Institutional Ministries -- By: Ben Sorg
ATJ 4 (1971) p. 19
It is apparent to many that existence in our culture is ever becoming more complex. It is also apparent that there are increasing numbers of people who, for one reason or another, are finding greater difficulty in independently maintaining their own existence.
The number of institutions are steadily increasing. New types of institutions are continually being innovated. They serve those who are very young, and those who are very old. They serve the mentally retarded, the drug addicted, the unwed mother, or those who need vocational re-training.
For the purpose of our discussion we will deal primarily with those institutions which require the residency (or confinement) of their patients. These types of institutions are unique in-as-much as they tend to create a culture within themselves, designed to be theraputic for the resident. This type of institution usually has one or more full time chaplains as a part of its unique community.
The chaplain of a mental hospital uses specific methods and terminology to communicate the gospel. These methods would understandably be different from those used by a chaplain at an institution for youthful offenders. Yet it seems to be difficult for the parish clergyman to understand that he himself relates very poorly in either setting.
Some parish pastors who have spoken at institutions as visiting clergymen, have been frustrated by the uninhibited feed-back of their captive congregation, or perhaps by the lack of any response at all. Rather than to understand that this was caused by their own unfortunate choice of methods and words, they generally conclude that the chaplaincy has little potential and that it is unworthy of their serious effort.
It naturally follows that some of these pastors see the chaplaincy as a possible early retirement, or as an escape from their unsuccessful encounters with the official board.
Unfortunately, it also naturally follows that some of these pastors are motivated to seek the chaplaincy, and that their tour
ATJ 4 (1971) p. 20
of duty is tragically unproductive. They have proven, of course, their original premise.
There are clergymen, however, who recognize that they have skills and temperament for a particular institutional environment. They take the time to develop and test these skills by serving interships in supervised clinical exposures. They come to the chaplaincy eager and full of anticipation for a productive ministry.
Two years ago a second chaplain was added to our staff. He came to us after twenty-five years parish work. His ecclesiastical superiors and friends generally concluded...
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