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Chaplain facts for kids

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Military chaplain
A US Navy chaplain in Iraq studies his Bible for an upcoming service
Four Chaplains glass1
'Four Chaplains' stained glass window, U.S. Pentagon

A chaplain is typically a priest, pastor, ordained deacon or other member of the clergy. They usually serve a group of people who are not organized as a mission or church, or who are unable to attend church for many reasons, such as poor health, confinement, or military or civil duties.

Types of chaplaincies


School chaplains are a fixture in religious and, more recently, secular schools. In religious schools the role of the chaplain tends to be educational and liturgical. In secular schools the role of the chaplain tends to be that of a mentor and a provider of pastoral care services. Chaplains provide care for students by supporting them during times of crisis or need. Many chaplains run programs to promote the welfare of students, staff and parents including programs to help students deal with grief, anger or depression. Chaplains also build relationships with students by participating in extracurricular activities such as breakfast programs, lunchtime groups and sports groups. School chaplains can also liaise with external organisations providing support services for the school. With stagnant incomes and rising prices putting pressure on independent school budgets, cutting the post of school chaplain can seem an "easy" saving. Many schools now have pupil support departments with several mentors whose jobs are to look out for the pupils and always be there to help but they give no religious or spiritual guidance because of multiculturalism and diverse opinions on religion and beliefs.

In Australia chaplains in state schools have, controversially, been funded by the federal government and local communities since 2007. Australian chaplains assist school communities to support the spiritual, social, and emotional well-being of their students. Chaplaincy services are provided by non denominational companies. As of August 2013 there are 2339 chaplains working in Australian secular schools, along with 512 student welfare workers. Australian Schools will lose the option of appointing secular social workers under the national school chaplaincy program, for which the Abbott government has found an extra $245m in the 2014 budget funding.

Similarly, in Scotland the focus of school chaplaincy is on welfare and building positive relationships joining students on excursions and sharing meals. Chaplains are also non-denominational and act as a link between the school community and society. Like Australian chaplains it is expected that they will not proselytise. In Ireland chaplaincy takes a very different approach in which chaplains are expected to teach up to four hours of class instruction per week and are usually Catholic. Chaplaincy duties include visiting homes, religious services, retreats and celebrations, as well as counselling.

For higher education, chaplains are appointed by many colleges and universities, sometimes working directly for the institution, and sometimes as representatives of separate organizations that specifically work to support students, such as Hillel International for Jews or the Newman Centers for Catholics. In the United States, the National Association of College and University Chaplains works to support the efforts of many of these chaplains, helping chaplains minister to the individual faith of students, faculty, and staff, while promoting inter-religious understanding. Chaplains often also oversee programs on campus that foster spiritual, ethical, religious, and political and cultural exchange, and the promotion of service. Each day communities respond to numerous disasters or emergencies. Most often, these incidents are managed effectively at the local level. However, there are some incidents that may require a collaborative approach that includes personnel from: 1. Multiple jurisdictions, 2. A combination of specialties or disciplines, 3. Several levels of government, 4. Non-governmental organizations, and 5. The private sector. Chaplain Fellowship Disaster Response certifies first responder chaplain for crisis and disaster response.

Fire departments

Chaplains working with fire departments provide the same kind of support as do chaplains working with law enforcement, and sometimes face even greater danger, working with the wounded in often very dangerous surroundings.

At the scene of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, for example, New York City Fire Department Chaplain Fr. Mychal F. Judge was killed by flying debris from the South Tower when he re-entered the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, shortly after administering last rites to a wounded firefighter.


Environmental chaplaincy is an emerging field within chaplaincy. Environmental chaplains (also known as eco-chaplains, Earth chaplains, nature chaplains) provide spiritual care in a way that honors humanity's deep connection to the earth. Environmental chaplains hold many roles. They may support people working on the frontlines of issues like climate change or other environmental issues or they may support people impacted by industrial or other disasters by providing pastoral care, presence, and rituals. Environmental chaplains may also bear witness to the Earth itself and represent the merging of science and spirituality. Their role can be to "usher in a new conscience and consciousness to find contentment, the appreciation of inner riches over outer wealth, quality over quantity" using universally appreciated values, such as honesty and vision. Sarah Vekasi created a vision of eco-chaplaincy inspired by Joanna Macy's The Work that Reconnects, and saw eco-chaplaincy as a path to facilitating the "Great Turning," which is described as the turning away from a business-as-usual way of being and turning toward a life-sustaining way that protects people and the planet

