Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chaplaincy Studies Essay by Jack Anderson

By Reverend Jack Anderson
Spiritual direction: Finding the key to our inner souls
Inside each human person, say pastoral ministers, is a deep desire to connect with what is most beautiful, joyful, peaceful and true about the world and about each person's unique call from God to be of service. But the noise, and trying to meet deadlines, and pressures of contemporary life often leave many people too frazzled to experience God's presence for more than a nano-second here and there.

How do people maintain virtues of hope, joy and love and not be overrun by becoming bitter, despairing or resentful?

Enter the Chaplain--a skilled spiritual person assisting other people of faith to discover God's presence in his/her life, build a vibrant prayer life, learn spiritual tools for discernment and decision-making, and develop a close relationship with God. Christians who are serious about their faith recognize they can't do it alone.

As a Chaplain I will be able to offer a helping relationship to anyone seeking answers to spiritual questions and wanting to develop a spiritual background that supports their call. I can offer advice about solving problems as a pastoral counselor and help a person tap into God's guidance and to sort out God's voice from other pulls or tugs that come from the culture or elsewhere.

As a trained Chaplain I will provide counseling or therapy that is consistent with my skill level. My role will be to help individuals deal with a particular issue where they feel stuck. A Chaplain is using a microscope to help in locating and dissecting the problem for effective remediation..  A Clergyperson asks, Where is God in this particular situation?  That person would be using a telescope to identify that a problem exists.

Many lay people become interested in seeking a Chaplain's guidance when facing life-altering decisions like whether to change careers, move to another city, or choose a marriage partner.

God has given each one of us the key to understand our inner souls. I don't think we were taught to trust that feeling by ourselves but were made to understand with clarification from your clergy.

Choosing the career path of a Chaplain should also be guided by faith. You should meet with other Chaplains and/or clergy to get a sense of the job and then to choose, as time allows, the path you will take.

People are going to ask, 'How will I know this is the right path?' I would then have to respond by saying  'I don't know, but I know you'll know.'

It's already moving out into the world as Chaplains apply their ministry in hospitals, homes for the elderly, prisons or homeless shelters.

Immigrants often lack extended family and trust the church as a place where they can be listened to. Occasionally that is not enough and the Christians will seek the friendliness of the Chaplain as they can counsel at the person's home or living abode. Sometimes the people may choose the atmosphere of the Church setting. The really important thing to me is that the troubled person has someone to talk to and confide in while seeking spiritual and emotional answers.

Students quite often will be an excellent choice for enrolling in the Chaplaincy program as it gives them a real opportunity to see how people of the community may have a multitude of problem both spiritual and being a human in general. A good portion may not have received a "calling" but it is critical for questions to be answered.  Students will come to a sense of their own answers within. Speaking with different clergy men and women gave me a birds-eye view of the profession (calling in general). I would only suggest this program to require you to visit different clergies and not just your own faith.

