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SALT LAKE CITY -- Chaplains have always been there for American servicemen and women. From the U.S. Civil War to World War I, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of the Middle East, Chaplains have always offered soldiers spiritual refuge from the horrors of war.
Fifteen new chaplains were graduated in Salt Lake City Thursday at the George E. Wahlen Veteran Affairs Medical Center. The group graduating was a special group--they are chaplains, from a variety of faiths who have just finished an intensive year-long training and certification program.
It's called Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, professional training for chaplaincy, integrating both theology and psychology.
The 15 graduates will spend their careers helping others, but Friday was just for them.
Each has a unique background. Rebecca Loper started as a nurse, but wanted to do more to minister to the spirit. "It's hard to describe how humbling it is to sit with people as they share with you their hopes and dreams and fears," she said.
Debi Schmelzenbach, who has worked with veterans, says one skill she uses and tries to teach is listening. "I think in our American culture we don't listen very well, and we don't listen very well to each other or to ourselves. And when we can't listen well, we can't listen to God."
Wayne Hull decided to get more training after time as a police chaplain. The toughest job he recalls was being called to a woman's home after a suicide in the family. "And I hugged her and I held her tight until the sobs started to relax, and then I asked, ‘Can you tell me what had happened?'"
Mark Allison, the training supervisor at the VA Medical Center, said, "They all have heart, but what we have done is develop that competent compassion to give people the best care, to say the right thing at the right time in the right way, and to make a favorable difference."
The graduates will go on to chaplain work in churches, hospice, prisons, elder care, law enforcement and the military.