Jim Pope, center, will become interim chaplaincy and pastoral counseling endorser for CBF when George Pickle, right, retires June 30. (CBF photo)
Jim Pope, center, will become interim chaplaincy and pastoral counseling endorser for CBF when George Pickle, right, retires June 30. (CBF photo)

What's next for CBF chaplaincy?

The CBF chaplaincy and pastoral counseling endorser is the liaison between the faith community and the using agency or military service.

By Jeff Brumley

Jim Pope will become interim chaplaincy and pastoral counseling endorser for CBF when George Pickle steps down from that position on June 30. What he will not become – ever – is a candidate for the Pickle’s permanent replacement when the appointed search committee starts meeting in a of couple weeks.

“Absolutely not,” said Pope, a retired Navy chaplain and CBF’s associate for military chaplaincy. “That is not something at this point in my life that I am open to doing. I am 69 years old.”

Not that CBF is worried about finding other qualified candidates. Bo Prosser said there are around 700 chaplains and pastoral counselors across the Fellowship.

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“We actually have several great, qualified folks who may step into the search,” Prosser, coordinator of missional congregations for CBF, told ABPnews in an e-mail. A survey has identified at least 50 who are considered respected leaders.

The search committee, meanwhile, “is top notch (and) mirrors the quality of our endorsees.”

Search committee chair Ray Higgins said the group will hold its first conference call in about two weeks, and one of its first tasks will be agreeing on a job description for the next endorser.

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When that process is completed and a new leader is ultimately selected is impossible to predict at the moment, said Higgins, the coordinator of CBF Arkansas.

“We’re not going to drag our feet but we’re not going to rush the process,” he said.

ABPnews interviewed Pope recently about trends he’s seeing in chaplaincy and pastoral counseling in CBF.

Have you gotten any hint at all how long you’ll be the interim?

My commitment, when I was asked to serve as interim, was that I will serve for as long as it takes, whether for a few days, for a few weeks or a few months. I have no idea how long it’s going to take.

What does the endorser do?

The endorser is the liaison between the faith community and the using agency or military service. An agency includes hospitals, hospice, business and professional or campus -- whatever other agency may be employing chaplains or pastoral counselors.

What does it mean for a chaplain or pastoral counselor to be endorsed?

It affirms that the chaplain is indeed a part of that faith community ...  and that the clergy person endorsed is a member in good standing and a clergy person of that faith community, trained and experienced as one would expect.

Were you endorsed by CBF during your Navy career?

I was endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention, and I remained their endorsee until 1998 when CBF decided to endorse chaplains.

A Southern Baptist military chaplain came over to CBF in 2012 after attending a same-sex wedding at a base chapel. Are you getting more of such requests?

That didn’t become a great issue ... and we’ve not had an influx of people from other groups to us....  We did not accept him for endorsement simply because he was threatened or perceived he was threatened by his former endorsing body. It was because ... there was a more thorough examination of who he was and his own personal faith and approach to ministry had evolved, and we believed he was a good fit (for CBF).

So it’s not that CBF is open to anyone who wants to make a change in their endorsement?

That’s what got lost in all the translation (in 2012)....  I have had contacts from persons from other faith communities relative to the same issue, but they were not issued an endorsement because they hadn’t changed theologically.... I would never recommend anyone for endorsement simply because they are in trouble with some other group. That’s not who we are as CBF.

Does it feel odd to you not to be focusing now exclusively on military chaplains for CBF?

I wouldn’t say "odd." It feels different because my time will now be more widely dispersed. In the past my concentration has always been singularly on military chaplains and military chaplain issues. And I realize during this interim period this focus needs to widen.

Is there a big difference between the needs of military chaplains, civilian chaplains and pastoral counselors?

I don’t think there is a great deal of difference in what they need in the way of support.... Whether it be in combat or someone who has been with a patient and family hours on end, at the end of the day it’s all about ministry to people wherever people are.