Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — With a commission to "bring a healing presence to everyone you encounter," 27 newly certified chaplains and pastoral counselors were commissioned Thursday as part of the World Spiritual Health Organization's inaugural graduating class.
"These graduates are the salt of the earth," said WSHO founder Chaplain Mark Allison, who conducted the outdoor ceremony in the back yard of one of Salt Lake City's historic South Temple mansions. "They are men and women of courage, faith, character and honor. They are leaving this period of intense training to bless the lives of others in whatever way they can."
And then to the graduates he said: "God bless you in your ministry."
WSHO is one of four professional chaplain training programs in the United States, and the only one headquartered west of the Mississippi River. It was recently accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.
"I had a dream to establish a professional organization built on character and spirituality when it comes to the chaplaincy and pastoral counseling," said Allison, a longtime military chaplain with combat experience who is also a trained family therapist. "As I look at this first class, I see that dream becoming a reality."
The first class of WSHO graduates consists of nine individuals who earned certificates of graduation and 18 who received national board certification credentials. The former program requires about 1,600 hours of ministry among those in spiritual need as well as a significant amount of study and class work. The latter program is like a master's degree program compressed into a year's worth of work, Allison said.
"This is hard work and requires a lot of commitment from both the individuals and their families," he continued. With these professional certifications, graduates can now get work as chaplains, pastoral counselors or spiritual mental health counselors working in the military, police departments, fire departments and in hospitals, hospices, convalescent homes and even jails.
"Wherever chaplains serve, these graduates are now trained and certified to apply for those positions," Allison said. "This certification makes them more marketable, more competitive in being able to find employment, as well as making them more effective in reaching out to those in a place of spiritual need."
And that, Allison said, is the real essence of what WSHO and its first graduates are trying to accomplish.
"Where spirituality is alive, we want to sustain it," he said. "Where it is dormant, we want to revive it. And where it is absent, we want to invite it."
While Allison acknowledges a Christian orientation to WSHO's perspective, he says that "interfaith ministry is part of the training we provide."
"We work within all different faith traditions," he said. "That is the nature of the chaplaincy. We are neutral. We serve everybody. We like to say that you provide for your own, and you facilitate for all others. A chaplain has to be spiritually fluid enough to care for all people across the religious spectrum, and for the unchurched as well."
Among those who graduated Thursday were Protestants, Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While they are required to have an ecclesiastical endorsement for entrance into the program, Allison said they graduate with their arms outstretched to people of all faiths.
And with clean, freshly annointed hands. A moving part of the graduation ceremony is the ceremonial blessing of the graduates' hands, conducted Thursday by Chaplain Jeri Lambourne and Catholic Father L. Gally. After Chaplain Lambourne washed and dried the graduates' hands, Father Gally annointed them with virgin olive oil, invoking this blessing: "May your hands bring comfort and promote healing to all who come into your care."
The smiles on the faces of the newly certified chaplains made clear their determination to do exactly that.
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