Contemplating Ministry as a Chaplain?
A call to serve as a chaplain must be approached with both an openness to God’s leading and a willingness to listen to the voice of the Church throughout the process of discernment. Reading through this section will assist you in discerning the ministry to which God is calling you.
Ministry in the federal government is both unique and challenging. Chaplains are expected to enter federal service as fully formed, spiritually mature representatives of their own faith groups, capable of working cooperatively in an interfaith environment while maintaining a faithfulness to their own denomination. Serving as a chaplain in the federal government requires a commitment to ensuring that the rights of all personnel to practice the faith of their choosing, or to practice no faith at all, are respected and upheld.
The FAQ’s page can answer some of your questions, but we encourage you to call us. We want to get to know you personally — that is the best way to ensure that you understand the process.
1) TALK TO YOUR PASTOR, A FRIEND, OR SOMEONE YOU TRUST.
This is a discussion between you, God, your family, and the Church. Pray about it, talk it over with your family, your pastor, or a trusted friend in ministry, then pray some more.
2) TALK TO YOUR PRESBYTERY.
Include your Presbytery in the discussion — your Committee on Ministry or Committee on Preparation for Ministry is a good place to start. Your pastor will know how to get in contact with the appropriate Presbytery committee.
3) THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT REQUIRES THAT YOU HAVE A MINIMUM OF AN EARNED GRADUATE DEGREE FROM AN ACCREDITED COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY WITH AT LEAST 72-SEMESTER HOURS OR 108-QUARTER HOURS OF GRADUATE CREDIT IN THEOLOGICAL OR RELIGIOUS STUDIES.
The standard is a Master of Divinity degree. If your degree is from a foreign educational institution, it will have to be evaluated in order to determine its equivalency with a degree earned in an accredited school located in the United States. The Program of Alternative Studies certificate is not an equivalent degree program recognized by the Federal Government for chaplains.
4) YOU MUST HAVE AT LEAST 2 YEARS OF POST-ORDINATION PASTORAL EXPERIENCE.
The Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Veterans Affairs all require this. They do so to ensure that individuals considering federal chaplaincy are well grounded in the faith traditions and pastoral practices of their faith groups. Some individuals, upon completion of seminary, may enter the Reserve or National Guard chaplaincies, but service standards vary. Waivers are considered in exceptional situations.
5) DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS CHAPLAINS MUST HAVE A MINIMUM OF 2 UNITS OF CLINICAL PASTORAL EDUCATION.
Two units is the minimum requirement; having four or more units increases your chances of being hired. Special training, or a supervisory certification, also improves your position in the hiring process. Several VA medical centers around the country have CPE programs. Completing CPE within a VA medical facility is not a guarantee; in fact, it is highly unusual for an individual to get hired for the first job they apply for. Typically, it takes several attempts and a willingness to move to where the job is located. VA jobs are posted on usajobs.com, and are only open for two weeks at a time.
6) IF YOU ARE ENROLLED IN SEMINARY OR HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED INTO SEMINARY, YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR A MILITARY CHAPLAIN CANDIDATE PROGRAM.
This is a great avenue for learning about military chaplaincy while you complete your theological education. As a commissioned officer, you will receive duty pay during your active training time. Some seminaries and presbyteries may also consider this as part of your educational experience. Find out more on the Seminary Student Page.
7) IN ORDER TO BE ENDORSED BY THE Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincy, YOU MUST BE AN ORDAINED PASTOR IN ONE OF THE FOUR DENOMINATIONS WE REPRESENT.
Different denominations have different standards for ordination. You must meet not only your denomination’s standards but the standards of the federal government as well.
8) PRESBYTERIAN FEDERAL CHAPLAINCY ENDORSEMENT DOES NOT GUARANTEE EMPLOYMENT WITHIN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
An endorsement from the Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincy is just one part of the process of applying for a federal chaplaincy position. Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincy endorsement in no way guarantees that an applicant will be accepted into a federal chaplaincy program. The Department of Defense, the Department of Justice and the Department of Veterans Affairs are highly selective and usually have many more applicants than positions.
Links for additional information
Air Force: http://www.airforce.com/chaplain/
Veterans Affairs: http://www.va.gov/CHAPLAIN/components/Employment_Information.asp
Civil Air Patrol: Click here for the application form.
Federal Bureau of Prisons: https://www.bop.gov/jobs/positions/index.jsp?p=Chaplain