Martin of Tours walked through the cold, winter night when the body of a beggar shivering in the brisk air caught his attention.
It was too frigid for the Roman soldier to be without his cloak. The same could be said for the vagrant. Seeing no other option besides continuing his journey, Martin chose to give half of his cloak.
According to Sulpitius Severus’ account, Jesus appeared to Martin soon after. The meeting changed his life, and many others after him. Martin’s cloak eventually became a symbol of care and compassion.
French kings of the Middle Ages carried the garment into battle. Priests originally known as cappellanus, or keepers of the cloak, took care of the religious needs of the king. Today, the cappellanus are known to the layman as chaplains.
The mission of the chaplains remains alive and well carried out by denominations across the world, including the Church of God Chaplains Commission in Cleveland.
Church leaders established the commission in 1978. There were originally only 10 COG chaplains. There are currently 274 vocational chaplains endorsed by the Church of God and spread across military, veterans affairs, correctional, clinical, institutional and international posts.
An additional 11,000 volunteer chaplains have been trained through a chaplaincy ministry established by the commission in 1994.
Director of the Chaplains Commission Dr. Donnie Smith said the two parts to the chaplaincy provide a holistic approach to the chaplaincy ministry.
“Vocational chaplains are embedded within multiple institutions to provide care in specific settings that are aligned with their area of academic training,” Smith said.
“Volunteer chaplains are extended hands of compassion and care that are more community based and serve as support outreach to assist in a diverse number of settings, especially in times of international or national disasters.”
Chaplains are trained to work outside of the four walls of the church. Those endorsed by the commission feel called to work as vocational chaplains within an organization or institution.
Dr. Richard Pace, a retired Army chaplain colonel, serves as the endorser of Vocational Chaplains. He said the commission looks for individuals who will offer successful representation of both their church and position.
It is not necessarily an easy path to become a chaplain.
All candidates must first be ordained by the Church of God.
There is then an “extensive” application packet complete with academic and personal references. Everyone must meet for an interview with the Chaplains Commission Board. The commission is the last level of approval and must feel comfortable the applicant is ready to join the commission.
Pace said the commission does not approve everybody, although most are told what needs to be worked on and encouraged to return.
Once an applicant becomes a candidate, he or she must meet the educational requirement before being named a full chaplain.
According to Pace, the most common standard is at least a 72-hour master of divinity, “or equivalent degree.”
The commission will then aid vocational chaplains in the application process for the field they choose.
Pace said some of the most qualified Church of God clergy, both pastorally and educationally, serve as chaplains.
“We are kind of like [the chaplains’] primary liaison with the church,” Pace said. “They report to us each month. If they have a personal issue, then we can intervene with their respective organization as the endorser.”
Pastoral visits are also made at least once a year to visit the chaplains in Europe.
A weekly inspirational word or update is sent out via email.
Pace touched on the unique aspect of chaplains.
“The chaplains don’t go out there to seek to find people to gain membership into the church,” Pace said. “Some may become that, and that is fine, but that is not the primary purpose — to go out and make someone a member of the Church of God.”
The nuances of the role held by chaplains change between the organization or institution they are assigned.
He said one of the most rapid areas of growth is hospice chaplains.
“Hospices have responded to the needs of the society with the aging population,” Pace said. “Almost every hospice organization will have chaplains on their staff. A lot of religious and spiritual issues come up when a person is dying.”
Coordinator of Community Service Chaplaincy Dr. Jake Popejoy said volunteer chaplains provide practical community support, direction and guidance to those in emergency and transition situations.
He said trained chaplains have the ability to provide guidance, education, advocacy, life skills and training to those in need. They serve as, “a conduit between the secular and spiritual environments of society norms found in the communities of the world.”
Community service chaplains look to serve the community, including places of employment and local churches.
“We desire to see chaplains who are well trained community servants, who are conducting themselves in a professional meaningful, life-changing way,” Popejoy said. “... In which they live through involvement in every sector of community life.”