United States Navy Chaplain Corps

United States Navy Chaplain Corps
Chaplain Corps emblem
Jewish Worship Pennant, flying over the national ensign (American flag) on a U.S. Navy ship.
The insignias for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish chaplains are shown on the uniforms of three U.S. Navy chaplains.

The Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy consists of ordained clergy who are commissioned naval officers. Their principal purpose is to "promote the spiritual, religious, moral, and personal well-being of the members of the Department of the Navy," which includes the Navy and the United States Marine Corps. Additionally, the Chaplain Corps provides chaplains to its sister sea service, the United States Coast Guard.

They share in the difficulties and rewards of Navy life. The Chaplain Corps consists of clergy endorsed from ecclesiastical bodies, providing assistance for all Navy, Marine Corps, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard personnel and their families. Navy Chaplains come from a variety of religious backgrounds; chaplains are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist.

Chaplains are assisted by Navy enlisted personnel in the Religious Programs Specialist (RP) rating.



The Continental Navy, predecessor of the United States Navy, was approved by the United States Congress on October 13, 1775. It was administered by a Marine Committee of three members later expanded to seven members. The Navy Regulations adopted by the Marine Committee on November 28, 1775 mirrored those of the Royal Navy.

The second article of the Navy regulations of 1775 read: "The Commanders of the ships of the thirteen United Colonies, are to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays, unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent." Although the chaplain is not mentioned in this article, the reference to a sermon implies that Congress intended that an ordained clergyman be on board. The first mention of a chaplain in the Journals of the Continental Congress refers to his share in the distribution of prize money. On January 6, 1776 Congress passed a resolution detailing the prize share percentages and includes distribution of a portion to the chaplain. On November 15, 1776, Congress fixed the base pay of the chaplain at $20 a month. The first chaplain known to have served in the Continental Navy was the Reverend Benjamin Balch, a Congregational minister, whose father had served in a similar capacity in the Royal Navy. Benjamin Balch's son, William Balch, is the first chaplain known to have received a commission in the US Navy after the department was established in 1798.[1]

Naval Chaplaincy School and Center

President George W. Bush congratulates Chaplain, Imam Abuhena Saifulislam, the first US Navy Muslim chaplain assigned to the Marine Corps.

The Naval Chaplaincy School and Center (NCSC) is part of the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center (AFCC), which also includes the US Army Chaplain Center and School (USACHCS) and the US Air Force Chaplain Service Institute (AFCSI).[2] The 3 schools are co-located at Fort Jackson, in Columbia, SC.[3] NCSC's first graduating class — consisting of 29 chaplains and chaplain candidates — graduated on Nov. 6, 2009.[2] NCSC is the successor of the Naval Chaplains School, which relocated in mid-August 2009 from Newport RI due to the 2005 decision of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to put all military ministry training at the same location. NCSC's new name reflects its new mission of training Navy chaplains and Religious Program Specialist (RPs) in the same place. Until recently, RPs have been trained at NTTC Meridian, MS.[2]

The AFCC is designed to foster closer cooperation between the 3 Chaplain Corps and to facilitate shared instruction and training.[2]


The Navy accepts clergy from religious denominations and faith groups. Clergy must be endorsed by an approved endorsing agency. Once endorsed, the clergy person must meet requirements established by the Department of the Navy including age and physical fitness requirements. A chaplain's ecclesiastical endorsement can be withdrawn by the endorser at any time, after which the chaplain is no longer be able to serve as a chaplain.

Qualified applicants must be US citizens at least 21 years old; meet certain medical and physical fitness standards; hold a bachelor's degree, with no less than 120 semester hours from a qualified educational institution; and hold a post-baccalaureate graduate degree, which includes 72 semester hours of graduate-level coursework in theological or related studies. At least one-half of these hours must include topics in general religion, theology, religious philosophy, ethics, and/or the foundational writings from one’s religious tradition. Accredited distance education graduate programs are acceptable.

