AskDefine | Define chaplain

Dictionary Definition

chaplain n : a clergyman ministering to some institution

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A member of the clergy officially assigned to an institution, group, private chapel, etc.


  • Czech: kaplan
  • Finnish: kappalainen
  • German: Kaplan

Extensive Definition

A chaplain is typically a priest, pastor, ordained deacon or other member of the clergy serving a group of people who are not organized as a mission or church, or who are unable to attend church for various reasons; such as health, confinement, or military or civil duties; lay chaplains are also found in other settings such as universities. For example a chaplain is often attached to a military unit (often known as padre), a private chapel, a ship, a prison, a hospital, a high school, college or especially boarding school, even a parliamentary assembly and so on. In recent years many non-ordained persons have received professional training in chaplaincy and are now appointed as chaplains in schools, hospitals, universities, prisons and elsewhere to work alongside or instead of ordained chaplains.


Chaplains generally receive training depending on the type of chaplaincy and the particular organization.
Military chaplains receive military and continuous professional developmental training through their particular branch of the service.

Types of chaplains


A chaplain provides spiritual and pastoral support for service personnel, including the conduct of religious services at sea or in the field. Military chaplains have a long history; the first English military-oriented chaplains, for instance, were priests on board proto-naval vessels during the eighth century A.D. Land based chaplains appeared during the reign of King Edward I. The current form of military chaplain dates from the era of the First World War.
Chaplains are nominated in different ways in different countries. A military chaplain can be an army-trained soldier with additional theological training or a priest nominated to the army by religious authorities. In the United Kingdom the Ministry of Defence employs chaplains but their authority comes from their sending church. Royal Navy chaplains undertake a 16 week bespoke induction and training course including a short course at Britannia Royal Naval College and specialist fleet time at sea alongside a more experienced chaplain. Naval Chaplains called to service with the Royal Marines undertake a gruelling 5 month long Commando Course, and if successful wear the commandos' Green Beret. British Army chaplains undertake seven weeks training at The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport House and The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Royal Air Force chaplains must complete 12 weeks Specialist Entrant course at the RAF College Cranwell followed by a Chaplains' Induction Course at Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre Amport House of a further 2 weeks. In the United States military, chaplains must be endorsed by their religious affiliation in order to serve on active duty.
Military Chaplains are normally accorded officer status, although Sierra Leone had a Naval Lance Corporal chaplain in 2001. In most navies, their badges and insignia do not differentiate their levels of responsibility and status. By contrast, in Air Forces and Armies, they typically carry ranks and are differentiated by crosses or other equivalent religious insignia. However, United States military chaplains Association and every branch carry both rank and Chaplain Corps insignia.
Though the Geneva Conventions do not state whether chaplains may bear arms, they specify (Protocol I, 8 June 1977, Art 43.2) that chaplains are noncombatants. In recent years both the UK and US have required chaplains, but not medical personnel, to be unarmed. Other nations, notably Norway, Denmark and Sweden, make it an issue of individual conscience. Captured chaplains are not considered Prisoners of War (Third Convention, 12 August 1949, Chapter IV Art 33) and must be returned to their home nation unless retained to minister to prisoners of war.
Inevitably, serving chaplains have died in action, sometimes in significant numbers. The U.S. Army and Marines lost 100 chaplains killed in action during WWII: a casualty rate greater "than any other branch of the services except the infantry and the Army Air Corps" (Crosby, 1994, pxxiii). Many have been decorated for bravery in action (five have won Britain's highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross). The Chaplain's Medal for Heroism is a special U.S. military decoration given to military chaplains who have been killed in the line of duty, although it has to date only been awarded to the famous Four Chaplains, all of whom died in the USAT Dorchester sinking in 1943 after giving up their lifejackets to others.
At times, the existence of military chaplains has been challenged in countries that have a separation of Church and State.

Health care

Many hospitals and hospices employ chaplains to assist with the spiritual needs of patients, families and staff.
In the United States, health care chaplains are typically educated through the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education and may be certified by one of the following organizations: The Association of Professional Chaplains, The National Association of Catholic Chaplains, The National Association of Jewish Chaplains,or The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Certification typically requires a Masters of Divinity degree (or its equivalent), faith group ordination or commissioning, faith group endorsement, and four units (1600 hours) of Clinical Pastoral Education (the United States Military Chaplains Association does require more, but they are a dod2088 501c-3 military support group founded in 1954 by Military Chaplains.
In Canada, Health Care Chaplains may be certified by the Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education.
In the UK, Health Care Chaplains are employed by their local NHS Trust or by charities associated with hospice. The majority work part-time, combining their role with another post, either in a local Church or another chaplaincy. The professional body is the College of Health Care Chaplains. Membership is not compulsory but may be advantageous as it carries with it membership of a Trade Union. Chaplains working in a palliative care setting may also choose to join the Association of Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplains.


Some businesses, large or small, employ chaplains for their staff and/or clientele. According to The Economist (August 25 2007, p64) there are 4,000 corporate chaplains in the U.S. alone, with the majority being employees of specialist chaplaincy companies such as Marketplace Chaplains USA or Corporate Chaplains of America. According to the Marketplace Chaplains USA, turnover at Taco Bell outlets in central Texas dropped by a third after they started employing chaplains.


