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Home arrow Religion arrow Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces

Credentials, Equivalency, and a Chaplain School

Military chaplains during the 1980s and 1990s struggled to address a serious shortage of Roman Catholic priests and growing numbers of minority religious groups within the ranks. These developments led the Protestant and Roman Catholic Chaplain Branches to expand the types of ministerial resources available to personnel and to include more faith groups in the chaplaincy (Reynolds 2003, 14-15). The Roman Catholic Chaplain Branch established the pastoral associate role in 1986 as a new Military Occupation Classification (MOC) in response to the chronic shortage of Roman Catholic priests (Bourque 2001). Canada is one of the few chaplaincies in the world that employs pastoral associates (DND 2003b, 1.4). Pastoral associates are lay chaplains who provide all the services of the priest 'except those that, by their very nature or ecclesiastical law, require Holy Orders [ordination]' (DND 2003b, 1.4).19 PAs are permitted to give homiletic commentaries at a Mass, distribute communion previously consecrated by a priest, perform baptism, marriage, and funeral services, conduct preparation classes for the various sacraments, distribute ashes previously blessed by a priest, anoint the sick, confer blessings, and perform various other pastoral duties. They may not consecrate the host for Holy Communion, hear confessions, or give the blessing during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Normally they serve on ministerial teams that include a priest who can make up for the few important services a PA cannot provide. These Roman Catholic chaplains meet all the chaplaincy-training requirements except that of ordination (they may be ordained as deacons but not priests). As a result, for the first time, lay women and men20 could serve as Catholic chaplains. Further, the branch actively recruited clergy from smaller Christian communities, such as Pentecostals, to serve the growing number of regular forces personnel affiliated with these groups. The increasing openness to denominational diversity presented a new hurdle with respect to obtaining equivalent credentials from new recruits.

Whereas the Roman Catholic priests and mainstream Protestant ministers who had traditionally served as chaplains have at least a Master's of Divinity (MDiv), a Master's of Theological Studies (MTS), or equivalent, many smaller denominations allow ordination after only a year or two of studies at an Accredited Associated Bible College. The inclusion of clergy holding different types of credentials required greater bureaucratization in the branch in order to establish fair entrance requirements and assessment models for everyone. Senior branch chaplains decided to implement formal entrance requirements, standardized training for all chaplains in the branch, and new policies that would assure fair treatment and promotion. As a result, credentialism spread throughout the branch.

The increasing regulations governing chaplains culminated in the opening of the Canadian Forces Chaplain School and Centre (CFChSC) at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden, Ontario on 12 April 1994 (Fowler 1996, 257). Senior chaplains at this time saw the creation of a military chaplaincy training school as an opportunity to cement their presence in the CF despite continuing secularization in Canada while also regulating and overseeing the training of all chaplains (Crerar 2006a).

The changes wrought by ecumenism in both Protestant and Roman Catholic circles in the years after the Second World War had laid a foundation that made possible the eventual amalgamation of the Protestant and Roman Catholic arms of the Chaplain Branch. Up until the mid-1990s, the Protestant Canadian Council of Churches Committee on Chaplain Service to the Forces and the Roman Catholic Military Ordinariate21 had guided the two chaplain branches independently, except in matters of mutual interest, for over fifty years (DND 2003b,1.4-5). During the 1990s both groups sought improved methods for serving CF personnel and their families. In 1995, in what they called 'a triumph of ecumenism' (DND 2003b), the Protestant and the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy Branches agreed to amalgamate into one Chaplain General's Office to direct all chaplains within the forces. By the end of 1997, the Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplains (ICCMC) replaced the traditional governing authorities of the Protestant and Roman Catholic chaplains (2003, 1.4-5). At that time the ICCMC acted as a liaison between military chaplains and their churches on the one hand, and the Department of National Defence and the Government of Canada on the other (Reynolds 2003, 1.5, 1.6, 15). Under this new model, the post of the chaplain general alternated every two years between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant chaplain. Furthermore, all chaplains were to operate as if they were religiously 'generic,' so they might serve all personnel regardless of their denomination in all aspects of their duties except ecclesial requirements. In a further demonstration of ecumenism and rationalization working hand in hand, in 2007 the appointment of the chaplain general changed again so that it no longer alternates between Protestant and Roman Catholics but is determined every two years based on rank and experience regardless of denomination (DND 2009). At least, this is the model in theory. It will be interesting to see how the appointments under the new system play out.

