By Jeff Brumley
Last year, Cooperative Baptist Fellowhsip chaplains arose at the General Assembly in Tampa to demand a more prominent seat at the table of denominational life. In a Thursday workshop at this year’s assembly, some of those leaders said that goal has largely been accomplished, but still complained about the perception of chaplains among other pastors and Christians as a whole.
Many have to be reminded that “we are not ‘clergy lite,’” said James Pope, associate for military ministry for CBF, and a retired Navy captain and chaplain.
Addressing about 30 chaplains, including 10 in military uniforms, Pope and Randy Gardner said chaplains are in the best position ever in CBF. They are being featured more often in denominational communications and are growing in numbers. Pope estimated there are more than 600 endorsed CBF chaplains today compared to about half that number a decade ago.
Gardner, the outgoing chairman of the CBF council on chaplain endorsement, said the group is also enjoying more recognition since last year’s assembly. “We’re being noticed, and that’s as it should be,” Gardner said.
But that isn’t always the case among other ministers, either in Baptist or wider Christian circles, Pope said. Many see chaplains as ministers who couldn’t cut it as pulpit pastors.
Those comments hit home for Tim Hunter, a prison chaplain for 11 years with the Texas Department of Corrections. When Hunter left church ministry for chaplaincy, he recalls, “it was ‘Oh, you left the ministry.’” A balm for the resulting frustration is getting together with other chaplains at events like the chaplaincy workshops at assembly, Hunter said.
The workshop addressed practical issues for the participants. Gardner held a break-out with hospice, hospital and law enforcement chaplains while Pope held a listening session with the Air Force, Army and Navy chaplains.
Air Force Capt. Charles Seligman said Pope functions as his pastor through regular phone and email communication. He also can confide in other chaplains. Being at Thursday’s workshop was also a big stress reliever, he said.
“Chaplains — we chaplain each other,” he said.