Health care

Many hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospices employ chaplains to assist with the spiritual, religious, and emotional needs of patients, families and staff. Chaplains are often employed at residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFE) and skilled nursing facilities (SNF) as well. Chaplains care for people of all faiths. In mental health work, chaplains are highly skilled at working with other therapists as part of a multi-disciplinary team, especially where the patient's mental ill-health is associated with their religiosity, or where their mental well-being can be aided by spiritual care.

In the United States, health care chaplains who are board-certified have completed a minimum of four units of Clinical Pastoral Education training through The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association, The Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training,; or The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy and may be certified by one of the following organizations: The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, The Association of Professional Chaplains, The National Association of Catholic Chaplains, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (formerly The National Association of Jewish Chaplains), The Association of Certified Christian Chaplains, or The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Certification typically requires a Masters of Divinity degree (or its equivalent), faith group ordination or commissioning, faith group endorsement, and four units (1600 hours) of Clinical Pastoral Education (the Military Chaplains Association of the United States of America does require more, but they are a dod2088 501c-3 military support group founded in 1954 by Military Chaplains).

In Canada, health care chaplains may be certified by the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care.

In the UK, health care chaplains are employed by their local NHS Trust (Health Boards in Scotland and Wales) or by charities associated with hospice. The NHS in England publishes guidance on good practice in chaplaincy care. Many work part-time, combining their role with another post, either in a local faith community or another chaplaincy, and some are honorary (unpaid). The professional body in England and Wales is the College of Health Care Chaplains. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the bodies are the Scottish Association of Chaplains in Healthcare (SACH) and the Northern Ireland Healthcare Chaplains Association. Membership of the College of Health Care Chaplains is not compulsory but may be advantageous as it carries with it membership of a Trade Union. Chaplains working in a palliative care setting may also choose to join the Association of Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplains.

Within the UK there is also the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy (UKBHC) which has been set up in order to regulate the ministry and professional practice of health care chaplains. They publish a code of conduct which all registered chaplains are bound to abide by. The UKBHC is applying to the Professional Standards Authority to be an accredited register of healthcare chaplains to demonstrate it meets the Authority's high standards in areas such as governance and training.

Peer-reviewed journals that publish scholarly articles and research on healthcare chaplaincy include the Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, and Health and Social Care Chaplaincy.

Law enforcement

Law enforcement chaplains work with local, county, state, and federal law enforcement and provide a variety of services within the law enforcement community. They should not be confused with prison chaplains, whose primary ministry is to those who are incarcerated either awaiting trial or after conviction. The role of the law enforcement chaplain deals primarily with law enforcement personnel and agencies. The chaplain responds to these unique needs and challenges with religious guidance, reassuring and trustworthy presence, resources and counseling services. The law enforcement chaplain offers support to law enforcement officers, administrators, support staff, victims and their families, and occasionally even the families of accused or convicted offenders. Law enforcement chaplaincy is a ministry of presence and must have the proper training if they are working with law enforcement officers. Some ministries such as Chaplain Fellowship Ministries requires LEO chaplains to be certified in Public Safety Chaplaincy before becoming certified as a LEO chaplain.


Military chaplains provide pastoral, spiritual and emotional support for service personnel, including the conduct of religious services at sea, on bases or in the field. Military chaplains have a long history; the first English military-oriented chaplains, for instance, were priests on board proto-naval vessels during the 8th century. Land-based chaplains appeared during the reign of King Edward I. The current form of military chaplain dates from the era of the First World War.