A sports chaplain provides pastoral care for the sports person and the broader sports community including the coach, administrators and their families.
Chaplains to sports communities have existed since the middle of the 20th century and have significantly grown in the past 20 years. The United States, United Kingdom and Australia have well established Christian sports chaplaincy ministries.
Sports Chaplains consist of people from many different walks of life. Most commonly, the chaplains are ministers or full time Christian workers but occasionally, chaplaincy work is done without charge or any financial remuneration. Often, sports chaplains to a particular sport are former participants of that sport. This helps the chaplain to not only provide spiritual support and guidance to a player, but gives them the ability to empathize and related to some of the challenges facing the participant with whom they are ministering.


A domestic chaplain was a chaplain attached to a noble household in order to grant the family a degree of self-sufficiency in religion. The chaplain was freed from any obligation to reside in a particular place so could travel with the family, internationally if necessary, and minister to their spiritual needs. Further, the family could appoint a chaplain who reflected their own doctrinal views. Domestic chaplains performed family christenings, funerals and weddings and were able to conduct services in the family's private chapel, excusing the nobility from attending public worship.
In feudal times most laymen, and for centuries even most noblemen, were poorly educated and the chaplain would also be an important source of scholarship in the household, tutoring children and providing counsel to the family on matters broader than religion. Before the advent of the legal profession, modern bureaucracy and civil service, the literate clergy were often employed as secretarial staff, as in a chancery. Hence the term clerk, derived from Latin clericus (clergyman). This made them very influential in temporal affairs. There was also a moral impact since they heard the confessions of the elite.
The domestic chaplain was an important part of the life of the peerage in England from the reign of Henry VIII to the middle of the nineteenth century. Up until 1840, Anglican domestic chaplains were regulated by law and enjoyed the substantial financial advantage of being able to purchase a license to hold two benefices simultaneously while residing in neither.
Many historical monarchies and major noble houses had, and as of 2008 still have one, and often several domestic or private chaplains as part of their Ecclesiastical Household, either following them or attached to a castle or other residence. Castles with attached chaplains generally had at least one Chapel Royal, sometimes as significant as a cathedral. A modern example is St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, also the home of the Order of the Garter.


Chaplains also can be attached to sports teams, emergency services agencies, educational institutions and colleges, private clubs, scout troops, ships, hospitals, prisons, nightclubs, private companies and corporations. Chaplains also serve in hospice programs and retirement centers. The term can also refer to priests attached to Roman Catholic convents.

Chaplains in fiction

Chaplains have appeared as characters in several works of fiction about historical and imagined militaries. Father Mulcahy, a character in the M*A*S*H novels, film, and TV series, is perhaps the best known fictional chaplain.
The profession of military chaplaincy is reflected in several major works of world literature, such as in the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd, Jaroslav Hasek's novel The Good Soldier Švejk, and Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22.
In the brutal dystopian future of Warhammer 40,000, Chaplains are combat priests. Chaplains also serve as combat soldiers in the Mobile Infantry from Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers.
The Chaplain is also a key figure in Albert Camus' novel "L'Etranger" (i.e. "The Stranger").


Further reading

  • Bergen, Doris. L., (ed), 2004. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century. University of Notre Dame Press ISBN 0-268-02176-7
  • Norman, James (2004) At the Heart of Education: School Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care. Dublin: Veritas Publications. ISBN 1853907529
  • Paget, Naomi & McCormack, Janet (2006). The Work of the Chaplain. Valley Forge: Judson Press. ISBN 0817014995
  • Smith, John C., Chaplain (International Chaplains Association)
  • VandeCreek, Larry & Lucas, Art (2001). The Discipline for Pastoral Care Giving: Foundations for Outcome Oriented Chaplaincy. Binghamton: The Haworth Press. ISBN 0789013452
chaplain in Bulgarian: Капелан
chaplain in Czech: Kaplan
chaplain in Danish: Kapellan
chaplain in German: Kaplan
chaplain in Spanish: Capellán
chaplain in Korean: 군종
chaplain in Italian: Cappellano
chaplain in Latin: Capellanus
chaplain in Hungarian: Káplán
chaplain in Dutch: Parochievicaris
chaplain in Japanese: 従軍牧師
chaplain in Norwegian: Kapellan
chaplain in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kapellan
chaplain in Polish: Kapelan
chaplain in Portuguese: Capelania militar
chaplain in Russian: Капеллан
chaplain in Simple English: Chaplain
chaplain in Slovak: Kaplán
chaplain in Slovenian: Kaplan
chaplain in Finnish: Kappalainen
chaplain in Swedish: Komminister

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

DD, Doctor of Divinity, Grand Penitentiary, Holy Father, Holy Joe, abbe, abuna, antipope, archbishop, archdeacon, archpriest, bishop, bishop coadjutor, canon, cardinal, cardinal bishop, cardinal deacon, cardinal priest, churchman, clergyman, cleric, clerical, clerk, coadjutor, curate, cure, dean, diocesan, divine, ecclesiarch, ecclesiastic, exarch, hierarch, high priest, man of God, metropolitan, military chaplain, minister, padre, papa, parson, pastor, patriarch, penitentiary, pontiff, pope, prebendary, prelate, primate, rector, reverend, rural dean, servant of God, shepherd, sky pilot, subdean, suffragan, supply clergy, supply minister, the Reverend, the very Reverend, tonsured cleric, vicar
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