Guide to Community Chaplaincy

by katiedelp on


There is a growing interest in the vocation of Community Chaplaincy. FCS Urban Ministries has pioneered in this work since the late 1970’s when Bob and Peggy Lupton moved from an Atlanta suburb into inner city Grant Park, Atlanta.  They began to “neighbor” this community, building relationships and gathering resources to help their neighbors respond to local needs and concerns.  In the subsequent growth of the FCS Collective, Community Chaplains have been placed in the GlenCastle Apartments, The Villages of East Lake, Historic South Atlanta neighborhood, Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, Clarkston, East Point, North Buckhead and the Jackson Township neighborhood in Gwinnett county.  There have been numerous community chaplain interns working with FCS over the decades.

The emphasis on urban mission has gained a higher standing in seminary curricula. Mercer McAfee School of Theology has developed the urban track as a option in the Master of Divinity degree.  As students have been exposed to the priority of urban mission in the life of the Church and society more have been considering Community Chaplaincy.


The FCS Community Chaplain resides in the community and models for the community what neighboring looks like.  The Christian mandate places love for our neighbors in the same category as our love for God.  Jesus, in his story about the Good Samaritan, tells us that when people are in trouble a neighbor will see it and will respond with compassion and support.(Luke 10:30-37)  The New Testament also declares that it is impossible to truly love God whom we have not seen while refusing to love our neighbor whom we have seen.(1 John 5)  Because of the enormous importance of  neighboring in the Christian calling, FCS has given high priority to the Community Chaplaincy role in re-developing urban neighborhoods.


The FCS Community Chaplain ministry has emerged from the long and illustrious ministries of Chaplains in a wide variety of contexts. Historically the chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting as a pastor, priest, rabbi or a lay representative of a particular religion, attached to a secular institution or setting.  Traditionally, chaplains have served in the military, hospitals, prisons, police and fire departments and universities. In more recent days, chaplains have served in airports, hotels, sports, large corporations and small businesses as well as entertainment venues and with traveling musical groups. The Economist (Aug. 25, 2007 p64) reports that there are more than 4,000 chaplains serving in various business and professional organizations in America. Marketplace Ministries of Dallas, Texas has been developing corporate chaplaincy opportunities for over 25 years.  Their founder and CEO, Gil Stricklin publishes a quarterly newsletter telling stories of their several hundred market place chaplains.


Chaplaincy ministry usually involves a Masters degree in theology and at least four units of CPE (clinical pastoral education). This training is offered under the auspices of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education.  As this field has expanded beyond the traditional institutional placements, the training requirements have been adjusted to conform to preparation for the particular arena of service.  Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary has recently developed a course of study for chaplains in sports. Sports chaplains usually are persons who have been players or coaches and who have a deep desire to mentor athletes in the Christian faith.  Often corporate chaplains are retired pastors who desire to continue service.  Many chaplains have received their training in the military Chaplain’s schools and upon completing their military service continued serving in another context.

In 2009, FCS began certifying and endorsing community chaplains.  The requirements acknowledged on the certificate were for at least two years of pastoral ministry and a Master of Divinity degree.  The candidates are recommended by a pastor or professor who has mentored or supervised them.  The candidates are interviewed by FCS Chaplaincy director and the Executive leadership of FCS, exploring the candidate’s calling, experience and aptitude for serving as an FCS Community Chaplain.  There have been nine chaplains endorsed in this process and they are now serving in seven different community setting around Atlanta.


One of the real challenges facing Community Chaplaincy as a full time Christian vocation is the issue of funding.  FCS Urban Ministries has sustained its 35 year history in Atlanta largely by each ministry developing its own financial support.  The record of FCS and other 501(c)3 organizations relative to their funding is one of slow and consistent building of relationships with individuals, churches, foundations and corporations.  Bob Lupton established the pattern of making friends, telling his story in monthly communications and continually trusting God to provide.  When this pattern is followed and the ministry is seen as authentic and effective, the resources are usually available.  The gifts don’t always arrive at the time we feel they are needed, but this faith process is sustainable because God is always faithful, and God’s people can be trusted when they have the information and the relationships.  Dr. J.B. Lawrence,  one of my father’s mentors,  served as president of the Baptist Home Mission Board for 30 years; His motto was “trust the Lord and tell the people” It worked for this good mission agency for many years, it worked for my father in over 60 years of ministry and it works today.


Community chaplains have a strategic opportunity to challenge our established churches regarding the importance of being good neighbors to the local neighborhood where their church facilities are located.  Most churches today are “commuter” churches. This is true of both suburban and urban churches.  Their members drive long distances to attend a particular church.  This “commuter church” phenomenon enables a congregation to feel they are successful because their sanctuary is filled every Sunday, while they have little or no personal ministry within their own “Jerusalem.”  Thankfully, some churches are recognizing that they are called to love their neighbors as a church body in a particular community. To help address this need these churches are employing chaplains who reside in the local neighborhood and assist the church and their neighbors to partner in bringing God’s Shalom to their local families, businesses and organizations serving the community.  Five of our present FCS Community chaplains receive some or total financial support from their local church.  We believe that some time in the future many more churches will follow this encouraging practice.

What we have said in this matter is not all that needs to be said; Dr. Lupton’s latest book, “Toxic Charity” challenges us to beware of the seductive tendency of dependency, which asks others to do for us or for ministry projects things that we can and should do for ourselves.  In this role the chaplain must be a visionary regarding the assets already present in the focus community.  We should also consider the gifts and expertise we possess which can be income generating possibilities; to teach, to consult, to write or to labor in needed enterprises that can provide income as well as economic assets for the local neighborhood.  The entrepreneurial spirit is a gift of God to see things that need to be done and ask why not?  We really do have the power needed to change things for the better.  Our Lord declared that he had been given all power in Heaven and in Earth, then he called us to go in this power and do what needed to be done to establish His Kingdom.  This is the Kingdom work which we call community chaplaincy. We must not approach this work as beggars, powerless before the difficult challenges that impact our neighborhoods. No, we have the transforming power of a life changing relationship with God and life changing relationships with others and this will mean change for the better where ever we are.

The FCS Community Chaplain combines the skills of a community organizer with the spiritual and relational gifts of a parish priest or pastor.  As community organizer or developer, the chaplain’s top priority is to know the community, become known within the community and model a “neighboring” lifestyle.  As parish priest or pastor the chaplain should develop the art of integrating the witness of our hope in Jesus within the challenging hopelessness which many persons and communities are feeling.  The community chaplain’s mission is relationships and community building, not evangelism.  However, if we listen and affirm people and trust the Holy Spirit to empower every contact and conversation, the evangelistic impact will become evident. The chaplain recognizes the centrality of prayer and is always ready to pray with and for people as the situation and the Spirit suggests.

The FCS Community Chaplain subscribes to the following principles:

  • To follow Jesus in seeking God’s Kingdom in today’s world
  • To live a neighboring lifestyle in the community and call others to do the same
  • To value the dignity and personhood of all persons as children of God
  • To serve with out discrimination regarding race, culture, class, religion, gender or sexual orientation
  • To work with the community to discover the assets and opportunities for community wholeness and development
  • To work in the confidence that God is at work within the neighborhood  to create the shalom of God’s Kingdom
  • To work with the churches and other institutions serving the community to imagine what the Shalom of God means in this context
  • To continually sound the call for others to join us in this work as neighbors, investors partners and friends


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