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Historical Roots of Chaplaincy

The term “chaplain” comes from the story of a Roman military officer named Martin, who accompanied a beggar in the rain at the city gate of Amiens, France, in 337. As crowds hurried past the half-naked and close-to-death beggar, Martin took off his cloak and sliced it into two pieces, giving one half to the man and using the other half to cover himself.

Martin was so moved by this powerful act of love that he dedicated his life to serving the poor. The story takes on more meaning understanding the humility involved in a Roman officer even touching an impoverished subject.

Years later, his cloak became a treasured spiritual symbol. The cloak was kept in a building that came to be known as a “chapel.” The person assigned to look after the sacred relic was deemed the “chaplain.”


Our Students Are Sacred

To this day chaplains can be identified as “the keepers of sacred things.”
PreK through 12th grade students are sacred in the sense of being most precious.

| The hopes of our students are sacred. |

The dreams of our students are sacred.
The confidence of our students are sacred.
The questions of our students are sacred.
The curiosities of our students are sacred.
The fears of our students are sacred.
The faiths of our students are sacred.
The doubts of our students are sacred.
The failures of our students are sacred.

An Indispensable Role

Chaplains are indispensable because they accompany students through their increasingly complex and ever-changing educational journey. Chaplains educate the whole person and ensure graduates will not only do good but also be well. What seems to be increasingly clear is that chaplains are essential for the heart and soul of education.

Chaplains certified by the National School Chaplain Association serve people of diverse religious, spiritual, moral, and ethical backgrounds. Readied with a Biblical perspective, chaplains build community by inviting students into the fullness of life. School chaplain duties include but are not limited to prayer, counsel, and spiritual care for the school staff, the students, and their families. In addition, they provide guidance and help build resilient young people. Gender confusion, loss of purpose, and hopelessness have resulted in record-level dropout rates and an epidemic of suicide among young people. In a historical era of conflict, discord, and loneliness—the role of chaplain has never been more critical.

School chaplains make crucial
contributions in at least four ways:

Chaplains make schools safer.

Prevention is the key. Chaplains have the privileged opportunity to observe student behavior more holistically than teachers, counselors, or law enforcement. Conversations with chaplains are private. Therefore students are more straightforward and sincere, not having to worry about what goes on their transcript. If something raises a flag, certified chaplains know the proper procedure to advise authorities. Chaplains have proven to help teachers and students avoid PTSD after traumatic experiences, which is why chaplains have been rushed to schools after shootings, suicides, or national disasters. Chaplaincy has also proven to dissipate tension, resolve conflict and bring hope, making schools safer for the children they serve. Who doesn’t want safer schools?

Chaplains explore and honor identity.

“Know thyself” is one of human history’s most well-known and often-repeated statements. From Socrates and Plato, the phrase has promoted personal discovery and acceptance of distinctive identities. In education, chaplains help learners explore who they are and embrace who they might hope to become. By nourishing their inner self, chaplains allow students to focus on the spirit within while also exploring the world around them.

Chaplains create and cultivate community.

“Ministry of Presence” is to be present. It is not merely about sharing the same physical space but a sustained commitment to shared experience. A chaplain’s presence, especially in times of crisis, fosters resilience and spiritual growth. Chaplains serve as a living reminder that humans are relational beings. Presence implies mentorship. Being present holds tremendous power and possibility. It is precious.

Chaplains illuminate and ignite purpose.

“Who am I?” Amid significant and turbulent times, chaplains seek to link identity with the community to offer a greater understanding of purpose (“Why am I?”). Rather than merely preparing students for a post-commencement occupation, chaplains help to nourish a lifelong discernment of vocation. Chaplains build a sense of shared responsibility that embraces opportunity and encompasses a life of service to our common good. By allowing learners to examine within, around, and beyond themselves, chaplains empower students to claim their destinies.


Chaplaincy in Education

So what does chaplaincy mean in education? First, chaplaincy thoroughly educates the whole student inside and outside the classroom. Chaplains affirm that education includes the acquisition of information and much-appreciated personal character formation and transformation.

Students are far more than intellect, and learning is far more than grades. Chaplains help to ensure that students receive something more than a ticket to an entry-level job. Instead, they help launch young people on a trajectory toward an extraordinary life as a whole person.

Chaplaincy honors identity and cultivates community. It illuminates and ignites a sense of purpose. In a crisis, chaplaincy brings clarity. As a result, we should appreciate, strengthen, and sustain those called to serve as chaplains.

Harvard Research Supports Chaplaincy:

The study, released in 2018 by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, found that children who attended church weekly or had an active prayer life were more positive and had greater life satisfaction once they reached their twenties. In addition, these young adults tended to choose a healthier lifestyle, avoiding drinking, smoking, drug use, and sexual promiscuity.


Constitutionality of School Chaplains

Throughout the years, U.S. chaplains have honored the historic separation of Church and State as they represent God in State institutions. The courts consistently uphold chaplaincy because chaplains represent God, not the church. As Godly counselors, chaplains are trusted Biblical advisors, which is why chaplains are paid to serve schools, the military, law enforcement, hospitals, the U.S. Senate, and Congress.

The constitutional history of chaplaincy is consistently affirmative. Congress has consistently rejected challenges. Far from an establishment of religion, chaplaincy is an essential bulwark of religious liberty. Chaplaincy in public institutions is a well-established precedent.

The phrase “separation of church and state,” which has become so familiar, was taken from an exchange of letters between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, and is not found in the U.S. Constitution. However, the National School Chaplain Association does not dispute the precedent of the “separation of church and state” or the “wall of separation between church and state.” The National School Chaplain Association does need to dispute the “separation clause” because George Washington established chaplaincy before the U.S. Constitution was written.


Moral Effects & Civic Purpose

MORAL EFFECTS – Beyond the constitutional argument, proponents of chaplaincy have always pointed to their justification based on its moral effects.

As chaplains are defenders of the free exercise clause, they are moral guardians. The chaplain serves students and teachers in a way that civilian clergy or counselors cannot. Chaplains also function as a social conscience for education’s decision-makers.

CIVIC PURPOSE – During the Cold War, military and civilian leaders stressed the importance of the chaplain as a molder of practical, self-governing citizens for the industrial age. President Truman called on chaplains to “develop skills that could be used in civilian life, to raise the physical standards of the nation’s manpower, to lower the illiteracy rate, to develop citizenship responsibilities, and to foster the moral and spiritual welfare of our young people.”

The chaplaincy serves a civic purpose. Not only does religion shape individual character, but it also influences the way individuals interact in a democratic society. The chaplain is a guardian not only of his particular faith but of the typical American faith – in democracy, liberty, and justice.

— Spiritual Care for the U.S. Senate

An Exemplary Chaplain

Barry Black

In addition to opening the Senate each day in prayer, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black’s duties include counseling and spiritual care for the senators, their families, and their staffs, a combined constituency of six thousand people. In addition, chaplain Black’s days are filled with meeting senators about spiritual and moral issues, assisting senators’ staffs with research on theological and biblical questions, teaching Senate Bible study groups, encouraging such groups as the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, and facilitating discussion and reflection small groups among senators and staff.

Indeed our PreK through 12th-grade students are as precious as U.S. Senators, their staff, and attendants.