LDS Church approves centralized endorsement of all chaplains 1

Tami Harris, the chaplain and director of spiritual care at Heritage School, poses for photos at the school's Worship Center on their Provo campus on Oct. 13, 2014. Harris, of Provo, was the first non-military female chaplain in the LDS Church and has been serving and pastoring troubled teens since 1989.

PROVO -- "I preach every Sunday in an Interfaith Service. I am a Pastoral Counselor, wife, mom and grandma. I'm a chaplain. I'm a Mormon."

That is what Chaplain Tami Harris wrote Oct. 7 when she started her first "I'm a Mormon" profile at Mormon.org. Harris, of Provo, was the first non-military female chaplain in the LDS Church and has been serving and pastoring troubled teens since 1989.

Since last Tuesday, she has received more than 1,000 hits on her page and numerous inquiries.

It was just this past June when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially announced it has approved the centralized endorsement of all chaplaincies, including female chaplains. It was reiterated at last week's chaplain's seminar and training that runs in tandem with the October General Conference of the LDS Church.

"This is a big deal," Harris said. "When I first started there was no one to ask how to do it, no manual."

Harris said there was a special session for spouses at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City. Rosemary M. Wixom, General Primary president, spoke.

"My husband and two other men were sitting with all these women," Harris said. "Before this year, he would sit all alone. He's a pioneer."

Harris said she is following in her father's footsteps. He was a retired member of the military serving as a chaplain in a residential treatment center. He also was dying of cancer.

One day he asked his daughter to help because he was too weak to preach. He died two days later. That launched her chaplain career.

Harris said there have been just a couple times during her work as a chaplain when she has questioned whether it is what she should be doing. Then, five years ago, she worked with Elder Jeffrey Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the National Day of Prayer Service in the old Provo Tabernacle. During a phone conversation, she introduced herself to Holland.

"Elder Holland told me, 'We know who you are, and you're right where we need you to be,'" Harris said.

She has a bachelor's degree in human services and has completed her clinical pastoral education and is a board certified associate pastoral counselor and clinical chaplain.

"As the first female chaplain in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what I do in my career could be seen as odd -- even impossible for a faithful Mormon woman," wrote Harris on her "I'm a Mormon" profile.

"However, I have always been supported by church leaders. While I do not hold a priesthood office, I pray, speak, conduct and lead. I do this in my career as chaplain."

Being a chaplain isn't just about sermons on Sunday. Harris works with all faith backgrounds including Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics and others, including atheists. She must work with counselors and staff and must counsel on a daily basis. She must have a deep understanding of many faiths and cultures, and know how to counsel with adherents of them in their own faith setting.

Harris also has served twice as the chair of the Utah County Ministerial Association and serves on its board.

"Chaplaining is about bringing hope and inspiration to people to live a better life," Harris said. "It's fun seeing when I look in these teens' eyes and I see an 'Aha!' moment."

Harris is not the only female LDS chaplain out there. There are a few throughout the country at various universities, healthcare facilities and hospice organizations. 

In July 2013, LDS couple David and Janis Rowberry of Las Vegas retired as chaplains at Georgetown University in Washington -- the nation's oldest Catholic university.

In a church statement on chaplaincy, Frank Clawson, director of military relations for the LDS Church, described the overall purposes of the chaplaincy. Clawson's office will now service non-military chaplains following the recent endorsement.

“A chaplain is responsible to teach values, to build moral character in individuals and help in broadening personal understanding of integrity, loyalty and honor — those core values that are so critical in life," he said. "A chaplain hopes to instill such values in soldiers, values that will sustain individuals who may come to question circumstances in their lives."

LDS Church member Deborah Hampton is the chaplain at Salt Lake Regional Hospital (formerly Holy Cross Hospital).

"She has a perfect balance in her role," Clawson said.

"I think women are a good fit for chaplaincy. They are compassionate and kind," he added. "Whatever we do for women chaplains, we know they are in an environment where they can excel. Being a chaplain is challenging and not for the faint of heart."

While most people are familiar with military chaplains, of which the LDS Church has many, they may not be as familiar with members serving as chaplains in healthcare, hospice, prisons, patrols and other areas of focus.

For those who are interested and can pass the qualifications, Brigham Young University offers a graduate chaplaincy program, which Clawson said the LDS Church is very pleased with.

It's not easy being a chaplain, and it's not easy getting to be one, either. There are several interviews including ecclesiastical endorsements and interviews with bishops, stake presidents, and eventually with a general authority. 

Schooling also is important. The LDS Church looks at the family as well, and interviews spouses, fully aware of how a chaplaincy affects family time. In the case of the military, being a chaplain also includes deployments.

The church does not have a complete count of non-military chaplains, but said there are more than 25 serving full-time in healthcare, and numerous serving part-time in hospice service. There are 21 Border Patrol chaplains, nine Civil Air Patrol chaplains and at least three university chaplains.

"We really didn't know who were out there," Clawson said. "The centralized endorsement provides opportunity for that review."

Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can contacted at gpugmire@heraldextra.com, (801)344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire

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