The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship passed a milestone recently when it named its 1000th endorsee — those ministers called to be chaplains or pastoral counselors.
And Erin Lysse, the woman selected for the honor, said she felt encouraged by the honor.
“There have been 999 other people who have carried CBF endorsement, and that enhances my sense of being welcomed to a community where folks have been about this work.”
She also embraced the moment with some humor.
“It did feel a little bit like being the 500th shopper,” said Lysse, a chaplaincy resident at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. She sought endorsement to pursue her calling to become a clinical pastoral education supervisor.
The Fellowship published a blog marking the occasion and Gerry Hutchinson, a retired military chaplain who oversees the endorsement process, said the numerical milestone represents an important moment for CBF for the people it serves.
“It’s an ongoing reminder that God’s world is continuing and he is continuing to call people to various settings,” Hutchinson said.
‘A rich web of relationships’
It’s also somewhat of a relief, Hutchinson added, because there was a time when the Fellowship was uncertain how, or even if, it would endorse chaplains and pastoral counselors.
It took several years of discussions before CBF decided to start offering endorsements in 1997, which chaplains and pastoral counselors need to be employed in hospitals, prisons, the military and other institutions.
“This is how we tell the military and hospitals and others that this is a reliable minister,” Hutchinson said.
The first four ministers were endorsed in 1998 and within four years more than 100 had been endorsed, according to CBF. In 2001, career chaplain George Pickle was hired as the Fellowship’s first full-time endorser.
“When I came, we began to build structure for the process,” Pickle said.
That included honing the existing council on endorsement that screens applicants, Hutchinson said. In those days, many were seeking to move their endorsement from the Southern Baptist Convention to CBF.
According to CBF, the number of pastoral counselors and chaplains endorsed by the Fellowship grew from 138 to 715 in the 12 years of Pickle’s tenure.
Venturing into endorsing helped CBF discern and live into its calling as an organization, Pickle said.
Pickle’s previous chaplaincy work also helped CBF gain clout around the nation, Hutchinson said.
“He helped develop guidelines and procedures and the expectations that we now communicate to candidates. And he had a rich web of relationships with professional organizations that represent chaplains and pastoral counselors.”
‘Helps me to feel grounded’
The fellowship currently has 721 active endorsees, with more coming on every year than are retiring, changing fields or dying, Hutchinson said.
“Every year we have net growth,” he said.
CBF-endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors are serving a wide array of agencies around the nation and the world. They can be found in every branch of the military, and even in the Civil Air Patrol. They are serving in medical centers, hospice organizations, police and fire departments, church staffs and college campuses.
For Lysse, the endorsement and her ongoing training will enable her to train others to do pastoral care work.
CBF was the natural place since attending Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, where she learned the fellowship embraces the same openness to other traditions that is required of chaplains.
The Fellowship “helps me to feel grounded in my Baptist identity but also keeps the idea that there are a lot of other folks in the world who are doing work we can join,” Lysse said.