May 9, 2008 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic…[Libna Stevens/IAD]
Chaplaincy Ministries, the youngest ministries to be established in the Inter-American Division territory, is taking a larger step towards unifying efforts in the fulfilment of the mission of the church across the region.
This effort was visible among the dozens of chaplains who gathered during Inter-America's first Chaplaincy Ministries Symposium held last week in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The four-day event, which took place from Apr. 25-28, 2008, gathered dozens of chaplains from the four areas it covers: educational institutions, hospitals, prisons and armed forces from across the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America.
“Our main focus for this event was to set chaplaincy at the level where it should be in the scope of the Adventist ministry here in Inter-America,” says Pastor Bernardo Rodriguez, chaplaincy ministries director for the church in Inter-America.
Among its objectives, the symposium was organized to foster networking among the chaplains serving in all the areas, provide training and resources, review established policies, and improving chaplaincy ministries with continuing education all throughout the territory, among others, says Pastor Rodriguez.
Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries was created in 1985 as part of a corporation between the Adventist Church and the North American Division, mostly because it dealt with military chaplains. However, during the last few years the world church has been promoting the need for such ministry since it entails hundreds of chaplains who minister in hospitals, educational institutions and correction facilities, according to Pastor Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America, who was instrumental in establishing chaplaincy ministries in Inter-America in 2006.
“For years, each chaplain in our Division was working on their own,” said Pastor Leito. “Unfortunately, in many places in our division the chaplain has been considered as a second level pastor, a pastor who is perceived to have failed in ministry, and we wanted to lift the chaplains out of that notion that they are not placed as chaplains because of failure, but because they are doing a specialized ministry for God,” he added.
That specialized ministry performed by chaplains was emphasized throughout the symposium.
“Being a chaplain is not something different than being a minister,” said Pastor Leito in his opening message to chaplains Apr. 25th. “You are a minister but you have a specialized approach, in the ministry of comforting, ministry of encouraging, ministry of guiding people and you may not count your results in the x number of souls baptized but you are touching the lives of thousands and therefore it should not be perceived as a thing that is hanging by itself out there.”
“What you do is a labor of love,” he added. “The ministry you do not everyone can do.”
Not only were chaplains in attendance, but top church administrators from throughout Inter-America's major church regions.
“We emphasized to the administrators the need for them to place the best ministers they have in their territories as chaplains, not those [ministers] who cannot deal with a church,” the Adventist leader emphasized.
“The work of the chaplain is so vital in our territory,” says Pastor Rodriguez.”We want the work of the chaplain to be recognized.”
With 13 universities and 966 elementary and secondary schools boasting 155,000 students throughout Inter-America, the challenge is to have chaplains cater to the spiritual needs of those students.
“This is a challenge, but we are taking the steps to better and unify the chaplaincy ministries in the IAD,” stated Pastor Rodriguez. “One of the things we want to improve is for chaplains who work in schools and universities to be full time and not to be overburdened with teaching classes, but allow special time for students and their parents, and minister to the needs of teachers and faculty, as well.”
Among other recommendations discussed was to develop a comprehensive plan for formal training to benefit chaplains who serve in all three known levels: professional, volunteer and assistant. The foundation was also laid out for an online database of chaplains in the territory, as well as a division-wide study to identify opportunities for chaplain ministries and services in correctional facilities, campuses, and public and private hospitals. The list of recommendations which came about from the symposium will be taken to Inter-America's Executive Committee for approval later this month.
Among the special guest speakers included Martin W. Fledbush and Gary R. Councell from the Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries of the Adventist World Church, who spoke on principles of crisis ministries, spiritual leadership, and biblical foundations, among other relevant topics.
For Jerry Jean, who works as a chaplain in the Adventist University in Haiti, the symposium was more than just insight as to how to better his ministry as a chaplain of an educational institution.
“This program has proved to be more than [training], as we come to realize that we are not alone and that we can count on our leaders as well as our colleagues to share and hear experiences and better our ministry as we serve as effective chaplains,” Jean said. One of the challenges he faces is changing the perception of students as to what chaplaincy is about and helping them open up about their issues and needs.
The symposium provided “a platform for a more broadened view of what chaplaincy is really about,” said Pastor Neive George, who is a chaplain of Community Hospital in Trinidad, one of 12 hospitals and 25 clinics in the IAD. “Chaplaincy in the Inter-American Division is still in its infant stage, hence this symposium was crucial in bringing people, ideas and insights together in order to set an effective course for the future.”.
“I return with a more lucid understanding of Hospital chaplaincy, as well as I am returning home with a support of a larger group so I am not alone,” he added.
Bringing about as many chaplains from throughout the region for the symposium was an important step into better establishing chaplaincy ministries in Inter-America, said Pastor Rodriguez.
“We still have a tremendous challenge ahead, but I think that this encounter is going to mark a difference in Inter-America in chaplaincy ministries,” he said. “It's about living the gospel as chaplains not only as we speak but as we bring compassion to those in need in the life we lead, is what's going to make a difference.”
For more information on the upcoming Chaplaincy Ministries resolutions taken to be voted by the IAD Executive Committee later this month, visit www.interamerica.org