My Survival Guide for the Army Chaplaincy Basic Officer Leadership Course
Brothers and Sisters of the US Army Chaplain Candidate Program, here are a few things I learned at CH-BOLC this past winter that are not part of the training schedule. I pass them on to you as a heads-up. By the way, I write from a Reformed Protestant perspective, Independent of denomination, contemporary in worship but adoring of tradition. Take that with a grain of salt…
1. Invest yourself in your squad, platoon, and class. You will have plenty to keep you busy in terms of school and training. But the greatest blessing and benefit of CH-BOLC is the friends, comrades, and partners in ministry that you make during the time you are there. Make this priority one for your future ministry.
2. Preach to your platoon. You will be given assignments to do “Sacred Communication” in different scenarios, as if you are deployed. Consider the scenario, but preach to your platoon. We all needed each other’s insight and care. But be careful! I understand that it used to be expected that we would preach to each other. But students began letting their own pride, prejudice, and dogma direct them so much that they became an offense to each other. We should not be the offense. Be sure that the word you bring to your platoon is truly God’s Word, and not just your own pet theology. Preaching should be loving, even if it is sometimes a rebuke. I had to do a rebuke while there. It was very well received by my platoon. However, I had already 9 weeks of relationship and trust built up before I delivered this message. You may watch it if you like.
3. Don’t do seminary. I did 12 credit hours of seminary while at CH-BOLC. Yes, you can get it done. You may need extensions from your professors, but you can do it. However, the cost is too great. I was not able to focus on my first guideline above, investing myself in my classmates, because I had to take every possible moment I had to study and write papers for seminary. On the upside, much of my seminary studies supplemented CH-BOLC, but I’ll put those insights later and save you the trouble. CH VanLaan told us that we are not expected to be in seminary during CH-BOLC in order to continue being a candidate. PLEASE avoid doing seminary if at all possible.
4. Support those doing seminary. Some people, for whatever reason, will choose to or have to do seminary while at CH-BOLC. Support them. Help them. The best help to me were my platoon fellows who reminded me a couple days in advance of assignments due in CH-BOLC. Discussing with them what you are learning as you work on your assignments is also very helpful (don’t do their papers, though. That’s plain WRONG!)
5. Keep a habit of Spiritual Disciplines. Oh please don’t let your devotions go. Your schedule will be packed (5am to 9pm some days because of homework. If you do seminary, forget sleep!). It is very easy to become spiritually bereft while at CH-BOLC. Keep your devotional time sacred. Let nothing interrupt it.
6. Get your chapel visits over QUICKLY. You will be required to visit a series of different chapel services on-post and then submit a reflection on them. The visits are very good training. But they are not church. Now, I’m of the conviction that church involves certain aspects of fellowship and discipleship that are absent in chapel. The short of it is that I quickly found myself craving church and not finding it in chapel. I do not believe that chapel can or should supplant church. It is critical to our ministry, but not an alternative to being part of a church. I’ll leave it at that. So get your chapel visits done as quickly as possible–even doing two or three in a row on a Sunday–so that you can become part of a local church in Columbia. Here’s a list of churches in the Columbia area.
7. DO PT NOW. I know you’ve been told this a few times by now. You’ll hear it a few more times before you go. It’s good, sound, reasonable advice. Work toward passing that APFT if you can’t already. Having to do PT twice a day because you failed the first PT test sucks. I know because I was one of those guys.
8. Be a Blessing. I wanted to title this one, “Don’t complain.” For some reason, chaplaincy school students are champion whiners. Don’t be one. Bless, don’t curse. Bless others abundantly and generously. Make this your motto.