Elder Uchtdorf counsels Church-endorsed chaplains to partner with the Master Healer and lift others

Church-endorsed chaplains serving worldwide work daily with a variety of people marked by both physical and emotional scars. 

“You chaplains are a wonderful source of healing because you know where the Master Healer is who has the answers for every concern in life,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Uchtdorf’s instructive, uplifting counsel on Tuesday, Oct. 5, concluded the 2021 Chaplain Ecclesiastical Endorsement Training for Latter-day Saint chaplains. More than 200 Church-endorsed chaplains and their spouses participated, in person or virtually, in the annual seminar traditionally held in conjunction with October general conference. 

The gathering is sponsored by the Church’s Military Relations and Chaplain Services office.

This year’s participants wore a variety of uniforms — including those of several branches of the United States Armed Forces, the U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies and fire departments. Church-sponsored civilian chaplains ministering in hospitals, prisons, schools and other locations also participated.

“Let me just express my gratitude to all of you for your marvelous work and for what you are doing for the Church and for the people around the globe who very much rely on your insights and your willingness to offer time, talents and love,” said Elder Uchtdorf.

Besides Elder Uchtdorf, a collection of Church leaders, educators and clerics offered instruction during the three-day conference held at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Among presenters were an Anglican scholar, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal, and the U.S. Navy chief of chaplains, Rear Adm. Brent W. Scott.

Attendees listen during the Church's annual chaplains seminar at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.
Attendees listen during the Church’s annual chaplains seminar at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Uchtdorf said he could think of no office “so delicately balanced between church and state” as a military chaplain. “On one hand, the military chaplains wear the uniform of their service. They are answerable to their commander … [serving in times] of war and peace. 

“As defenders of the U.S. Constitution, they are partisan to a particular ‘city of man.’ On the other hand, they are designated spokespersons for the City of God. … They are the representatives of a religious tradition accountable, above all, to the Almighty.

“Your service as chaplains preserves a person’s right to freely exercise their religion.”

Elder Uchtdorf noted that, centuries ago, U.S. Army Gen. George Washington declared that military chaplains should be servants of high character who help shape “the manner of the corps, both by precept and influence.”

Besides serving as advisers to their commanders, military chaplains primarily function as spiritual counselors and advocates to men and women in uniform and their families from a variety of religious backgrounds and traditions. The Church endorses approximately 150 military chaplains and chaplain candidates, along with dozens of nonmilitary chaplains.

A chaplain’s spouse, added Elder Uchtdorf, is essential to his or her husband’s or wife’s service.

“I salute and honor each one of you for accepting this challenge and rejoice in the opportunities these circumstances offer for you, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We’re proud of you and your dedication to the Lord’s work to your family and to your country.”

Chaplains often guide individuals and families to peace during moments in their lives damaged by chaos and violence. Combat can leave deep scars, both physical and emotional, on those in uniform.

Elder Uchtdorf said he has witnessed such scars — but he has also witnessed many Latter-day Saints and others who endure and heal because of the gospel of Jesus Christ “and because of the help and care from people like you.”

He counseled Latter-day Saint chaplains to do more than simply imparting knowledge on those that they serve. “They also need to feel that you care for them. … The wounds of war can be deep and long-lasting. The Master Healer is the only hope for so many — and you can help to open the door to Him and His healing power.”

Latter-day Saint chaplains can also be peacemakers and spiritual mediators, he added. Many of the people they work with are bitter, believing they have been wronged in some manner. 

“We need to [lift] and embrace.”

Chaplains who have been endorsed by the Church may find themselves serving in combat zones. It is frightening, unsettling duty. But even in the fog of war, chaplains can find inner peace that they can share with others.

“Many of those people you will influence in your work will be grateful for the ‘instrument of love and peace’ you bring to their lives.”

Elder Uchtdorf shared experiences from his own military service as a young fighter pilot in the West German air force during the chill of the Cold War.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks at the Church's annual chaplains seminar at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks at the Church’s annual chaplains seminar at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

He was required to swear an oath of allegiance to the constitution of his country. At the time, such an oath seemed to conflict with directions he had read in the scriptures about making such oaths. He was also troubled that if conflict erupted, he may be ordered to target some of the same areas in East Germany where he grew up as a child. 

The young Latter-day Saint pilot did not have access to a military chaplain. But he did seek the counsel of his local priesthood leader. 

“His counseling brought peace to my mind, to my heart and to my conscience and helped me move forward with courage to serve God and country without any trepidation or confusion or guilt.”

The Cold War is over, but conflicts remain — including an ongoing battle against a tenacious health pandemic. These are conflicts “you can help people overcome.”

Elder Uchtdorf spoke of his older brother who enlisted in the German army during the waning days of World War II. His brother was just 16 years old when he was captured by American troops, becoming a prisoner of war. While he eventually returned home, he forever carried the emotional scars of war. 

But even amid the pain of war, the Uchtdorfs found comfort through the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

“We learned what [the gospel] can bring to our lives. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your influence and the impact it can have on individual lives.”

It is the chaplain’s job to bring peace to all, regardless of their circumstances or backgrounds.

“We should be cognizant of our responsibilities as Christians. Laws of the country must be obeyed. And the laws must also reflect our willingness as Christians to help the poor and those needing comfort. 

“Committing ourselves to this kind of service will best express the pure love of Christ to our fellow man,” he said.

Even during sorrowful moments, the Holy Ghost can offer chaplains comfort and clarity. Allow the sacrifice and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to become solid cornerstones in the lives of others.

“Christ-like compassion and empathy for our fellow men will change us. They will bring a positive change to the future of the world. … This will bless your communities where you serve and bring Christ’s peace to the nations of the world.”

Concluding, Elder Uchtdorf challenged Latter-day Saint chaplains to remain brave and hopeful for a peaceful future. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love — and of a sound mind.”

Elder Uchtdorf also saluted the contributions of Frank Clawson, who will soon be retiring as director of the Church’s military relations office following many years of service and leadership.