I get questions from time to time about how to become a hospital chaplain, particularly a chaplain where I work. I decided I needed to write an answer.
Thanks for asking about chaplaincy. I’ve not stopped to think about an answer, though I get that question from time to time. With two people asking in two days, I realized that I need to write an answer of what to say to people interested in chaplaincy.
But here’s my starting point. I’m a terrible person to ask. I never planned to be a hospital chaplain. I never trained for it. I barely trained to be a pastor. I haven’t always wanted to help people in difficult situations.
What happened was that I had resigned from an executive pastor position simply because it was time. It was a good stopping point, and I subsequently heard Gordon McDonald say that senior leaders should step out of that role at about 60 and work to help younger leaders succeed. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. But I think he’s right.
I had about 10 weeks before I finished my job and I started looking for what would be next. One day, I saw a listing for a position as a hospital chaplain with Parkview Health. I ignored it, my wife suggested I could apply just to find out, and when I went back to look at it, the position was gone. A day later, there was another position, this time PRN, which means part-time, on call. I applied. I got a call two weeks before I was done at my job, and I was hired.
PRN meant a couple shifts a month at the main hospital and on-call hours in case someone died at another hospital. After six months or so, a .6 position (3 days a week) opened up, and I’ve been doing that since September 2016.
What I know is that chaplaincy at Parkview is different than many other places.
In most cases, hospital chaplaincy requires an M.Div or other masters level ministry degree. It also requires CPE, which is clinical pastoral education, a hands-on internship program. Often, you are required to take 4 units of CPE, each one being 400 hours. That leads to board certification from one of the chaplaincy accrediting organizations. (See this link for one certifying organization.)
Parkview doesn’t have the board-certification requirement. We do require ministry experience that is relevant for chaplaincy and licensing/ordination. (The irony is that even with my current experience, I probably would not be hired for a hospital position requiring board certification).
At the moment (June 2020), we are under a hiring freeze. People usually start with on-call (PRN) positions, and the rare full-time positions most often are hired from people who have learned through PRN. We have about 20 chaplains (PRN to full-time) serving eight hospitals. Of those, 5 are full-time, and the rest are some version of part-time. Most of us who are part-time do other work as well.
A core of chaplaincy is helping people in difficult times. That shows up in hospital chaplaincy, police chaplaincy, hospice chaplaincy, fire chaplaincy, military chaplaincy, nursing home chaplaincy, jail chaplaincy. So those are other places to do this kind of work.
Many of those are not paid positions. People who have experience with ministry and with the context apply, receive training, and are then available as volunteers. Hospital and hospice chaplaincy are often paid.
So I’m not sure what I would suggest for someone wanting to pursue chaplaincy. If you are open to doing the work of formal training, board certification is probably the way to go. If you are wanting to learn the work, looking at hospice as a volunteer can be a good place to look.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I have. It was unexpected five years ago, and I wouldn’t trade it now.
To read more about chaplaincy from my perspective, see http://beforeyouwalkin.com