Martin was a Roman soldier, stationed in Southern France in the fourth century. He was also a believer in Christ, and as such, he struggled with his calling to be both a good soldier and a good Christian. Legend has it that as Martin was riding toward the city of Amiens, he spotted a nearly naked beggar by the side of the road. Martin immediately cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. That night he had a vivid dream in which Christ was clothed in Martin’s half cloak. Christ was telling everyone about the generous act, and quoting Himself in Matthew 25: “I was naked and you clothed Me”.
Word of this miraculous dream spread quickly, and soon Martin’s remaining half cloak became a kind of talisman, or good luck charm, for the soldiers. They would march into battle with the cloak held high, confident in it’s power to keep them safe and provide them with victory. A priest would often be put in charge of the cloak, to keep it safe and to explain its meaning to the soldiers. In French, the word for a small cloak is "capella”, and the clergyman who protected the cloak was the cappellani. Hence our English word, chaplain.
So a chaplain is, literally, a “keeper of the cloak”. I love that name and I love the association with something divine. In our district we have ten full time “cloak-keepers”. They work in hospitals, prisons, hospices and fire departments. We also have a number of volunteer chaplains, who hold the cloak high for fire departments and police departments, hospitals and nursing homes.
In many ways, all of us are called upon to hold the cloak high. Here are three ways we are all “cloak-keepers”.
First, every pastor is a visible reminder that there is something sacred and holy in our world. Oh, I know, every Christian acts as a signpost of God’s presence, but I believe a Christian pastor has a unique and separate calling to hold forth the cloak publically, openly and with great intentionality. The term “Parson”, used of the community pastor, is an old English word for Person- as in a reminder that the Person of Christ is in our midst. This is why, at least in part, pastors are often held to a higher moral standard- because of Who we represent. A CEO caught in a scandal brings dishonor on his company. A pastor caught in a scandal brings dishonor on his Lord.
Secondly, the chaplain “shows the cross” in the midst of the battle. When I was a military chaplain, I wore a cross right above my heart, where everyone could see that I was a pastor to military people. Sometimes this opened doors, and sometimes it slammed them shut. But when people are going through difficult situations, they see the pastor and are reminded that they are not going through this trial alone. Not only does the pastor stand with them, but the body of Christ walks with them. People, especially people in crisis, see the pastor and are reminded that they are not alone- He stands beside them.
Thirdly, to those in the organization, the chaplain acts as a constant, ongoing invitation to call out to God and to join with others in the community of faith. By having a chaplain in the workplace, whether that workplace is a military flight line or a hospital ward, the unspoken message is that faith belongs there- that being a believer is compatible with our day to day activity. It also gives the chaplain the great opportunity to share the gospel with those in and out of the organization, with boldness and with the blessing of the organization. He or she belongs there- they are part of the team.
Being a chaplain is a wonderful ministry and a great opportunity. Maybe God can use you as a “Cloak-bearer” in your community!
Bob and Diane Wido
Coordinator of Chaplaincy Ministries