Become a Navy Chaplain: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Jul 14, 2018

Learn how to become a Navy chaplain. Research the job description, various duties and education requirements, and find out how to start a career in the Navy as a chaplain.

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Should I Become a Navy Chaplain?

Navy chaplains are commissioned officers who provide spiritual guidance to service personnel and their families. These officers may conduct worship services and religious rites, such as weddings and funerals, and oversee Sunday school and other religious education programs. They may also train other leaders or officers who conduct religious programs. Navy Chaplains may find their careers to be a satisfactory way to serve their country and God simultaneously.

Individuals interested in becoming Navy chaplains must qualify as a graduate theology students and then complete Navy officer and chaplain training programs. They must be tolerant of diverse religious traditions and be willing to minister respectfully to all. Navy chaplains must fulfill their military service requirements, either with a full-time active duty or part-time reserve commitment.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's and graduate degrees
Degree Field Graduate degree in theology or a related field; undergraduate degree in any major
Licensure and/or Certification Commissioned officer in the Navy or Navy Reserve, ecclesiastical endorsement
Training Successful completion of Officer Development School, Navy Chaplain School, and other training programs
Key Skills Religious tolerance, meet Navy's physical fitness and admissions standards
Salary 2,972.40/month or $35,669/year for entry-level officers plus allowances and benefits (pay increases with rank and experience)

Source: U.S. Navy

Navy chaplains have master's degrees in theology or related fields, with ecclesiastical endorsement from their religious organizations. They are tolerant of diverse religious traditions and convictions, and they meet the Navy's standard for physical fitness. According to the U.S. Navy website, entry-level officers receive monthly salaries of $2,972.40, which corresponds to annual salaries of $35,669, plus allowances and benefits. Pay levels increase with rank and experience.

Steps to Become a Navy Chaplain

What steps do I need to become a Navy chaplain?

Step 1: Talk to a Recruiter

Individuals should first speak with a Navy recruiter to learn about eligibility requirements and opportunities for military officer service and chaplaincy programs. Applicants must understand the time commitment involved in active duty or reserve service. Along with the educational, service and religious requirements, applicants must be citizens of the U.S. who are at least 21 years of age and able to serve 20 years before reaching the age of 62. They will also need to meet medical and physical fitness standards.

Step 2: Obtain a Graduate Degree

Individuals interested in becoming Navy chaplains will need bachelor's degrees from a qualified academic institutions. They will also need to complete a post-baccalaureate program of at least 72 semester hours in a program related to theology, such as the Master of Divinity. Master's degree programs in divinity are available at theology schools and can be completed in about two years. As they complete their studies, students may gain practical experience in congregational settings, as well as alternative forms of ministry, which can help them gain the ecclesiastical endorsement that is required for Navy chaplains.

Graduate students working toward their theological degree may consider entering the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program. This program allows students to be commissioned as Navy officers while they complete studies. They will be able to work under the direct supervision of Navy chaplains, as well as qualify for pay benefits.

Step 3: Attend Officer Development School

Individuals who want to become active duty chaplains must complete Officer Development School (ODS) in Newport, Rhode Island. This 84-day program teaches individuals about the Navy and covers military, academic and nautical subjects, such as seamanship, Naval leadership, military law and damage control. The program instills the highest ideals of honor, loyalty and duty.

Step 4: Complete Navy Chaplain School

Following ODS, active duty applicants attend the Navy Chaplain School in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for seven weeks. Applicants learn about chaplaincy leadership topics, such as interpersonal counseling, ethics and character development, combat operational stress control, crisis counseling and wellness programs. They also learn how to plan and supervise religious ministries within their command, with topics covering manpower, budgets, policies and the training of religious military teams. Upon completion of the school, active duty Navy Chaplains are sent to their first duty assignment.

Step 5: Gain Additional Training and Experience

Like many other positions in the Navy, chaplains also have opportunities to advance through additional training and experience. Although advancement is competitive, full-time officers may take advantage of programs such as the command religious program through the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). They may also participate in Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) through one of the many service colleges. A combination of education and service experience will provide the greatest opportunity to advance as a Navy chaplain.

Navy chaplains provide spiritual guidance to service personnel and their families. They have master's degrees, tolerance for religious diversity and the required degree of physical fitness, and their annual salaries are $35,669.

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