Chaplaincy is considered a Specialized Ministry in the ELCA. The normative "first call" ministry in the ELCA is parish ministry. The first call pastor is placed in a congregation where they serve in traditional functions of Word and Sacrament such as preaching, presiding at communion, baptizing, teaching confirmation, and so on.
First call candidates are generally not considered for specialized ministry. My own sense of call has been to hospital chaplaincy. I find this to be the place where I am most living out of my call of service to God and to the world. I frequently find myself not fitting into the mold of the normative first call ministry. So I am attempting to think through how my call to chaplaincy is an incarnation of the ministry of word and sacrament (ordained) ministry.
The ELCA defines the Word as both the holy scriptures and the living Christ. So the proclamation of the Word includes preaching and teaching of scripture, but also testifying to the work of the Living Christ in the world. This is where I find myself most often resonating with this aspect of my call in chaplaincy. Jesus Christ epitomized a ministry of accompaniment. Jesus SAW people in their need (blind man, hemorrhaging woman, woman returning from burying her son, and so on.) Through my baptism, I die and live in Christ, and Christ lives in me. I am called to walk alongside those I meet in the hospital. I am called to extend the love of Christ to those in their greatest time of need.
The Lutheran church defines a sacrament as taking a very ordinary thing (water, bread, and wine) and using that to make manifest the promises of God. Baptism with water grants us eternal life in Christ, and Holy Communion feeds us for this journey on earth and reminds us to whom we belong. These sacraments are of paramount importance in the hospital, when we are reminded of our mortality and finitude and frailty in the face of overwhelming circumstances. While I am not presently allowed to preside over the sacraments because I am not ordained, I have no doubt that being able to offer them in my ministry of chaplaincy is crucial.
One of the ELCA buzzwords these days is the idea of "Missional Leadership". This was the prompt for my candidacy approval essay and I will explore it in my next blog post: Chaplains as Missional Leaders