“When you’ve seen one chaplain . . . you’ve seen one chaplain.” Many people lump chaplains into one big group and, quite honestly, don’t have a clue as to what they do or who they are. In many environments, such as the military, chaplains gain a great deal of respect. Even respect, however, can become burdensome.
The word chaplain originates from the root word, cappella, indicating a piece of music unsupported with instrumental accompaniment. In a very real sense, that definition could be applied to most professional chaplains. By the very nature of their calling and ministry, they are often left standing alone, carrying the burdens of those to whom they minister.
A chaplain friend told me that one of the loneliest times of his life was his deployment in Iraq. “I listened to their struggles and secrets during the day. Then, in the evenings when they got together just to let their hair down, I was never invited. They couldn’t imagine just having fun or relaxing with me.”
How can we best minister to those who minister as chaplains? Be their friends. Give them space for being themselves. Don’t set them apart, isolating them along with the burdens they carry for others. Support those who so faithfully support others.
Dianne Swaim has answered God’s call to serve as a hospital chaplain in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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