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What Does a Navy Chaplain Do?

Some Navy chaplains serve on active military vessels.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2014
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A Navy chaplain provides spiritual advice and comfort to members of the Navy. In the United States, Navy chaplains also serve members of the Coast Guard and the Marines. Like chaplains in other branches of the military, Navy chaplains provide members of the armed forces with an opportunity to speak with a spiritual advisor about any issues that may come up. As with civilian spiritual advisors, a chaplain can encounter a wide variety of dilemmas ranging from requests for advice on resolving marital disputes to questions about the morality of certain actions.

In order to become a Navy chaplain, someone needs to be an ordained member of the clergy or a recognized religious officiant within his or her faith. While many chaplains are Christian, others come from traditions like Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. The Navy also provides opportunities for people who are still training to become members of the clergy who wish to join the Navy.

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Applicants to the Chaplain Corps must demonstrate not only that they are adequately qualified, but that they have strong moral and ethical codes and are of good character. References are consulted and the Navy takes care to select applicants whom it believes will provide the best service to people in need of assistance. Like other members of the armed forces, a Navy chaplain must meet certain physical standards and attends a training school to learn about Naval service and the rules of conduct for members of the United States Navy. While Naval chaplains do receive military training, they are classified as noncombatants.

Some Navy chaplains lead religious services that are nondenominational in nature so that anyone who wishes can attend, though some chaplains do lead denomination-specific services. They also make themselves available for counseling and advice. They may lead support groups, organize activities, and promote morale in other ways, such as assisting with events like musical performances and plays.

Some Navy chaplains work in a base setting, with organized offices and facilities for leading religious ceremonies. They can perform marriages, baptisms, and other rituals and also hold office hours for counseling and advising. Chaplains make themselves available at all hours to people who are in moral or spiritual crisis, and they provide counseling to people regardless of religious faith. A Navy chaplain cannot proselytize or attempt to convert, although if someone wants counseling about conversion, the chaplain can provide resources.

Chaplains are also active on the battlefield. They sail with Naval vessels and encamp with members of the Navy when they land and launch shore operations. On the battlefield, improvisational skills are extremely useful, as chaplains may need to make adjustments to the services they offer for safety and security reasons. The nature of the work for a Navy chaplain can also become more challenging while on active duty because the environment tends to be more stressful.

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