The National Service Chaplaincy program is an interfaith initiative that seeks to provide ministers and laypeople with the tools to minister to young people who are completing years of service through AmeriCorps or other service organizations. Young people who take on service commitments often find themselves in new cities, with few contacts, little money, and no church or community to call “home.” By providing discernment resources, helping to establish intentional communities and houses of hospitality, and equipping individuals to reach out to young people engaged in service, The National Service Chaplaincy programs helps young people who are serving explore the relationship between their service and their faith.
Why a National Service Chaplaincy?
After graduating from college, many young adults volunteer to serve their country through a year or more of service with a national service organization. These young people travel to new communities where they serve in schools, human service agencies and other non-profits. But despite a known interest in exploring their spiritual life, few of them connect with a faith community during this time of transition. Not only do they struggle financially, but because they lack access to community resources, they are often isolated and terribly lonely as they struggle to address and process challenging issues in their work environments.
While there are obvious differences between soldiers and AmeriCorps members, these two groups share a number of traits in common. Both represent idealistic and committed individuals who have made a choice to serve and are placed in challenging situations where much is expected of them physically and emotionally.
There is a rich and powerful history of chaplains serving in the United States armed forces. In addition to providing spiritual and pastoral care to service men and women, chaplains oversee workshops, counseling sessions, religious education and special events geared for those in their care.
Unfortunately, there is no such structure set up to care for the spiritual needs of the thousands of young people who commit to serving their country through years of service with national service organizations like AmeriCorps, VISTA, City Year, Teach for America and others. If the military recognizes the need for a chaplaincy service, why isn’t there one for the individuals who are serving through national service organizations?
AmeriCorps and other service volunteers are intentionally utilizing their time, knowledge, and personal resources for the betterment of American communities. However, they are missing a chaplain-like presence in a time riddled by isolation, mystery, and high expectations. National Service Chaplains exist as beacons of light before and during times of angst and contemplation. You may be the reason an AmeriCorps member finishes their term of service. You may be the reason he or she remains in your community afterwards.
The National Service Chaplaincy is designed to connect these young adults with the faith communities of a town or a city by:
- Identifying clergy and lay leaders who want to serve this population
- Establishing a cohort of individuals from different faith traditions to present a common front and to work together in outreach and programming
- Training these AmeriCorps chaplains through either weekend seminars or web-based resources, resulting in a credential process that includes a certificate
- Monitoring the successes and challenges and bringing the effort to scale by engaging national church bodies, para-church groups and institutions of theological education
There are both short and long-term goals for the National Service Corps chaplains.
Short term, chaplains can:
Provide pastoral care to young adults engaged in full-time community service programs across the country
Welcome young adults who are serving in our communities and invite them to be part of local faith communities
- Be actively present to support young adults with their spiritual exploration, faith formation and vocational discernment
Long term, chaplains can:
Foster interfaith dialogue and interaction as a permanent part of American culture
Strengthen faith communities through increased participation and leadership
Promote relevance of faith communities by engaging them in important social issues and community engagemen