The result of influences such as bureaucratization, increasing diversity, and legal recognition for individual rights and freedoms means that becoming a Canadian Forces chaplain today is no longer the simple matter of enlisting, as it was in the First World War. Now, for acceptance into the CF chaplain-training program, clergypersons must

  • • be ordained, or be otherwise authorized, by their religious governing body;
  • • have at least a bachelor's degree or an MDiv (or equivalent) depending on what their denomination requires of them for clergy status;
  • • have two years of civilian pastoral experience;
  • • be authorized to military ministry by their ecclesiastical authorities;
  • • be supported in their application by a representative from the Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplains (ICCMC);22
  • • receive the commendation of the chaplain general;
  • • meet CF medical and physical standards;
  • • complete a branch selection process that includes tests, interviews,

and a meeting with an 'acceptance board.'23

Following acceptance into the branch, chaplains are assigned the rank of Captain/Naval Lieutenant24 and begin Basic Military Occupational Qualification (BMOQ)25 at the Canadian Forces Chaplain School and Centre (CFChSC), CFB Borden. The Chaplain Branch recruiting website explains: 'The [BMOQ] is given in a bilingual format. During these thirteen weeks of training you will become familiar with life in the Canadian Forces and the Chaplaincy. You will learn basic leadership skills, military regulations and customs, acquire the fundamental military skills of dress, drill, deportment, crisis counseling, ministry to casualties of critical incidents, and first aid. You will also participate in physical training and sports programs. Successful completion is a prerequisite for continued enrollment and for further training' (DND 2010c).

Following this phase of training, chaplains have two years to complete a second Basic Occupational Qualification (BOQ) phase that includes CFChSC courses on pastoral counselling (three weeks), ethics training (two weeks), intermediate chaplain training (three weeks), and chaplains in operations (three weeks in length and mandatory for those who deploy) and a two-day course on suicide intervention provided by the CF Medical branch. Completion of all of these courses is necessary for promotion to Major/Lieutenant Commander and to be eligible for any senior leadership roles within the chaplaincy (DND 2010c). Other courses available over the course of one's career include a senior leadership course and intensive language studies among others.

The high standards for entry mean that chaplains enter the branch later than other recruits. A senior representative of the chaplain branch wrote to me: 'The average age of recruits ... changes from year to year. It would probably be safe to say 38-40 but that is not absolute. We can have no top age restrictions on recruiting (except Compulsory Retirement Age) and the minimum age is determined by the need for an MDiv (3-4 years after BA) and minimum of 2 years experience. I would guess the starting age would in general be no less than 28 usually but typically we get them much older' (Benham Rennick 2006c).

On acceptance into the branch, air force and army chaplains attain the rank of Captain (Capt) and navy chaplains Lieutenant Navy (LtNavy).

They must spend a minimum of four years at that rank before promotion to the rank of Major becomes a possibility. Competition for promotions is based on personnel evaluations and assessments by a merit board. The Office of the Chaplain General states: 'For Chaplains, promotions are based on the recommendation of the ICCMC to the Chief of the Defence Staff for Colonel and the Minister of National Defence for [Brigadier General]. All lesser promotions are decided in the regular CF system' (Benham Rennick 2006c).

While pay for a civilian clergy person might range from no income for volunteer pastors in small communities to significant salaries for lead pastors in a large urban church, clergy in the CF are paid according to their experience and education on par with other military officers. Information given to me from the Chaplain General's Office indicates that the starting salary of a Captain in the Chaplain Branch is $65,904. After ten years at that rank they can make as much as $87,120. With a promotion, a chaplain's salary increases. Chaplains, like other CF personnel, receive regular salary increases throughout their term of service, so the longer they serve the more money they make. As in many other professions, the branch calculates a chaplain's pension based on a percentage of his or her top five wage-earning years (Benham Rennick 2006c).

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