Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in the Twenty-First Century: An Introduction

Edited by Wendy Cadge and Shelly Rambo, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2022.

Dwayne Wilson, DMin, is a pastor and chaplain in the Washington Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and resides in Tacoma, Washington, United States.

The word chaplaincy has become more of a description of care rather than a focus on a place or building. The two words chapel and chaplaincy are practically and philosophically different. Spiritual care in the former pertains to Christian beliefs and rituals, while spiritual care in the latter provides emotional support for people from all walks of life regardless of spiritual, religious, or philosophical beliefs or practices.

As explained in the introduction of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in the Twenty-First Century, chaplaincy is tied to “the free exercise of religion, which is complicated. . . . People might be spiritual and not religious, which would be most senior leaders that I’m talking to . . . so I have to explain what chaplaincy is—that it is inextricably connected to religion, although we’re there for people regardless of whether they’re religious or not” (2).

A colleague of mine likes to say, “As chaplains, we are here for people of all faiths and for people with no faith.”1 Ministering to people of all faiths and no faith requires that the chaplain role be present in almost every facet of life and that chaplains themselves may come from any of the world’s belief systems. “Chaplains today work in a range of institutions, including airports, community settings, disaster zones, fire and police departments, higher education, healthcare, the military, prisons, ports, sports teams, the Veterans Administration, and other workplaces” (4).

During the pandemic and since, we have seen a significant increase in the work of chaplains. They run into danger while others run from danger. They face intense trauma and mass casualties and are permitted to be with loved ones during the final moments of life. They support nurses, doctors, police, and firefighters during times of fear, grief, trauma, and uncertainty. They sit with people in their pain and despair as they process emotions and thoughts, a discipline most are not prepared to do, nor do they have the time to do it. Basically, the role of the chaplain spans from before the first responder arrives until the last person leaves.

This is the basic focus of the book: to bring to the forefront the work of chaplains by naming three broad areas of competency important for all chaplains—meaning-making competencies, interpersonal competencies, and organizational competencies. From these foci, the book masterfully explores the importance of “meaning making,” namely assessing and providing presence and intervention, ultimately providing leadership, facilitation, and spiritual reflection. This spiritual reflection varies as much as the persons who are in need.

This book has also allowed me to see the two distinct differences between pastoral ministry and chaplaincy from different levels of leadership. As a chaplain, my role is to allow people to lean on their faith traditions, even if their traditions completely oppose those of my faith tradition. The role of a chaplain is to allow people to anchor themselves in their own faith tradition or belief system to help them cope during times of loss, trauma, and grief.

Chaplaincy aims to facilitate meaning within a person’s belief system, while pastoral ministry seeks to define meaning through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in addition to helping the believer cope with the various situations and emotions of life based on biblical promises.

As I reflect on the material presented in this book, I can confidently say it has been a great resource for me as a chaplain working in a hospital and as a pastor assigned to a church.

  1. Chaplain James Cornwell, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, Washington, United States.

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Dwayne Wilson, DMin, is a pastor and chaplain in the Washington Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and resides in Tacoma, Washington, United States.

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