Chaplains then attend the Navy Chaplain School at Ft Jackson, South Carolina at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center (AFCC).

The Navy has a "Chaplain Candidate Program Officer" (CCPO) Program for seminary students interested in obtaining a commission before completing their graduate studies.

A Catholic chaplain ministers to American Marines and Sailors in Tikrit, Iraq
Navy chaplain (Rabbi) Arnold Resnicoff wears the make-shift camouflage skullcap/kippa made for him by Catholic chaplain (Fr.) George Pucciarelli (from a piece of Pucciarelli's camouflage uniform) after Resnicoff's kippa was bloodied when it was used to wipe the face of a wounded Marine after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.

Noncombatant status

See: Noncombatant Status


The mission of the Chaplain Corps is:

  • PROVIDE religious ministry and support to those of our own faith.
  • FACILITATE for all religious beliefs.
  • CARE for all Marines, Sailors and their family and friends.
  • ADVISE commanders to ensure the free exercise of religion.


  • Promote ethical and moral behavior throughout the Sea Services.
  • Ensure religious ministry enhances current readiness.
  • Think strategically for future readiness.
  • Employ Reserve religious ministry assets more effectively.
  • Realign assets to improve religious ministry for operational forces.
  • Improve recruitment and retention.
  • Enhance external and internal communications.
  • Leverage technology to support the mission.

Guiding principles

The guiding principles are:

  • We are faithful to our individual religious traditions and practices.
  • We respect the right of others to hold spiritual beliefs and religious practices different from our own
  • We cooperate and collaborate in ministry.
  • We are committed to the highest standards of morality and personal integrity.
  • We are committed to professionalism in the performance of duty.


Mission-ready Sailors, Marines and their families, demonstrating spiritual, moral and ethical maturity, supported by the innovative delivery of religious ministry and compassionate pastoral care.


The Chaplain Corps has been responsive to the diverse ministry requirements of Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Marines and all their family members since its inception over two centuries ago. Throughout its history the corps has experienced several controversies.

Some contemporary controversies include the filing of class-action lawsuits by "non-liturgical" active and former active-duty Protestant chaplains alleging religious discrimination. These chaplains argued that the Navy allegedly employed a quota system that caused "non-liturgical" Protestant chaplains to be underrepresented through the current career promotion established by the Department of the Navy. [1].

In September 2006, LT Gordon Klingenschmitt was reprimanded and fined $3,000 for disobeying an order not to wear his military uniform at a protest. Klingenschmitt was released from the Navy in March 2007. The chaplain disagreed with a policy that he interpreted to require him to offer non-sectarian prayers at Navy command functions (essentially public, military-wide and often mandatory). The Navy doesn't require a chaplain to give prayers at a command function if the chaplain's religious beliefs prohibit non-sectarian prayers. The Navy doesn't prohibit chaplains from preaching in a sectarian manner in worship settings.[6][7]

In the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Accommodating Faith in the Military (dated 7/3/2008) states: "That precise question has been raised in a series of cases, going back a decade, over the way that the Navy selects chaplains. These lawsuits allege that the Navy has hired chaplains using a "thirds policy," a formula dividing its chaplains into thirds: one-third consisting of liturgical Protestant denominations (such as such as Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians); another third consisting of Catholics; and a last third consisting of non-liturgical Protestant denominations (such as Baptists, evangelicals, Bible churches, Pentecostals and charismatics) and other faiths. The lawsuits claim that the Navy’s criteria are unconstitutional because they disfavor non-liturgical Protestants, who make up a great deal more than one-third of the Navy, while Catholics and liturgical Protestants each make up less than one-third.

