National Chaplain's Message
National Chaplain of The American Legion
HAS GOD BEEN GOOD TO YOU!!!!!!!
I want to write about something that has come to me many times as department and national chaplain. Before I start, please understand that this has no reflection on any current or past chaplain. As an American Legion chaplain, we have a duty to perform to help our members know that they are not alone and that you as the chaplain are always there to help them.
Allow me to first quote what is in the American Legion Officers Guide for 2021. “CHAPLAIN: The chaplain need not necessarily be a clergyman but must be capable of moral and intellectual leadership and one who gives dignity and respect to the office. The chaplain should be in close touch with the commander and other post officers and should attend all meetings of the post executive committee. The leadership in many post activities belongs by right to the chaplain, and when this office is filled by the right person, the posts usefulness to the community greatly increases. Manual of ceremonies gives important place to the chaplain in the conduct of meetings and observance of patriotic occasions, funeral services, and dedication ceremonies. At all these events the chaplain is the moral leader.
“The chaplain should work with the post historian on grave registration work and inspire the post to decorate veteran graves, especially on Memorial Day. Besides officiating at post members funerals when requested, the chaplain can serve their bereaved families. The chaplain may also chair the post’s Veterans Administration Voluntary Service (VAVS) Committee, which coordinates volunteer work at nearby VA facilities. The American Legion Chaplain’s Handbook, available online and through department headquarters, offers guidance for the post chaplain and religious emphasis committee.”
Then under duties of officers it says, “Duties of Post Chaplain. The post chaplain shall be charged with the spiritual welfare of the post members and will offer divine but nonsectarian service in the event of dedications, funerals, public functions, etc., adhere to such ceremonial rituals as are recommended by the national or department headquarters from time to time.” I looked up the definition of nonsectarian and good old Webster says: “not having a sectarian character; not affiliated with or restricted to a particular religious group.”
Allow me to offer my perspective on this subject. As an American Legion chaplain, you have the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of all your post members, and to provide assistance when needed. Whenever possible, you should visit the sick, make home visits, and even hospital visits if allowed. I have held many people’s dying hands and watched them to go God. Now, in your post you likely have many denominations. If you only care for those of your denomination, you are really not doing the job as a chaplain. You MUST take care of ALL the people in your post, no matter what religious belief they have and some may not have any. YOU MUST take care of all of them. You, as the chaplain should not put your religious belief be over theirs. They feel as strongly about their own religious beliefs as you feel about your beliefs. It is not always an easy thing to do, but as the chaplain you have to consider the benefits all your members.
You should not push your religious preference over theirs and ignore them. For example, some do not believe ending a prayer with “in the name of Jesus Christ.” To them this is ignoring their religious belief and traditions. I know this may not be an easy thing to do, for I have had a very hard time adjusting to this. But for the sake of all veterans and all post members, you should consider adjusting your prayer endings. And for those that write articles in your post newsletter, it is the same thing. Do not say things that refer to only your religious belief. Think of all the members of your post who are reading your article, write a message that reflects to them all. You don’t want your message to be lost because a member is offended by a reference they take exception to in your article.
In closing, I want to share this with you. I have been a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for the past 20 plus years. And I still fill the pulpit when called to do so. I very strongly believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and that HE is the Son of our living God, and HE is my Lord and Savior. But as chaplain, I adjust to make sure I include all members of the post, district, department and on the national level, as we are all of one religion and know of only one God. HE is our supreme Commander in Chief of all religious beliefs. Remember that as an American Legion member, rank has no privilege. If this is the case than it should be that same with religion, there should not be one over the other.
If you still have questions, please feel free to reach out to me. Many commanders have called me about this issue, which prompted me to write this article.
My last three words to all of you are: GO TO CHURCH!!!!!!
Pastor Stan Hamamoto
Each chaplain is encouraged to share best practices and give feedback to the National Chaplain, through their department chaplains, as to the state of affairs across the nation. This allows us, at National Headquarters, to receive new and innovative ways to provide assistance to your formations. We are then able to provide information gleaned from our network of chaplains across the country and update – from time to time – our publications that he have for the Chaplains throughout the organization. We at The American Legion have the Chaplain's Handbook listed on our publications page of the Legion website (https://www.legion.org/publications/220452/chaplains-handbook). It provides a basic outline of the responsibilities of a Chaplain from the perspective of The American Legion and how to accomplish some of The American Legion customs and procedures associated with the chaplaincy.
Additionally, through the Emblem Sales page you may also purchase a Chaplain's Prayer Book (https://www.legion.org/publications/160913/chaplains-prayer-book). This provides some non-denominational prayers and prayers for some specific events.
Another good reference is The American Legion Post Officer Guide and Manual of Ceremonies (https://www.legion.org/publications/246556/2019-officers-guide). This provides everything an individual would need to know to run a post meeting, post everlasting, or other such Legion ceremonies.
For those who are new to the chaplaincy or are interested in becoming a chaplain, the presentation will provide a basic primer on what a chaplain is as well as what a chaplain should and more importantly should NOT do with their position.