Being a Chaplain…

For those of you who do not know me personally other than from this blog, my life currently is filled mostly with chaplain work.  When I first heard of the term chaplain, I was confused as to what it is that a chaplain actually does.  The best way that I can describe it, is simply “being with other people“.  Now I know that doesn’t sound all that glamorous or pastoral for those in today’s church settings, and you would be right!  Chaplaincy is not glamour, it is not flashy, it is simply getting down in the dirt with people where they are at.


I do chaplaincy work at 3 different levels- I am a full time prison chaplain, part time Canadian Navy reserve chaplain, and a volunteer chaplain for our local fire department.  Each of these is different in so many ways.  I get to work with some of the most courageous and brave men and women that I have ever met- this goes across the board at all levels- the Correctional Officers, the NCM’s and Officers of the RCN, and the volunteers and Officers of the GNFD.  These men and women serve their communities, their country with great courage and bravery that is second to none.  The dirt that they face on a daily basis is the dirt I get to be with them in- that is what doing chaplain work is about.


Many people ask me what it is like to work in these different environments: each place I serve has there differences for sure, but one of the things that I discovered through each place of service is this- despite the difficulty of the situation faced, there is always a determined unity to make the most out of whatever the experience is currently being faced.  These are the people I get to serve along beside.


I am blessed to be part of the chaplaincy, but to be truthful- I was never called to be a chaplain!  I did not attend school to become a chaplain, it was not a calling I felt compelled to do.  In fact I was very content and comfortable doing counselling in a marriage and family context.  No, I was not, nor have I ever felt called to be a chaplain, I have been however, called to be obedient to the ways and teaching of Yeshua, Jesus, the only one God.  And it is in this obedience that I must walk, whatever the road may have in store.  That is where I find myself today, learning to continue to walk in obedience, and doing chaplaincy work, being with people in the dirtiness and joys of life experiences.

That to me is being a chaplain…

Thanks for stopping by,

~EsseRealis (Being Real)



  1. You say some very good things here about chaplaincy and I commend your work. Yet, you lost me at “obedient to the only one God.” Having been a Chaplain for many years myself, I’m wondering how you relate or “be with” people who don’t believe as you believe? Do you see yourself primarily as an evangelist for your point of view, or as a person of compassionate presence with all people of any faith or no faith? I’m curious.


    1. Chris, thanks for the comment and for your work you have done as a chaplain.
      In response to your question, I am sorry to have lost you- I do chaplaincy work in multi-faith environments and I make sure that everyone, regardless of their faith background gets the proper resources and support they need. However, I am not a Muslim chaplain to Muslims, nor am I a Catholic priest to Catholics- I make sure people know what I believe without the hammer- I am unashamedly a follower of YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yeshua called Him Our Father- I am not an evangelist in the regards that you are implying, or the way I have perceived you are implying. For me trust and building that trust with everyone I meet is imperative as a chaplain.
      I can be with people and still be myself, even when faith backgrounds differ. At the end of the day, however this may sound- there is only 1 true God, not because I said so, but because YHWH did- I know that sounds arrogant and proud, I guess that is where faith plays a part for me and that is why I follow.
      I would be interested to know what your point of view is towards chaplaincy, as I have met quite a few differing opinions along my journey.
      Thanks again for the questions,


  2. Thanks for the explanation and description of your approach, Brandon. Not sure how “you lost me” but let me respond. It appears to me you are primarily a Christian seeking to support Christians and perhaps bring in more Christians. I appreciate that you wish to “build trust” with others, but I wonder, from what I read, if that is primarily to convert?
    My practice and concept of chaplaincy is quite different. To me, a Chaplain practices a presence of compassion among people regardless of their faith, ethnicity, nationality, etc, etc. Otherwise, I think a person simply serves their own congregation and maintains an insular, sectarian view and practice. Am I wrong? I have worked beside Chaplains who think it’s ok, when asked by a Muslim for a Qur’an, to bring them a Bible. Evangelism, not Chaplaincy. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly fine if a person believes they serve the only, true God. It’s just that, in my opinion, Chaplaincy is probably not the best place to see oneself as a missionary in a missionfield. People are in crisis, distress, and vulnerable, raw. A person who tries to preach or “pray them into faith” in these moments, is, in my professional opinion, rather unethical. I know that’s harsh, but evangelism has blinders (I was an Evangelical for years and know many now).
    “At the end of the day,” as you say, maybe it’s really the time spent listening, learning and assisting that matters the most, not that one has maintained their very exclusive faith? That belief, by the way, can’t help but shape, color and flavor one’s whole Chaplaincy and effectiveness, wouldn’t you say?
    Many questions raised by Chaplaincy!