Chaplains are nominated, appointed, or commissioned in different ways in different countries. A military chaplain can be an army-trained soldier with additional theological training or an ordained person nominated to the army by religious authorities. In the United Kingdom the Ministry of Defence employs chaplains but their authority comes from their sending church. Royal Navy chaplains undertake a 16-week bespoke induction and training course including a short course at Britannia Royal Naval College and specialist fleet time at sea alongside a more experienced chaplain. Naval chaplains called to service with the Royal Marines undertake a grueling five-month-long Commando Course and, if successful, wear the commandos' Green Beret. British Army chaplains undertake seven weeks training at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport House and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Royal Air Force chaplains must complete a 12-week Specialist Entrant course at the RAF College Cranwell followed by the Chaplains' Induction Course at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport House of a further two weeks. The United States Navy will often give chaplain training to cadets seeking a theological route in the military. Additionally, they are granted instant employment as a Navy chaplain once ordained. Additionally, in the United States military, chaplains must be endorsed by their religious affiliation in order to serve in any facet of the military. In some cases, like that of the U.S. Navy, a Religious Program Specialist may be appointed to help alleviate some of the duties bestowed upon Naval chaplains.

Unifil catholic mass
French soldiers of the UNIFIL attending a Catholic Mass in Lebanon
Resnicoff BeirutKippa
Jewish chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff wears a kippah/yarmulke made from a piece of a Catholic chaplain's camouflage uniform after his own head covering had become bloodied when it was used to wipe the face of a wounded marine during the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.

Military chaplains are normally accorded officer status, although Sierra Leone had a Naval Lance Corporal chaplain in 2001. In most navies, their badges and insignia do not differentiate their levels of responsibility and status. By contrast, in air forces and armies, they typically carry ranks and are differentiated by crosses or other equivalent religious insignia. However, United States military chaplains in every branch carry both rank and Chaplain Corps insignia.

Though the Geneva Conventions does not state whether chaplains may bear arms, they specify (Protocol I, June 8, 1977, Art 43.2) that chaplains are non-combatants. In recent times both the UK and US have required chaplains, but not medical personnel, to be unarmed. Other nations, notably Norway, Denmark and Sweden, make it an issue of individual conscience. Captured chaplains are not considered Prisoners of War (Third Convention, August 12, 1949, Chapter IV Art 33) and must be returned to their home nation unless retained to minister to prisoners of war.

Military chaplain
A U.S. Navy chaplain in Iraq studies his Bible for an upcoming service.


Dan Coughlin retires
House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi present a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to Fr. Daniel Coughlin in recognition for his 11 years of service as Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, April 2011

Some nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have chaplains appointed to work with parliamentary bodies, such as the Chaplain of the United States Senate, the Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, and Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. In addition to opening proceedings with prayer, these chaplains provide pastoral counseling to congressional members, their staffs, and their families; coordinate the scheduling of guest chaplains, who offer opening prayers; arrange and sometimes conduct marriages, memorial services, and funeral services for congress, staff, and their families; and conduct or coordinate religious services, study groups, prayer meetings, holiday programs, and religious education programs, as well.


Prison chaplains can be a "safety valve, through listening and pro-social intervention" in potentially explosive situations. They also reduce recidivism by linking offenders to positive community resources, and in the work they do to help offenders change their hearts, minds and directions.


A sports chaplain provides pastoral care for the sports person and the broader sports community including the coach, administrators and their families.

Chaplains to sports communities have existed since the middle of the 20th century and have significantly grown in the past 20 years. The United States, United Kingdom and Australia have well established Christian sports chaplaincy ministries.

Sports chaplains consist of people from many different walks of life. Most commonly, the chaplains are ministers or full-time Christian workers but occasionally, chaplaincy work is done without charge or any financial remuneration. Often, sports chaplains to a particular sport are former participants of that sport. This helps the chaplain to not only provide spiritual support and guidance to a player, but also to give them the ability to empathize and relate to some of the challenges facing the participant with whom they are ministering.


Veterinary chaplains serve people and their animals, ministering with regards to the spirituality associated with animals and their connections with humans. A major function is grief support and prayer. Other services include hospice support while animals are cared for near the end of their lives; support in animal health crises, including at the veterinary hospital; conducting services for animal blessings, naming/adopting ceremonies, and end of life celebration ceremonies. Veterinary chaplains may also offer sermons and spiritual guidance on the human/animal bond and our responsibilities toward animals; and some may visit nursing homes and hospitals with therapeutic animal assistants. Other veterinary chaplains may provide blessings for animal care workers; assist with human/animal communication; and offer alternative healing for animals such as animal Reiki or acupuncture. Reiki.

