Spring 2002
Volume 6 Number 3













Chaplains Who Serve the US Armed Forces

For God and Country  |  Section 2: Two Extremes of Love Section 3: The Demands of Ministry  |  Section 4: Two Chains of Command Section 5: A Ministry of Diversity  |  Section 6: Chaplain History  |  Section 7: Theological Boot Camp  |  Section 8: A United Vision

Theological Boot Camp

Military chaplains’ presence on Princeton’s campus is advantageous for both the U.S. armed forces and for the Seminary—something the Seminary recognizes each Veterans Day with an annual Military Chaplains Day. During World War II, because of wartime circumstances, the relationship between the navy and Princeton was even closer. There was at Princeton a V-12 Program, an accelerated program in which students earned an M.Div. equivalent in two years before going to chaplain school and then being deployed in the vastly expanded U.S. Navy.

For all three branches of the military today, a chaplain is required to be both an ordained minister and a U.S. citizen (or, for the army, a legal resident), to join when under the age of forty (though the age qualifications vary between branches and for various factors), to be able to receive a favorable National Security Agency clearance, to be physically qualified, and to be endorsed by his or her denomination/faith group; chaplains must also have both an undergraduate degree and a Master of Divinity or its equivalent, as well as (for active duty chaplains) have served for two years in the parish. (As though working for either the military or a denomination wouldn’t be a source of enough acronyms, paperwork, and delays, chaplains are members of both bureaucratic realms—and many seem to have chosen humorous resignation as the armor necessary for survival.)

In addition to fulfilling M.Div. requirements, military chaplains also attend Princeton as both D.Min. and (mainly) Th.M. students.

Thomas W. Gillespie (left) and U.S. Army chaplain James S. Boelens (PTS Class of 1979) at Princeton’s 2001–2002 Military Chaplains Day service, at which Boelens preached

From the annual pool of active duty navy chaplains who indicate they’re interested in attending “post-grad school” (that is, one year of graduate theological study), about a dozen are sent. They’re chosen based on past performance records, the timing of their transfer dates, and other criteria. The chaplains then decide what seminaries and divinity schools to apply to and what they want to specialize in (homiletics and liturgy, religious education, religion and culture, pastoral counseling, ethics, and ecclesiastical communication management). Finally, they submit their top choices (by which they’ve been accepted) to the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office, which usually allows the chaplain to attend the school of his or her preference.

“Princeton is consistently one of the most requested, primarily because of its excellent reputation, though the beauty of the town and campus is not to be discounted,” says Chaplain Charlotte Hunter, head of the Professional Development Branch in the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office, who earned her Th.M. at Princeton in 1996. “Princeton and Duke Divinity School are our two most selected schools right now.”

Schools must meet the navy’s equal opportunity criterion and must offer a one-year master’s degree. Cost is also a factor, which makes Princeton appealing to the military because of the generous financial aid packages it offers students.

Hunter says she encourages chaplains in Princeton’s direction because of her own experience there: “The excellence of the academics and faculty and administration at Princeton makes it a very desirable place for any chaplain to go and study. The faculty challenged me every day. They really pushed me, and I loved it.”

Civilian students also benefit from having military chaplains as colleagues, according to Stackhouse. “It’s a very good thing to have chaplains in our student body, especially since we have a fairly high percentage of students just out of college who have quite reserved or unformed positions about things to do with government, the military, and public life in general,” he says. “Having chaplains in the classes allows students to have deeper conversations about matters such as how the faith relates to the common life—the life out from under the steeple.”

Princeton Seminary president Thomas W. Gillespie, who entered the marines at age 17, still remembers that weekly sermons by navy chaplain Frank Wood (Class of 1942) helped him get through boot camp. “I believe the church needs to be in ministry wherever there are people—especially young people,” he says about the importance of educating military chaplains at Princeton. “Ministry in such a context is pastoral and missional, both high on my list of priorities.”

“Military chaplains were some of my best students,” says Ryerson. “They were people of deep faith, they worked hard, they were here for a purpose, and they were dedicated to the ideal of serving other people.” Ryerson worked with about a dozen chaplains on issues of world religions. Those students then returned to their respective military branches with insights helpful for an institution that deals with a large, multifaith workforce that works in many cultures around the world.

For God and Country  |  Section 2: Two Extremes of Love Section 3: The Demands of Ministry  |  Section 4: Two Chains of Command Section 5: A Ministry of Diversity  |  Section 6: Chaplain History  |  Section 7: Theological Boot Camp  |  Section 8: A United Vision