The Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is the home of many vibrant chaplaincy ministries. More than 200 Seventh-day Adventist chaplains serve in multiple chaplaincy areas, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all chaplains currently serving in the North American Division. The non-traditional settings in which chaplains serve (i.e., hospitals, military installations, college and university campuses, prisons, municipalities) provide an array of ministry opportunities. Rarely is any day the same, yet every day can be both rewarding and fulfilling. Chaplain duties include providing counseling on spiritual and moral issues, conducting worship services, performing weddings and funerals, overseeing religious education, visiting injured personnel, and advising military leaders, just to name a few of their many responsibilities.
Three principles that notably contribute to chaplaincy ministry success are deck-plate ministry, inclusion, and readiness.
Over my 22-year career in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps, I have perpetually employed deck-plate ministry — an approach that allows me to walk around each level (deck) of the ship and interact with sailors and Marines on various points of interests. In a sense, the chaplain is able to meet those whom he or she serves right where they are. Some of my most cherished relationships have come as a result of deck-plate ministry. This has also been effective in helping to meet the needs of service persons during some of their lowest points. Chaplains take the initiative in performing deck-plate ministry, finding opportunities to convey compassion, empathy, and moral support. Conceptually, deck-plate ministry transcends all chaplaincy areas. The settings in which chaplains serve also vary as much as the patient, inmate, or service member’s tragedy, trauma, or misfortune, and can occur wherever there is a mutually shared space.
Chaplains are called to minister to persons of many diverse backgrounds and religious affiliations without bias or prejudice. This can only be accomplished effectively by following the model of Jesus, who lived by the New Testament message of inclusion. He was not selective about those to whom He ministered and embodied His own words in His ministry practice.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:39.
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me,’” Matthew 25:40.
Jesus ministered to the physically challenged, less fortunate, and sick. John the Baptist, while imprisoned, was not confident of his future and sent his disciples to confirm if Jesus was the Messiah. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me,’” Matthew 11:4-6. Through His miracles, Jesus showed love, compassion, and empathy for those who were disadvantaged. Jesus was also inclusive of women and placed a high value on them. He conversed with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), and He elevated women by referring to them as “daughters of Abraham,” Luke 13:16. Jesus instantly healed the woman who touched the hem of His garment (Mark 5:25-34); He had compassion on the mothers who brought their children to Him to be blessed (Matthew 19:14). In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus illustrated the nature of true religion that is inclusive of all people, regardless of race, color, religion, or creed (Luke 10:35-37).
Similarly, chaplaincy ministry transcends world views, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, individual and cultural differences. But like Jesus, chaplains must be willing to meet people where they are and seek to gain a knowledge of differences that will contribute to an environment of mutual respect, trust, and inclusion where all are valued.
For chaplains, readiness takes on different connotations. For example, spiritual readiness is essential for chaplains to develop and maintain personally, and to promote among those they serve. Spiritual readiness gives meaning and purpose to a person’s life and better equips one to face inevitable life challenges.
Then there is a literal physical readiness that keeps chaplains constantly vigilant and on alert for the next act of service, which could come at any time in the form of a visit to the hospital, mortuary, prison, university campus, military barracks and other sites where they are needed to turn those in crisis toward Christ.
Over the years, my work as a military chaplain has helped me to learn well the meaning of the Latin phrase, “Semper Paratus,” always ready. Two days after Christmas 2021, I received military orders to assist during the Red Hill fuel leak at Joint Base Pearl Harbor. In this capacity, I served as the Emergency Family Assistance Center chaplain, providing spiritual and moral support to affected service members and their families, and visiting military housing communities and water distribution centers. My commitment to serve both God and country inspired a high level of readiness that required long distance travel and a period of separation from family and friends. My expedient response was also in part due to the strong support and prayers of my wife, son, and other family members.
Present Day Examples
Chaplain Joseph Khabbaz, vice president of spiritual life at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, fully embodies the essence of deck-plate ministry, inclusion, and readiness. He recently shared that, “As chaplains at Southern, we remain steadfast in our commitment to provide our students with a biblically-grounded and vibrant spiritual environment for learning academically and growing in their relationship with Christ. There is no shortage of ways to get involved in the spiritual life of the campus. Whether it’s praying with classmates and faculty by the flag pole, joining one of our 90-plus small groups for Bible study, joining a praise team and leading out in campus-wide worship, or spending a semester as a student missionary, you’re likely to connect in a faith community at Southern — and that’s intentional.”
Carol Campbell-Norris, Ed.D., a chaplain in the oncology unit at AdventHealth Celebration Hospital in Orlando, Florida, is well equipped for her non-traditional and specialized ministry role. Acknowledging her special gift as a counselor, she pursued master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy and pastoral ministries, as well as a doctorate in pastoral community counseling, specializing in grief, death, and dying. For years, Campbell-Norris has provided grief therapy for individuals and families as a hospice bereavement counselor. She currently extends her service by providing bereavement groups, mentorship, and community-based education. She also shares online video-based resources offering testimonials, tips, and strategies for living a fulfilling life. Messages of hope further resound in her two books, The Invisible Me and The Last Breath, where she explores God’s intimate care during the most difficult times of life.
Interestingly, Campbell-Norris, shared that, “Becoming a chaplain was never my intention; God chose me, and it is now my calling.” What she enjoys most about chaplaincy is the privilege of entering the hospital every day, and leaving, knowing that God has used her to touch people’s lives for eternity. If you happen to visit AdventHealth Celebration, you will experience the joy and inspiration that Campbell-Norris exhibits to staff, patients, and their families every day. When asked how she does it, she responded, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” Nehemiah 8:10.
In these challenging times, with the COVID-19 pandemic, wars, natural disasters, and social and political unrest, chaplains continue to minister at every level, like “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times,” 1 Chronicles 12:32. These faithful men and women are devoted to duty and count it a privilege and honor to serve the God of the universe by serving others. Their hard work is greatly appreciated!
Persons interested in a career in chaplaincy should contact the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists for additional information and assistance. The website address is https://nadadventistchaplains.org/.
is director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries for the North American Division, and captain (CHC), United States Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps.
Southern Union | May 2022