The Emerson Theological Institute, headquartered in Oakhurst, California, and working within the New Thought spiritual approach, offers degree programs up to the doctorate level in Humane Religious Studies, the cornerstone of which is a veterinary chaplain program. The Animal Ministry Institute (AMI), run by the Rev. Paula T. Webb, also offers an online chaplain program for continuing education but without college credit. A less formal online certificate program is offered by the Rev. Karen j Kobrin Cohen, a veterinary chaplain based in Florida.


A colonial chaplain was appointed to a colony. The term is commonly used to refer to the chaplain appointed as a non-military chaplain to one of the Crown Colonies from the late 18th century or early 19th century. Richard Johnson (1756–1827) was the first colonial chaplain appointed to the new prison colony at New South Wales in 1786.


Some businesses, large or small, employ chaplains for their staff and/or clientele. Services provided may include employee assistance and counseling services; wellness seminars; conflict management and mediation; leadership and management development; and trauma/serious incident response. In 2007, 4,000 corporate chaplains were reported to be working in the U.S., with the majority being employees of specialist chaplaincy companies such as Marketplace Chaplains USA and Corporate Chaplains of America. In 2014, Marketplace Chaplains USA reported employing over 2,800 chaplains in 44 states and over 960 cities. The organization added an international arm in 2006; Marketplace Chaplains International serves Canada, the U.K., Mexico and Puerto Rico. Capellania Empresarial provides corporate chaplaincy services in Paraguay. Chaplains without Borders has been providing corporate and other chaplaincy services in Australia since 2005.


Working on board cruise ships, cruise chaplains play a vital role in providing pastoral and spiritual support to both passengers and crew members. With the co-operation of cruise companies, chaplains normally stay on board for the specific duration of a cruise. Catholic seafarers' charity Apostleship of the Sea currently deploys chaplains on board P&O Cruises and Cunard Line ships during the Christmas and Easter periods. While ministering to passengers are part of Apostleship of the Sea's chaplains role, their main focus is the welfare of the crew, who can often spend many months at sea away from home.


A domestic chaplain was a chaplain attached to a noble household in order to grant the family a degree of self-sufficiency in religion. The chaplain was freed from any obligation to reside in a particular place so could travel with the family, internationally if necessary, and minister to their spiritual needs. Further, the family could appoint a chaplain who reflected their own doctrinal views. Domestic chaplains performed family christenings, funerals and weddings and were able to conduct services in the family's private chapel, excusing the nobility from attending public worship.

In feudal times most laymen, and for centuries even most noblemen, were poorly educated and the chaplain would also be an important source of scholarship in the household, tutoring children and providing counsel to the family on matters broader than religion. Before the advent of the legal profession, modern bureaucracy and civil service, the literate clergy were often employed as secretarial staff, as in a chancery. Hence the term clerk, derived from Latin clericus (clergyman). This made them very influential in temporal affairs. There was also a moral impact since they heard the confessions of the elite.

The domestic chaplain was an important part of the life of the peerage in England from the reign of Henry VIII to the middle of the 19th century. Up until 1840, Anglican domestic chaplains were regulated by law and enjoyed the substantial financial advantage of being able to purchase a license to hold two benefices simultaneously while residing in neither.

Many monarchies and major noble houses had, or still have, several domestic or private chaplains as part of their Ecclesiastical Household, either following them or attached to a castle or other residence. Queen Elizabeth II has 36 Anglican chaplains, in addition to chaplains extraordinary and honorary chaplains appointed to minister to her. Castles with attached chaplains generally had at least one Chapel Royal, sometimes as significant as a cathedral. A modern example is St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, also the home of the Order of the Garter.


Chaplain Office York Railway Station
Chaplain’s Office, York railway station

There are also chaplains to private clubs, television or radio stations, family, community teams, groups such as Boys and Girls Brigade companies and Scout troops, airports, cruise ships, nightclubs, and theaters.

The term can also refer to priests attached to Roman Catholic convents. There is also the position of Chaplain of His Holiness, a title granted by the Pope to certain priests who become part of the Papal Household and work with the Papal Chapel. Prior to 1968 they were called Supernumerary Privy Chamberlains.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Capellán para niños

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