More to chaplains than just deck-plate ministry

31 Aug 2006 | Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

What does a chaplain have to do but prepare for his sermon or walk around chit-chatting?

While this may be a commonly held misconception, a chaplain does spend time walking around talking with Marines and sailors.  It is part of their job called deck-plate ministry.  But it’s just the beginning, not the whole.

Each commanding officer maintains a religious program for the spiritual and moral welfare of their Marines.  The coordinators and counselors for that program are the chaplains.

"The command’s religious program is just that, it’s the command’s program," said Lt. Cmdr. Emile G. Moured, deputy director of Religious Ministries Directorate.  "We work directly for our commanding officer.  Our primary purpose here is to be pastors. To be ministers, we have to work within ethical boundaries. Thankfully we have a command that understands that."

With such a diverse country, people who now comprise the military can no longer be placed in all-encompassing faith groups.  As such, chaplains too come from all different walks of faith from more than 100 denominations and faith groups.

"Thank God we live in a country that values freedom of religion," said Moured.  "The chaplains have been charged to protect that freedom by ensuring everyone is provided for.  It does not mean we have to agree with everybody theologically, but we need to at least be able to provide for them."

Marines and sailors may feel hesitant to see a chaplain because of those variances or differences in faith, but chaplains put aside theological disagreeances to help all of their fellow service members.

"Our job as chaplains is to represent our faith group accurately, but also to take care of everybody – every Marine, every sailor – as best we can," said Moured.  "Obviously our faith system is going to differ from those of Marines and sailors at different points, but it’s still our responsibility to provide for them."

Religious or inspirational reading materials from multiple faiths can also be acquired through a chaplain.

Along with providing counseling and maintaining the welfare for their own Marines and sailors, they also will often provide an open door to other’s problems, including spouses.

"Spouses also face problems with homesickness, deployments or losing their husbands. Their closest contact to both the Corps and God is the chaplain," said Moured.  "They may not be looking for counsel but just encouragement."

Chaplains may seem to spend an inordinate amount of time walking around to different sections, getting to know their fellow service members – their hopes, where they come from, their dreams of the future – but it comes together when a Marine or sailor feels more comfortable to see them about a problem.

"We do it to go see what’s going on," said Lt. Robert B. Wills, 1st Tank Battalion chaplain.  "I’m looking for that person who needs help."

For some people, knowing a chaplain is around can help them feel at ease to talk about their problems.

"It’s going around and letting people see who we are," said Lt. Karen J. Rector, Headquarters Battalion chaplain.  "It’s just stopping and talking to people, getting to know them.  Sometimes just seeing a chaplain has a great comfort on people."

Chaplains accept their duties with a desire to help Marines and sailors.  Not just in their problems, but in their spiritual walk and welfare.  They serve in times of need and happiness.  In their calling, they serve the military by God’s direction.

"While some are called to serve God, others are called to serve their country through the Naval Sea Services.” stated Capt. Henry Nixon, chaplain program manager.  “Those who are called to serve both are Navy Chaplains."
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