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What Does It Mean to Be a Professional Chaplain?- 10 Signs of a Professional

So, what does it mean to be a professional public safety chaplain? I have long talked about the “banquet” chaplain, that kind that only shows up to give the prayer at the annual banquet. Then there’s the chaplain who shows up once a month, pops it to say hi, and leaves: the “hit and run” chaplain. Let’s call them as they are, visiting clergy, not chaplains. But what are some characteristics of a professional chaplain? While this list is not exhaustive and many chaplains don’t have all these markers, the list will give you an idea what separates a professional chaplain from one who is more a chaplain in name only.

1. Have an advanced degree.

According to our records, more than 50% of SCPSCA members hold a master’s degree or higher, and at least 16 of those have a doctorate as well. Many of these may be “theology” degrees, but they often include training in counseling, psychology, non-profit and organizational management, and leadership. Many of our chaplains hold higher degrees that include a specialization in chaplaincy.

2. Have extra training.

Like our first responders, our public safety chaplains have a lot of extra training. They have not only the basic training in chaplaincy (Essentials and 12 Basic Courses), but have advanced training in things like the following:

· Suicide prevention/intervention

· Counseling (individual, group, family, crisis, grief/loss, etc.)

· Law as it pertains to chaplaincy

· First responder behavioral health

· Basic medical skills

· Basic firefighting, EMS, or police operations

3. Be a member of the team.

Professional chaplains also realize that they do not work in isolation. They must network and rely on chaplains throughout the state and the nation. Some connections are:

· Federation of Fire Chaplains, International Conference of Police Chaplains

· Regional organizations such as: South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association, Louisiana Fire Chaplains, New York Fire Chaplains, SC FAST

4. Be an active member of the department.

The professional public safety chaplain knows his or her role and how that fits into the larger picture of the response of the agency. They know that when they are in chaplain mode, they are not firefighters or police officers. Yet in many ways a professional public safety chaplain is no different than any member of the department. They may hold a specialist position, but they learn to work in coordination with the rest of the response team to affect the rescue. A professional public safety chaplain will:

· Participate in and go to weekly drills/training

· Work shifts with the crews

· Have regular hours and be available to talk

5. Dress for the part.

As a member of the department a professional public safety chaplain will wear clothing that identifies them within the command structure. We belong to para-military organizations and our clothing reflects that. While a chaplain may not have multiple uniforms, they should at least have some basics. It is suggested that a chaplain have at least a Class-A and daily station wear.

6. Keep up on the latest training.

Just as a professional first responder is not satisfied with training that they came out of recruit school with, the professional public safety chaplain should not be either. A professional public safety chaplain will continue to read books, read trade journals (on chaplaincy, counseling, psychology, firefighting, law enforcement, EMS), and share what they learn with others.

7. Network with others.

Again, the professional public safety chaplain realizes that even though they may be the only chaplain in their department, they can reach out to other areas chaplains:

· For accountability

· To learn from more experienced chaplains

· To learn from other chaplain disciplines (military, hospital, hospice, corrections)

8. Pursue spiritual growth.

Ultimately, chaplains are chaplains because it is an expression of their faith. While it is easy to get sucked into this job, a professional public safety chaplain will be intentional about his or her own spiritual growth. If you don’t fill your bucket, then you will have nothing to give. For that, chaplains will:

· Stay strong in their faith

· Know the signs of compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, post traumatic stress and how that effects their spiritual growth

9. Take care of their own mental health.

We as public safety chaplains constantly preach about good mental health. But some of us have two jobs and find it hard to get away. As hard as it can be at times, a professional public safety chaplain will take intentional times away from the department. We expect our first responders to take their annual vacation to recharge, and we need to do that too.

10. Be endorsed by a faith group or religious body.

I know this can be a hard one for some people, since some faith groups only ordain/commission certain people with certain training to be part of the clergy. I get this. But the ordained/commissioned public safety chaplain has some benefits that the lay chaplain does not. Understand your faith tradition and what you can or cannot do. If at all possible, get that endorsement.

In Him,

Chaplain Chris M. Wade


South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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