In April 2007, a US District Court in Washington DC, rejected one of these challenges to the Navy’s chaplain-selection criteria. The court held that the Navy had abandoned the thirds policy and said that its current criteria were constitutional because the Navy has broad discretion to determine how to accommodate the religious needs of its service members. This decision was affirmed in 2008 by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In June 2009, the Navy's Inspector General found that the Deputy Chief of Chaplains, RDML Alan Baker, took actions which "reprised against" his former Executive Assistant during a promotion board in 2008 and was subsequently not recommended for his second star and selection to Chief of Chaplains by the CNO. This determination found that Adm Baker improperly influenced a Captain (06) promotion board in a negative manner. Chaplain Baker retired in September 2009. The current Chief of Chaplains for the Navy is RADM Mark Tidd.

Religious Programs Specialist

Navy Chaplain (Fr.) George Pucciarelli wears a stole over his Marine Corps camouflage uniform that he donned to deliver Last Rites after the 1983 truck bomb attack. He tore off a piece of his uniform to make a new kippa for Jewish chaplain Arnold Resnicoff, as they ministered side-by-side to all Marines

Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant Insignia

Chief of Navy Chaplains

Joint-base chaplaincy

Chaplain of the United States Marine Corps

Chaplain of the Coast Guard

Chaplains at U.S. Coast Guard Academy

On 1 July 1944, Chaplain Lindner reads the benediction held in honor of USS South Dakota shipmates killed in the air action off Guam
Chaplain Joseph T. O'Callahan ministers to an injured man aboard USS Franklin, 1945.
A US Navy chaplain celebrates Catholic Mass for Marines at Saipan, June 1944, commemorating comrades fallen in initial amphibious landings.

At the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the current chaplain is Lieutenant Commander Daniel Mode[11][12]

Chapels at U.S. Naval Academy

See also: USNA Chaplain Center official webpage

Ships named for Navy chaplains

Various Prayers

Coast Guard prayers

See footnote[13]
See: Eternal Father, Strong to Save#U.S. military variants

Marine Prayer

See footnote[14]
See: Eternal Father, Strong to Save#U.S. military variants

Navy Hospital Corpsman Prayer

Grant me, oh Lord, for the coming events; Enough knowledge to cope and some plain common sense. Be at our side on those nightly patrols; And be merciful judging our vulnerable souls. Make my hands steady and as sure as a rock; when the others go down with a wound or in shock. Let me be close, when they bleed in the mud; With a tourniquet handy to save precious blood. Here in the jungle, the enemy near; Even the corpsman can't offer much lightness and cheer. Just help me, oh Lord, to save lives when I can; Because even out there is merit in man.

If it's Your will, make casualties light; And don't let any die in the murderous night. These are my friends I'm trying to save; They are frightened at times, but You know they are brave. Let me not fail when they need so much; But to help me serve with a compassionate touch. Lord, I'm no hero—my job is to heal; And I want You to know Just how helpless I feel. Bring us back safely to camp with dawn; For too many of us are already gone. Lord bless my friends If that's part of your plan; And go with us tonight, when we go out again."

Navy Hymn

See: Eternal Father, Strong to Save (The Navy Hymn) (including special verses for Antarctic and Arctic service, divers and submariners, Naval aviation, Naval nurses, Seabees, SEALs, submariners, U.S. armed forces, wounded in combat, and for those deployed)

Burial at sea

See: Burial at sea #United States Navy

Notable chaplains

  • Robert R. Brett – Chaplain during Vietnam War.[15]
  • Vincent R. Capodanno – Chaplain during Vietnam War. Awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • John L. Lenhart – Chaplain during Civil War. First Navy chaplain to lose his life in battle.[16][17][18][19]
  • Joseph T. O'Callahan – Chaplain during World War II. Awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • George S. Rentz – Chaplain during World War I and World War II. Only Navy chaplain to be awarded the Navy Cross during World War II. USS Rentz was named in his honor.

