by Laura J. Seaman
The word chaplain often invokes images of battlefields and military personnel, front lines and deployments. But through LCMS Specialized Pastoral Ministry (SPM), chaplains are trained, endorsed and certified for work right here at home. Acknowledging human need, just as Christ did among those for whom He cared, chaplains come alongside those who are hurting in both body and soul, declaring Christ’s love.
Through SPM programs, more than 500 ordained or commissioned men and women have been molded and shaped for this unique kind of work, serving as chaplains, counselors and clinical educators.
Bearing Christ’s mercy to those who are suffering, specialized pastoral ministers offer His comfort and peace to people with special needs in congregations or institutions like hospitals, prisons, hospices, counseling centers, retirement homes and homes for those who have physical or mental disabilities.
These ordained, commissioned or consecrated church workers speak with more unchurched people in a given week than most parish pastors, due to their specialized settings.
“We trust that the Holy Spirit is in the midst of our service,” said the Rev. Joel Hempel, coordinator for SPM. “We are privileged instruments for God’s work.”
For Deaconess Lorinda Schwarz, who serves as a chaplain for the Oregon Department of Corrections, being a chaplain often means “you move as quietly as possible into a rippling pond of crisis and try to be of spiritual and emotional support.”
Schwarz spends time with those who are incarcerated and in the midst of some of the greatest crises they will experience in their lives. “As chaplains, we move in and out of lives that are in crisis, pain or sometimes quiet suffering,” said Schwarz. “Though we rarely encounter the individuals again, we simply trust God to use us to meet the needs of others.”
“As chaplains, we move in and out of lives that are in crisis, pain or sometimes quiet suffering … . We simply trust God to use us to meet the needs of others.”
The Synod’s SPM program provides ecclesiastical endorsement for all LCMS non-military chaplains, ensuring that they are well equipped to apply Lutheran theology in crisis situations and to counsel using pastoral-care skills as they point to Christ Jesus. Once endorsed, SPM chaplains receive ongoing guidance and support through conferences, gatherings and the newsletter, A Pastoral Touch. Seminarians and clergy who are interested and qualified may apply for a SPM scholarship for training and endorsement in chaplaincy, pastoral counseling or clinical education.
By God’s mercy, SPM chaplains bear witness to Christ in the midst of weakness, show mercy to those who are suffering and invite those hurting to a robust and crosscentered life together in Him.
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