Providing spiritual care to those who are sick or hospitalized demands a variety of specialized skills, especially given today’s multicultural environment. To prepare students who feel called in this area, Perkins School of Theology will offer Master of Divinity students the opportunity to concentrate in Healthcare Chaplaincy, beginning next semester.

“This is a unique opportunity for students to study theology and learn from seasoned chaplains and hospital administrators at the same time,” said Dr. Hugo Magallanes, director of Perkins’s Houston-Galveston Extension Program and Associate Dean for Academic Programs. “This concentration was designed to strengthen our partnership with Houston Methodist Hospital, a leading research hospital in the nation.”

Since the fall of 2018, students in the Houston-Galveston Extension Program have reported in person to Houston Methodist Hospital to attend many of their classes. The hospital provided classroom space, along with tech support and meals, for the two one-week sessions every semester. (Currently, the Houston-Galveston program is fully online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is expected to return to Houston Methodist when it is safe to do so.) Perkins and Houston Methodist are both affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

“As far as we know, we are the only seminary in a U.S. hospital,” said Magallanes. “It’s an incredible benefit for our students, to have access to a world-class research hospital.”

The Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration is open to all Perkins students, in Dallas as well as the Houston-Galveston program. However, Dallas students will need to travel to Houston in order to complete the concentration requirements not available in Dallas. To enroll, students must submit a “Concentration Declaration Form.” There is no required timeline to enroll as long as students will be able to accommodate 18 hours/credit in their Master of Divinity program to fulfill the requirements of this concentration.

Program leaders say the concentration responds to student interest as well as market demand for chaplains.

“We are seeing a large number of students and prospective students who are interested in chaplaincy, especially hospital chaplaincy,” said Dr. Dallas Gingles, associate director of the Houston-Galveston Extension Program. “There is also a growing demand in clinical settings for chaplains and others who are capable of serving the spiritual needs of patients and providers, as well as for those who are capable of serving on ethics boards and shaping the culture of the institution. We think that this concentration will help our students develop these skill sets.”

Perkins students have a unique opportunity given the school’s connection to Houston Methodist Hospital, according to the Rev. Dr. Charles R. Millikan, an ordained United Methodist clergyman and the hospital’s Vice President for Spiritual Care and Values Integration.

“It’s the number one hospital in Texas, and it’s among the top 20 in the U.S., an Honor Roll hospital in the same league as the Mayo Clinic, Mass General, Yale, or Mount Sinai,” he said. “This is a highly professional, academic medical center and one of the best in the country.”

In addition to the requirements of an M.Div., students in this concentration must complete 12 hours of required courses, including Level 1 Clinical Pastoral Education, Bioethics, and Health Care / Holy Care, a January term immersion course that gives students hands-on experiences at Houston Methodist Hospital. In addition, students must complete six hours (two courses) in core electives, choosing from 13 options including Disability Studies, the Bible and Theology; Patristic Anthropology and Soteriology; Ethics, Theology, and Children; Ethics, Theology, and Family; Contemporary Moral Issues; Evil, Suffering and Death in the New Testament; among others.  Students in this concentration will also be required to participate in two one-day events (one per semester), in which the students will attend a lecture sponsored by Houston Methodist Hospital, participate in a shadowing program, and share their personal reflections with seasoned hospital chaplains and administrators.

While Perkins M.Div. students can formally initiate this concentration next semester, the last portion of the concentration (the “additional requirements”) likely will be delayed until students are able to be physically present at Houston Methodist Hospital. Program leaders hope that students will be present as early as Spring 2021.

The Healthcare Chaplaincy concentration is one step toward certification as a professional chaplain, which requires a bachelor’s degree, an M.Div., and a full year in a clinical pastoral education (CPE) residency. Houston Methodist has the largest CPE program in the state of Texas, with 24 CPE residents.

Millikan adds that chaplaincy offers career opportunities at a time when employment options for M. Div. graduates are dwindling. A growing number of other institutions – hospitals as well as corporations and the military — will look to add chaplains in the coming years. Millikan noted that when he joined Houston Methodist 15 years ago, there were just 12 chaplains on staff; today there are 85.

“John Wesley said, ‘The world is my parish,’” he said. “As the church contracts, the seminary needs to look at the ‘new parish,’ because places like hospitals and the workplace offer another avenue for ministry.”