
James H. Harris is associate director of ACM

December 1984

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