Students' deepest dreams or desires are planted by God and the students need to sense God's deep love for them. What will bring someone the greatest fulfillment, greatest joy and peace? A student's desire, a dream, if they really listen, is not going to go against who they are and who God has created them to be in their uniqueness.
During the early days in the Prison Systems, chaplains were exclusively Christian. Their unabashed objective was to convert everybody to their particular brand of Christianity, and it was either Jesus' way or no way. Though much of this remains the status quo in some places, prison chaplaincy has become increasingly pluralist in the ensuing 117 years, and chaplains find themselves dealing with more contemporary issues.
Though Christians still dominate the landscape of prison chaplaincy, diversity is now the order of the day. Proselytizing is still active in many prison facilities, but it is officially prohibited or generally discouraged. Chaplains are still a mainstay of prison operations, but many of their positions are being eliminated. Prison religious programs are still widely available to all inmates. Religion itself is still an integral element of correctional programming, but even it is being redefined by the courts.
As a Prison Chaplain I will need to look at each of these issues,
Christianity vs. Diversity  As the country's prison population has dramatically increased, so has the religious diversity of inmates. Though more and more minority clergy have been answering the call to prison chaplaincy, they are often excluded by qualifications that are based on Christian type ordination and pastoral education standards. Likewise, prison religious programs are all too frequently limited to Christian modes of practice, whereby inmates of other faiths are often obstructed in fulfilling their religious obligations. The world is made up of much more than just Christians and all faith traditions should be honored and accorded equal treatment in prison environs.
Permitting vs. Prohibiting Proselytizing  As inmates are literally a captive and vulnerable audience, proselytizing is rightfully prohibited in most prisons. Yet, inmates are regularly subjected to subtle and active forms of proselytizing by dominant faith groups subtly, by way of heavily focusing on certain faith programs while limiting others, and actively by using outside volunteers and inmate "disciples." This behavior is highly offensive and disrespectful to targeted inmates of other religions. Again, all faith traditions must be honored and adherents of all faiths should be free of proselytizing pressures from others.
Professional Chaplains vs. Volunteers  Correctional chaplaincy is a professional discipline, requiring extensive training beyond that of one's own faith group. Staff chaplains must have sufficient working knowledge of divergent faith requirements in order to properly administer the activities of all faith groups. When properly augmented by contract clergy and community resources of other faiths, staff chaplains are highly effective, contributing significantly to the orderly operations of correctional facilities and the rehabilitation of offenders. However, some correctional systems have recently fallen prey to offers of "free" chaplains from religious organizations whose agendas are self-centered. Consequently, religious programs in those places have suffered greatly, and the religious rights of many inmates have been trampled upon. The integrity of religious programs can be best ensured by retaining professional correctional chaplains and fully using their expertise.
Open Religious Programs vs. Faith Based Units  In the past few years, prisons have been experimenting with inmate living units that are operated in accordance to faith-based principles a promising development but one that is ripe for abuse. Though most of these programs profess to be open to inmates of various faiths and "interfaith" in nature, many are actually operated out of a single faith contingent's mission and are proselytizing machines. Furthermore, in some systems where these units have been established, they have become the entire focus of religious programming. Fortunately, however, some truly "multi-faith" unit programs are proving themselves to be the preferable alternative because inmate participants are being taught about their faiths by members of their own faiths and proselytizing is discouraged. These multi-faith units should be encouraged, but only so long as they do not detract from religious programs that are available to inmates elsewhere.
Religious vs. Civil Law  Recently, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act was enacted to ensure the religious freedom of all inmates. Likewise, some state and local religious freedom initiatives have been enacted to ensure the religious freedom of all citizens. Some may view this as being burdensome on or intrusive of correctional operations. The alarming development, however, is that civil courts have been ruling that a supposed "sincerely held belief" in a given faith is the proper test for determining an inmate's religious affiliation. This directly conflicts with the standards (i.e., religious laws) by which bona fide members of various faith groups are affirmed and it would also appear to violate proper separation of church and state. It has created a nightmare for prison religious program administrators in that they are essentially being required to accept the faith claims of inmates who are not recognized by the faiths themselves as well as accept some claims that are not even linked to any particular faith tradition. As religious freedom is a hallmark of American life, it should be protected at any cost, even if it requires correctional administrators to step out of their familiar operational box. However, when the courts start making religious decisions, they should be actively challenged. Likewise, correctional systems and personnel should be vigorously defended against inappropriate religion related lawsuits.
Though chaplaincy is facing new and old challenges, it is of proven benefit and deserving of the utmost support. As a Chaplain I will be asked to perform a myriad of tasks that encompass a broad knowledge base. If this is to be my career pursuit, I must begin now to enhance myself both intellectually as well as spiritually.
I chose the prison chaplaincy as some force brought it into my mind and has continually reminded me that this is the path I need to travel. I have let God control what I need to do and I merely obey and follow to the best of my abilities. ULC has been a huge part in my decision making process. Everything from the seminary styled courses to the weekly messages from Reverend Amy have helped in my decision making process.

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