See also


  1. ^ See also: "History of the Chaplain Corps" (1993). US Coast Guard website (Chaplain of the Coast Guard). Written by Commander Margaret G. Kibben, CHC, USNR, History Projects Officer, Chaplain Resource Board. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  2. ^ a b c d "First Group of Navy Chaplains Graduate from NSCS Fort Jackson". Navy.mil (USN official website), 11/10/2009. By Steve Vanderwerff, Naval Education and Training Command Public Affairs. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  3. ^ "Navy Chaplain School Relocates". Navy.mil (USN official website), 10/21/2009. By Pat Fisher, Navy Chief of Chaplains Public Affairs. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  4. ^ Chaplain: Officer: Careers & Jobs: Navy. US Navy official website. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  5. ^ Rod Powers, "Navy Commissioned Officer Job Designators Description & Qualifcation Factors (chaplain). About.com Guide. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  6. ^ "Faith Under Fire: Prayer in Jesus' name results in $3,000 fine: Christian chaplain guilty of wearing Navy uniform at White House event", WorldNetDaily, September 14, 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  7. ^ Cooperman, Alan (2006-09-15). "Naval Chaplain Guilty of Disobeying an Order". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/14/AR2006091401544.html. Retrieved 2006-09-30. 
  8. ^ JB Chapel Schedule (and contact information) (McGuire Chapel, North Chapel, Dix Chapel, Chapel of the Air). JB MDL Chapel official website. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
  9. ^ Home page. JB MDL Chapel official website. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
  10. ^ JB MDL Chapels. JB MDL official website. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
  11. ^ Soccaras, Lisa, "Fr. Mode Battles for Souls", CathMil.org (Catholics in the Military), 23 October 2009. Navy chaplain assigned as a USCGA chaplain in June 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  12. ^ "Locations" of Navy chaplains assigned to USCG (June 5, 2009). U.S. Coast Guard official website (Chaplain of the Coast Guard). Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  13. ^ To access the prayers, go to Coast Guard prayers and then (in the left-hand column) click on "USCG". ChaplainCare (online Navy chaplain corps "Distance Support") official website. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  14. ^ To access the prayer, go to Marine Prayer and then (in the left-hand column) click on "USMC". ChaplainCare (online Navy chaplain corps "Distance Support") official website. Retrieved 2009-12-03.
  15. ^ At the following webpage, scroll down to "Lieutenant Robert R. Brett • Vietnam War • 1936-1968". Centner, Pat. "No Greater Love: A Memorial Day Salute to Military Chaplains". American Family Association. http://afajournal.org/2003/may/503_chaplains_dw.html. Retrieved 2011-11-06. "[He] joined the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines near the Khe Sanh Combat Base in Vietnam. .... On February 22, 1968, [he] and his aide [PFC Alexander S. Chin] found themselves on an air strip in Khe Sanh ... when they came under enemy fire. ... Brett told the chopper to take off without him and his aide, which allowed Lt. Pete Post to go instead. ... [A]n incoming rocket struck, killing Brett, Chin and eight others. .... [In 1998 and 1999, their remains were moved to Arlington National Cemetery and] buried on Chaplain’s Hill ... – united in death as they had been in life." 
  16. ^ "Chaplain John L. Lenhart, USN, (1805-1862)". Naval Historical Center. June 29, 2001. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-l/j-lenhrt.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-07. "A Methodist Minister, ... Chaplain John L. Lenhart was killed in action during [USS Cumberland's] ... fight with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on 8 March 1862, the first Navy Chaplain to lose his life in battle." 
  17. ^ "Rev. John L. Lenhart (1805-1862) / Memorial Plaque Dedication". Tottenville Historical Society (Tottenville, Staten Island, N.Y.). November 15, 2008. http://www.tottenvillehistory.com/UserFiles/File/PDF/Lenhart%20Program.pdf. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  18. ^ At the following webpage, scroll down to "Chaplain John L. Lenhart • Civil War • 1805-1862". Centner, Pat. "No Greater Love: A Memorial Day Salute to Military Chaplains". American Family Association. http://afajournal.org/2003/may/503_chaplains_dw.html. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  19. ^ See also: USS Cumberland (1842) #American Civil War.

Further reading

See: Military chaplain#Further reading

External links

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