On November 13 & 14 the Missouri Synod sponsored its first ever conference for emergency services chaplains at the Crowne Plaza, west of St. Louis. The 80+ chaplains represented included police (local and state), sheriff dept., FBI, fire, EMS, and other agencies from throughout the US. As soon as I heard about it I signed up, eager to not only be included in something new, but also hoping to make sure that there was representation from more than just one segment of the synod.
I knew going in that no conference would be all that I might hope it to be. Having been to many conferences in synod the last few years, I am getting wearied by the repetition of seemingly endless PowerPoint presentations and video advertisements for synod's programs. But this one seemed different, and having just entered into chaplaincy work in the last three years or so, this seemed a great opportunity to get some much needed training and insight. In some ways it helped. In other ways, as the author of the quote below observed elsewhere, there was part of it that was much the same.
It was interesting to read the perspective of another chaplain who was there, who I greatly respect (Chaplain to the World). In part he observed: "As I was leaving, one of the organizers asked me what we could do to make next year's conference better. I said, 'focus exclusively on theology.'
We were treated to a long dissertation on being compassionate and merciful, replete with Bible verses and Confessional citations. We heard much about psychology and building relationships, but even the pagans know these things.
While it was assumed that we needed to be heartily admonished in these above matters, it apparently occurred to no one to preach the Gospel to the chaplains present, in order that they might be strengthened. Or to encourage us to be faithful to our Lord and our Confession of Him in this work, which is replete with temptation to be otherwise. I cannot recall a single mention of sin, or about the cross, the resurrection, prayer or the sacraments. Or about how these are implemented in our work as emergency chaplains."
He has a good point. It was light on theology, now that I think about it. And admittedly it would have been nice to be guided more on how one could carry out a distinctly “Lutheran chaplaincy." How does one carry out the work of a chaplain within the government structures and still maintain a distinctly Christian presence? How does one keep one's focus on the Gospel and not get carried away with the temptation to be a 'resident counselor' leaning on the psychologcial tools of the world and neglecting the priceless treasures our Lord has entrusted to us? These should be explored further and treated more thoroughly in the future.
However, I did think that Rev. Matt Harrison, executive director of the Board for Human Care, had a good presentation on the Theology of Mercy. The booklet bearing this title is available from LCMS Board of Human Care and World Relief along with many other great titles, some of them translations of Lutheran fathers on the subject of mercy. It would be worth your time to check it out.
For a newbie in chaplaincy work this was a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with other chaplains and possibly form new friendships and renew old ones among men of similar convictions. I am hoping that there will be another conference. And with the chaplain mentioned before, I do hope there is more theology at a future conference. I’m willing to give them another chance.