    1. Chris,
      Thanks again for the thoughtful response. I do see where you are coming from, and to be honest I recognize the difference between evangelism and showing love for the purpose of showing love, not for an ulterior motive, which you pointed out is evangelism. “It appears to me you are primarily a Christian seeking to support Christians and perhaps bring in more Christians.”
      Not at all- my job is not to save any one, or group, that is way out of my league, however, I do see that as a follower of Yeshua, I live out of that center, if that points people to Him- that is His role, like I said my role is obedience- Love God with all I am 1st, & Neighbor as self 2nd.
      I am afraid that the lense of Evangelism has been painted wrong in so many ways, that we have lost the point of it all.
      Chaplaincy allows me to use the gifts and skills of counselling/listening/being with in very real ways, and no, not for the motive to convert/change/persuade whatever lingo is used these days. My daily motive is like I said to love God 1st and neighbor/self/enemies after that. That is something that I cannot do on my own, because I get empty pretty quick.
      I appreciate the discussion and your thoughts and experience as well- I would be interested in why you do chaplaincy and what is your motive to help others in their times of difficulty?


  3. Yes, Brandon, I appreciate thoughtful and respectful discussions as well. This is part of my point here: when we get down to the “heart” of the matter of helping other human beings, faith or no faith, our beliefs take second place. Do I assist other people (as I have done professionally for about 45 years) because I am a non-believer who is seeking to make everyone I help a non-believer? Definitely not. I still see myself as a Chaplain because I saw how a good, healthy, inclusive chaplaincy can work very well, and is well accepted by most. Since I was an “Interfaith” Chaplain for those years, working not around but beside and with Chaplains and Clergy of other faiths, I grew to deeply appreciate the common ground: our shared humanity. My motive? The Good. Compassion. Doing the right thing. Helping. Because. . .it’s good! I used to do it all for “God” and now for “Good.” That’s good enough for me! I get where you’re coming from, I think, because I’ve been there when I was a follower of Jesus. Now, I respect anyone and everyone who makes it their “calling” to do what must be done for others in their community. What do you think about this?


    1. Chris, great wisdom from your many years of helping people! I am still “new” to the chaplaincy end of things, but it is part of who I am to naturally help people, yes it drains me, but it also energizes me. For me, my faith is very much a part of this as well, following Jesus has been always for me about Love first, because that is what I see in the way that He lived. He loved, the only ones judged were the religious, who knew the law, but didn’t live the law. I do chaplaincy not to change others, but to be with them where they are at; motive: I think we all have motives at some degree, but as follower of Yeshua that is where I must check my motives daily.
      I am discovering there are many philosophies of how to do things, chaplaincy included. I do not believe there is a right/wrong way, but rather I look for a win/win way.
      Not to sound evangelical and all, but I would be interested as to why you stopped following Jesus- I meet many “Christians” in prison who are, shall I say anything but followers…no pressure though.
      Thanks again for your time and conversation!


  4. Brandon, first let me say I admire your work! Prison, Navy, Fire dept. Amazing. Easy burnout so hope you take care of yourself, especially being new to it!

    I like the “natural” part of what you say. I think if a person goes into chaplaincy simply because it’s good and right and you naturally wish to help and serve with love. . .hey, who could criticize that?!

    “The only ones judged were the religious.” Ouch. So true and still hard for many to hear. As an Interfaith Chaplain I heard pastors say I was doing “Jesus’ work” and heard a Rabbi say I was “the Rabbi in the county jail.” I felt honored, since they knew I was not Christian or Jewish. A Buddhist said I had “Buddha nature.” Nice.

    I heartily agree that there are many philosophies of how to do chaplaincy. Yes, giving a thumbs up or down can be tricky. Yet, from long experience I know generally what “works” in chaplaincy. I’ve sure seen what *doesn’t* work! That’s why I’m pretty hard on the evangelistic folks who go into chaplaincy for one main reason. Thankfully, I’m not hearing that from you. Strong faith is one thing. Strong-arming for faith is a different bear!

    “Stopped following Jesus.” Interesting question (cheap answer is to refer to my Life After Faith book. . .very long, a bit boring maybe!). If it’s about “worshipping” him, yes, I moved on, finding that a distraction and a way of dividing the world. I’m not convinced this was his message: “Worship me and me alone, it’s all about ME; you have nothing to learn from other teachers of wisdom.” I think you’ve actually identified the life and message as love, compassion, naturally helping others, being with others, listening. If one’s “loving God” would send folks like me to a burning torture chamber for that. . .well, time for Mel Brooks or Monty Python!

    I very much appreciate the tone of your comments and questions. I hope to model that sensitivity as well, especially in delicate conversations where emotions can be easily triggered.

    Hey, please feel free to visit Secular Chaplain and comment on posts. I would value the insights and interaction.

    Be well.


    1. Chris, again thanks for the transparency. I agree that in this forum of communication, things can be misunderstood fairly easy and words can be taken out of a context that is meant in a different way altogether!
      You hit burnout right on the head, that has been a balancing act that I have had to learn pretty quick, especially when it means learning how to boundary yourself so you are of value to all you serve. I would say the military taught me well to use exercise and being outdoors to help in that balancing act.
      I will definitely check out your website and do my best to comment where applicable!
      Thanks for the encouragement, may life be fulfilled with you also!


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