Choosing a career as a chaplain can be a rewarding experience. Becoming professionally certified can allow a chaplain to work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, schools or the military. Professional certification also can reassure parishioners or those being counseled that the chaplain guiding them through difficult times – whether it's the loss of a loved one or the stress of combat – has met the highest national standards of training and ethics.
Chaplains can become certified through a number of organizations depending on their faith or whether they work with the military. Certification is a rigorous process that requires divinity education, practical experience and sponsorship by a faith organization.
Earn a bachelor's degree and graduate degree in theology or divinity from an accredited college or university. Getting a theology degree generally involves the academic study of a religion or religions as well as other general education requirements. Many programs require students to learn a classical or modern language such as Greek, Latin or Hebrew.
You also may need clinical pastoral education beyond your degree. Clinical pastoral education is like residency for a physician and gives students a chance to provide ministry or counseling in a supervised setting. Approved programs can be found through the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education.
Become ordained or commissioned by a faith group to minister in the group's name. Faith groups must be recognized in the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches or approved by the National Conference of Ministry to the Armed Forces.
Gather documents for your application. What you'll need will depend on the certifying body, but generally you will be asked for academic transcripts, demonstration that you meet national standards for professional chaplains and a letter of endorsement from your faith group.
Schedule an interview to demonstrate your knowledge of ethics and standards and competency as a professional chaplain. Interviews are conducted by certification committee members, and typically are on fixed dates at particular locations. Applicants pay for their own travel to the interview.
Chaplains of various faiths can seek certification through the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc. The National Association of Catholic Chaplains and National Association of Jewish Chaplains certify chaplains within their respective faiths.
Branches of the United States military have their own processes for training chaplains. Military chaplains who want to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs can be certified by the National Association of Veterans Affairs Chaplains.
It's important that documentation provided when applying for certification is complete and accurate.