Dressed in her green U.S. Army uniform, Chaplain Dawn Dimick opened her remarks Oct. 2 at the 2023 Chaplain Training Seminar by asking all the female chaplains and applicants in the Conference Center Theater to stand.
More than 40 women, many dressed in uniforms, stood in response.
“If I had asked that question 10, 15 or 20 years ago, instead of 30 to 40, there would have been three or four,” she said.
Dimick then presented research on the history of Latter-day Saint women chaplaincy in timing with this year’s 50th anniversary of women serving as chaplains in the United States Armed Forces.
Dimick said the history of female chaplains reminded her of Elder David A. Bednar’s general conference message Saturday, Sept. 30, of untold stories of sacrifice and service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These women performed ministry before centralized endorsement and they often didn’t know of one another,” she said. “And they did what they did, not because of a desire for recognition, but to follow the call God had placed on their life. This presentation today is all about recognizing their service, the decades of ministerial effort and work that laid the foundation for all the Church-endorsed female chaplains that stood today.”
Dimick was followed by President Camille N. Johnson, the Church’s Relief Society general president, who drew parallels between chaplaincy and the ministry of the Relief Society.
“These women, all members of the Relief Society, were doing what the sisters of the Relief Society have always done,” President Johnson said.
The two women were among several featured speakers at the 2023 Chaplain Training Seminar on Oct. 2-3 for Church-endorsed chaplains and their spouses, held each October following general conference.
The theme of the seminar comes from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
New research on female chaplains
Before Dimick’s presenation, Chaplain Tamara Harris, the Church’s chaplain services manager, explained that she was announced as the Church’s first Latter-day Saint woman chaplain at the seminar in 2017. That is no longer the case.
“The Military Relations and Chaplain Services Division had considered me the initial Latter-day Saint woman chaplain as there were no historical records in the office listing a woman chaplain prior to 1989,” she said. “We now know from Dawn’s exciting and in-depth research, that what was known then, was inaccurate. ... We celebrate Latter-day Saint women in chaplaincy and the inspiring lineage and heritage they have left for us to follow. Dawn’s research is welcome and astonishing.”
Dimick was the first female to study and graduate from BYU’s Master of Arts chaplaincy program. She has been serving at Fort Carson, Colorado, for the last several months. Dimick also served a Latter-day Saint mission in Russia.
Speaking without notes, Dimick highlighted the chaplaincy work of early Latter-day Saint women Emmeline B. Wells, Zina D.H. Young, of Maud May Babcock and the pastoral care offered in the 1880s by nurses of the Deseret Hospital. What she hoped to communicate from the research is the importance of knowing where one comes from and that reflecting on the examples of resilience and perseverance in times past can help one today.
“I believe that women have a unique role to play in the saving and ministration of souls,” she said. “And as we unite between genders, races and faiths, we will be better prepared to build the kingdom of God and Jesus Christ.”
Health care chaplain Keri Kammerman, who works for a hospice company and part time at Primary Children’s Hospital in Utah, said it is “exciting to see so many women stepping into the role professionally.” She feels a daily responsibility to treat others as the Savior would.
“As a chaplain, I feel like my daily walk emulates the Savior more. I have to be in a place of doing what He would do and saying what He would say, and seeing every person I meet as a child of God and infinitely loved by Him,” she said.
Providing and receiving relief
President Johnson paid tribute to Dimick, Harris and other chaplains for helping to shine the light of Jesus Christ in their pastoral care to people around the world.
“Sisters and brothers, chaplains, thank you for bringing the Savior’s relief, His hope and comfort to others,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that some of those you serve have no understanding of Jesus Christ, and that His Atonement is what makes the Father’s plan of happiness possible, but in ministering to their souls you are bringing them His relief.”
President Johnson counseled the chaplains to also be “receivers of relief” and ministering from others as well. She admitted to not being good at this, that her “I’ve got this, power-of-one mentality” overtakes her sometimes. When her husband had back surgery in May, her ward Relief Society president asked if the sisters could bring a few meals. President Johnson was in the middle of saying “no” when she remembered what she had preached in a previous general conference address and thought she had better practice it.
“I realized that I would be depriving those sisters of an opportunity to act as the Savior would,” she said. “So, I said yes to a few meals — and each time a sister came with food, I felt the love of the Savior. ...
“Providing relief is the way we keep covenants. Receiving relief is a way we help others keep covenants,” President Johnson said. “You are brave and courageous, but please do not try to go at it alone. Let the Savior help you. And remember that He may help you by using someone else to bring you His relief and comfort.”
The message resonated with chaplain Christine Mickelsen, an intern at St. Mark’s Hospital in Clinical Pastoral Education who ministers to patients in their rooms. “We think the doctors heal the body and the chaplains can help heal the spirit,” she said.
“It was amazing to hear Chaplain Dimick talk about how long women have served as chaplains, that there is a rich history of service in the health care industry,” Mickelsen said. “I think it’s beautiful that it is so compatible with Relief Society, and that we have been doing it our whole lives, whether officially or unofficially.”
Comfort in Christ
Sister Browning’s message focused on finding — and helping others to find — comfort through Jesus Christ.
She told of a Latter-day Saint chaplain serving in war-torn Iraq who worried he might not make it home to his family, so he prayed. He found comfort in the kindness and concern of a Catholic priest who placed in his hand a small cross, the best gift he could have received at that time, Sister Browning said.
“My sincere prayer is that ‘the God of all comfort,’ ‘even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ who offers comfort to those you pray for, consoles your own heart in your reaching and your pleadings to Him, so that you who are His servants can feel of His mercies in your tribulations as you are focused and diligent in your reaching,” she said. “And I pray that you, like that worried chaplain, may receive a reminder of the gift that is God’s Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Receiving and giving comfort
Kitchens is the Air Force’s chief of chaplains at the Pentagon. As chief of chaplains, he is a senior pastor for more than 770,000 active duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilian forces serving in the United States and overseas.
He read the theme scripture and said the beauty of the passage is found in how God comforts chaplains and those they serve.
“That means there is no suffering a hardship that is beyond the reach of God’s comforting hand. And whether we are grappling today with fear, pain, anxiety or any other affliction, we can turn to Him and find refuge,” he said. “For that purpose, God comforts us so that we may be able to understand and comfort others.”
Following his remarks, Kitchens answered a few questions from the audience. One inquiry prompted him to tell about singing along with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during one of the general conference congregational hymns.
The military leader said he loves music, having started out in college as a major in music, voice and piano.
“I have a musical heart and mind,” he said. “I will just say that I felt as though I was in heaven yesterday.”
Learn more about Church-endorsed chaplaincy at ChurchofJesusChrist.org.