Sent by Jesus: Chaplaincy in the UCC

This week’s post is written by  Rev. Holly MIllerShank, Team Leader of the Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization Ministry Team (MESA) Team in Cleveland. 

In the tenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus sends out his disciples to “proclaim the good news, … cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.” (Mt 10: 7-8a NRSV) Note that Jesus does not send the twelve to the nearest synagogue to undertake this ministry but he sends them out among the people to complete these tasks.

In the United Church of Christ we have many lay members and authorized ministers who take the ministry of Christ to settings beyond the local church. Compared to our sister denominations, the UCC has a greater number of clergy who serve in specialized ministry settings—so many, in fact, that we have a full-time Minister for Chaplains and Ministers in Specialized Settings in the United Church of Christ: the Rev. Stephen Boyd.

This trait of our denomination reflects two long-held beliefs about our purpose and mission as the United Church of Christ in the world. First, the UCC has always understood itself to be part of a wider ecumenical movement, therefore we have many ministers serving in interfaith and ecumenical settings. Second, the UCC has always identified itself as fulfilling Christ’s call of justice and mercy, and many of our clergy carry out this call through ministry in children’s homes, community shelters, prisons, and places of advocacy.

Many of the specialized settings where our clergy serve require ecclesiastical endorsement – the additional verification by a denomination of a minister’s credentials and aptitude for serving in places of diversity. Currently the United Church of Christ has 561 Ordained Ministers who are endorsed for federal or professional ministry. These 500+ ministers are just a portion of ministers serving Christ within the broader context of the world. We have not yet been able to accurately determine exactly how many ministers are serving in specialized settings that do not require endorsement (e.g. conference staff, seminary faculty, service with global partners) however, recent additions to the UCC Data Hub will make this research possible in the future.

Endorsement for professional ministry requires that clergy hold specialized professional credentials and maintain affiliation with cognate groups. Annually the UCC Yearbook and Directory records the number of UCC clergy endorsed to the following organizations, with current numbers noted behind each organization’s name:

  • Association of Professional Chaplains (APC)  281
  • Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE)  98
  • American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC)  108
  • American Correctional Chaplains Association (ACCA)  2
  • College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy (CPSP)  8
  • National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains (NIBIC)  1

Additionally, the UCC endorses 63 Ordained Ministers for service in federal settings including all branches of the military as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Civil Air Patrol. Interestingly, 35% of the UCC’s federally endorsed chaplains are female, a much higher portion than partner denominations. This can be attributed to the UCC’s long standing advocacy for equality and encouragement for chaplains to reflect the diverse composition of those serving in the military.

We give thanks for the long standing legacy and faithful impact of UCC ministers called into specialized settings for ministry and look forward to supporting ministers called by the Holy Spirit into increasingly diverse settings of ministry.

Additional information on the UCC’s Ecclesiastical Endorsement Process can be found at

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