Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Candler and NASA Start Chaplaincy School

RPI--Candler School of Theology in Atlanta plans to open a new chaplaincy program in response to the recent arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak for attacking another woman. The Space Chaplain certification will train clergy to handle problems unique to those who work in NASA’s high stress environment.

“Astronauts face different challenges than the rest of us,” said James “Spacey” Gordon, the Candler faculty member who first envisioned the program. “Space Chaplains will use their skills to address those challenges.”

These new chaplains, however, will be prepared to take their caring ministries beyond the launch pad. Gordon has begun conversations with NASA to enable Candler to prepare the Space Chaplains to accompany the astronauts on their missions. “We want every Space Shuttle launch to carry a chaplain. We want the International Space Station to have a chaplain on duty at all times.”

Only the top candidates will be able to complete the program due to the extreme rigors of space flight, and competition for the handful of slots in the initial class is expected to be heavy. Space Chaplains will also need to develop specialized technical skills such as serving Holy Communion in zero gravity, conducting counseling sessions during space walks, and--until the Space Worship Leader program gets into full swing next year--leading and directing the Praise Band.

NASA spokesperson Randy Heller said the space administration has high hopes for Candler’s new venture. “It is important for the mental and spiritual health of our astronauts, and Space Chaplains could go a long way toward repairing the damage to our public image,” he said.

“There’s precedent for this in the church,” said Candler’s Gordon. “Sailing ships often carried clergy on long voyages over the open, and largely uncharted, seas. The Methodist preachers followed settlers out to the frontier in America’s formative years. Since the Bible calls space the ‘final frontier,’ this is a natural step for us to take.”

Some critics fear that Protestant chaplains could offend or create discomfort among crewmembers by their mere presence. Gordon acknowledges the potential for the problem, especially on the International Space Station (ISS). “I’d like to create an interfaith center on the ISS, so that every faith group has a place and feels welcome. One of my Roman Catholic friends asked about putting a Newman Center up there, and you could include chaplains from every religious group. It is my dream to have more chaplains than astronauts at the Station.”

Some think Gordon’s dream is too big, bigger than all outer space. “Is this a ridiculous idea? No way. If we can put a man on the moon, then why can’t we...well, you get the idea.”

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home