Specialized Pastoral Care

Specialized pastoral care reaches directly into the primary social structures and institutions of our world. As they encounter people in the midst of these everyday settings, those who serve in specialized pastoral care seek to extend the love of God in Jesus Christ to individuals at the point of their deepest need. More than 800 rostered people — associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses and diaconal ministers — are currently serving in these ministries across the 65 synods of the ELCA.

The work

Specialized pastoral care ministries reach directly into the primary social structures and institutions of our world. As they encounter people in the midst of these everyday settings, those who serve in specialized pastoral care seek to extend the love of God in Jesus Christ to individuals — any and all people — at the point of their deepest need. We are seeking to identify and nurture still more committed people for these ministries — ordained, commissioned and consecrated — leaders interested in exploring these meaningful and challenging expressions of the church’s mission.

Rooted in the gospel

The focus of ministries in chaplaincy, pastoral counseling and clinical education begins with human need, addressed by God’s love in Jesus Christ. These ministries are missional by nature. They embody the church’s initiative to minister to people who are ill,  imprisoned, elderly, troubled, conflicted and afflicted.

Diverse, scattered and specialized

In touching so many lives at so many points of mission, ministries of chaplaincy, counseling and clinical education are diverse, specialized and geographically scattered. They extend into such settings as:
  • health care
  • long term care
  • mental health
  • corrections
  • pastoral counseling
  • clinical education
  • rehabilitation and physical medicine
  • hospice
  • substance abuse
  • mental retardation/developmental disability
  • police and fire chaplaincy
  • workplace ministry
No doubt this list of specializations will continue to grow as other areas of human need and ministry are identified.

Prepared and qualified

All rostered people are eligible to serve in specialized pastoral care ministries. Specialized care is shaped by ministry setting. The nature and design of ministry varies with the specialty and setting of human care. Individuals serving in specialized settings need to possess specific preparation and competencies related to the specialization and setting. All applicants must hold at least a baccalaureate degree and one graduate degree from an accredited institution. At least one of the degrees must be in theology. In addition, a minimum of 1,600 hours of documented specialized education or supervised pastoral care or counseling experience relevant to the particular ministry is required.

Ecclesiastically endorsed and certified

Ecclesiastical Specialized Care Endorsement and eventual professional certification are normative and expected of those pursuing specialized pastoral care ministry. Ecclesiastical endorsement is different from other church usages of the term "endorsement," particularly as it is used in the candidacy process.

Just as one would fully expect a physical therapist to have the clinical training, skills, qualifications and credentials to serve in their specialty, so too for those who engage in ministries in specialized settings. Ecclesiastical endorsement is a formal recognition by the church that an individual has met the required standards for theological and ministerial competence to serve in a specific ministry of specialized pastoral care. It attests to the church’s assessment that an individual possesses the readiness and competence to serve as its representative for particular needs in a particular ministry setting. It is the approved means for church bodies to provide the endorsement required by professional certifying organizations.

Extending the mission of the church

Specialized ministries among God’s people embody grace and hope to others in need, their families and the staff who serve them. In prisons, with those severely depressed and in high-tech intensive care environments, the church is present through its chaplains and counselors. This is part of the church’s outreach ministry in and for the world, seeking to foster spiritual wholeness that is integrated into the total mission of the church.

Those in specialized pastoral care ministries need to maintain and upgrade their particular skills. They reflect sensitivity to a wide variety of religious expressions without compromising the integrity of their own faith stance. They adhere to a professional code of ethics and demonstrate awareness of ethical practice which relates to their area of service:
  • Chaplaincy Specializations
  • Long-Term Care Chaplaincy
  • General Health Care Chaplaincy
  • Mental Health Care Chaplaincy
  • Correctional Chaplaincy
  • Pastoral Counseling Ministry
  • Substance Abuse Chaplaincy
  • Counseling Ministry
  • Mental Retardation Ministry
  • Developmental Disability Ministry
  • Hospice Chaplaincy
  • Clinical Educator Ministry
  • Police Chaplaincy
  • Rehabilitation Chaplaincy
  • Workplace Chaplaincy

Pastoral Care


Download the
Endorsement Manual.



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