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Qualities of a Chaplain

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Chaplains are professional members of the clergy who work in hospitals, the military, correctional facilities and other institutions. Although chaplains represent specific religions, they help people in need no matter what their beliefs. Chaplains give spiritual guidance in a diverse range of institutions, including hospices, the Army and the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to rigorous educational requirements, chaplains must possess certain personal qualities to succeed.

Spiritual Generosity and Community-Mindedness

Being a chaplain in any kind of institution means caring for the community morally, ethically and spiritually, regardless of faith issues. Chaplains must be able to turn their hands to any number of day-to-day problems affecting the community and communicate effectively with a diverse set of people. A Catholic chaplain, for example, must be willing to advise anybody on illness, death, marriage and relationships whatever a person's faith, gender, sexuality, age and race. According to New York's Unitarian Theological Seminary, a chaplain is required to see "the solidarity all humankind as one family" and serve the community accordingly.

Motivated to Learn

Chaplains must have a bachelor's and a post-baccalaureate graduate degree in theological or related studies. Once qualified and working, chaplains must still continue their studies.. A board-certified chaplain is required by the Association of Professional Chaplains to complete more than 50 hours of additional training and learning every year, in addition to his regular work. Such experiences should be geared toward a chaplain's particular field and may include, for example, addiction counselling or family therapy.

Open-Mindedness and Sensitivity

Successful chaplains embrace the complexities of a diverse community and offer pastoral counseling that transcends one particular religious view. They are sensitive to situations and people, and display interpersonal skills that build a rapport. While chaplains frequently advise on religious matters, their role is to offer guidance on ethical and moral issues, too, the nature of which will vary according to the institution. Chaplains often deal with the difficult times in people's lives -- when they're ill, away from home, fighting in a war or in prison. They play a role in the lives of patients, prisoners or soldiers, but also with their leaders, families and friends. They must be creative in their approach to problems and non-judgmental.

Confidence and Flexibility

Chaplains conduct worship services for large groups of people of many faiths and beliefs and must be able to perform energetically and passionately. Chaplains must be flexible and confident enough to be able to transfer their basic skills to any necessary location in the call of duty. Navy chaplains, for example, often conduct services wherever required -- outdoors, in a hospital, on board a ship -- as well as be a central figure offering guidance to all ranks. A health-care chaplain must have the confidence to offer a public relations service to the health institution he serves, going out into the community to inspire support from the public, recruit volunteers and offer workshops on health-related topics.


Debbie Pollitt started writing professionally in 1991. Her first book, "Lifeguide: Promoting a Positive Way of Life," was published in the United Kingdom by Boxtree Ltd., followed by two fun recipe books titled the "The Main Ingredient" series. Pollitt holds a Bachelor of Arts in American studies and sociology from Manchester University.

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