Mennonite Chaplains Association

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The Mennonite Chaplains Association (MCA) was organized in 1962 at an annual meeting of the Mennonite Hospital Association held in Chicago, Illinois, USA.[1]

MCA's purpose was to encourage fellowship among Mennonite chaplains, promote the chaplain's role in Mennonite healthcare institutions, secure recognition from Mennonite area conferences for chaplaincy as a credentialed ministry, and represent chaplains in the larger structures and assemblies of Mennonite healthcare institutions.

For a number of years before 1962, chaplains began attending the annual meetings of the Mennonite Hospital Association, which were usually held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the American Protestant Hospital Association, which had formed a Chaplains' Division. At the 1962 meeting, H. Ernest Bennett, Executive Secretary of Mennonite Hospital Association, helped provide a setting for chaplains to organize themselves. He also proposed that a representative of MCA serve on the Executive Committee of the Mennonite Hospital Association. As a result, Chester Raber was selected as the first chairman of MCA to represent chaplains on this Executive Committee.

MCA remained affiliated with successive Mennonite healthcare structures, holding its meetings at the yearly Mennonite Health Assembly until 2015. Then, in June 2017, MCA held its meeting in conjunction with the Annual Gathering of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF) at Laurelville, Pennsylvania. At that time, it voted to dissolve the organization and encouraged Mennonite chaplains to join MHF and participate in regional gatherings hosted by Mennonite Health Services (MHS).

Member volunteers handled the governance and administration of the Mennonite Chaplains Association. Having started under Mennonite Hospital Association, it continued to be a sub-group under the successive reorganizations of that association. It generally elected officers at each meeting for the primary purpose of planning the following year's conference and representing MCA to the larger convention planning committee. Between meetings, officers communicated mainly through postal mail with an occasional mass mailing to both members and a more extensive list of chaplains secured through Mennonite area conferences.

MCA covered expenses through offerings at the meetings with funds managed by the Mennonite Health Association structure in the early years. Eventually, it formulated a system of collecting dues, with those who contributed seen as members of the Mennonite Chaplains Association. In 2000, MCA opened a separate bank account, appointed a treasurer, and accounted for its own funds. It enabled a more structured administrative and financial system during this time through the increasing use of the Internet and conference call systems.

Even though many of the early chaplains were also congregational pastors, the issues increasingly revolved around a growing sense of self-identity as chaplains. For those who saw chaplaincy as a distinct calling rather than just an extension of congregational ministry, there was considerable advocacy for the area conferences of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church to recognize and grant credentials to chaplains. The Mennonite Chaplains Association's first president, Chester A. (Chet) Raber, recalled the Indiana-Michigan Conference didn't know what to do with his request for ordination because it came from an individual instead of a congregation and because it didn't have a category for chaplains. It eventually classified him as a foreign missionary.

Because chaplains were new, the Mennonite seminaries did little to train or support them. Many Mennonites who considered chaplaincy as a calling turned to the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) movement, which started in the broader church in the 1950s. These relationships with chaplains of other denominations generated attempts in the last quarter of the 20th century to form alliances with chaplaincy groups such as the Church of the Brethren and the Southern Baptists. None of these relationships persisted over the long term.

MCA was also collaborative in other ways. An MCA member served on the board or planning committee of the larger gatherings of what became Mennonite Health Assembly (MHA). MCA also cooperated with entities related to MHA, including Mennonite Medical Association (MMA), Mennonite Nurses Association (MNA), and, eventually, with Mennonite Health Services (MHS) Alliance. A cooperative effort with MMA, MNA, and others led to cooperation in a quarterly Mennonite Health Journal. In 2002, MCA affirmed its participation and financial support in an association called Anabaptist Center for Healthcare Ethics (ACHE), which had its primary impact in helping Mennonite Church USA do a churchwide study of a Christian response to the USA healthcare system.

In the latter years, several significant changes gradually took place. First, most Mennonite chaplains no longer served in Mennonite-related institutions. Since MHA continued to be primarily a gathering of administrators, board members, and other leaders serving Mennonite institutions, which were members of MHS Alliance, the agenda for its meeting was primarily for leadership concerns. Fewer Mennonite chaplains, even those who still worked for Mennonite institutions, were able to attend MHA.

In 2011, MMA and MNA merged to start Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF), which was open to all healthcare professionals, including chaplains. For a few years following 2011, MCA affirmed its desire to remain a separate organization for chaplains and continued its annual meetings at MHA. After MCA and MHF held informal conversations, they invited individual chaplains to participate in the MHF Annual Gatherings each summer beginning in 2012. In 2013, the MCA's new President, Kenton Derstine, accepted a position as a member of the MHF Board of Directors. His participation led to even more cooperation between the two associations. As MCA struggled to recruit new leadership and attendance of chaplains at MHA continued to dwindle, there was a proposal to hold the MCA annual meeting in 2017 in conjunction with the MHF Annual Gathering instead of the Mennonite Health Assembly. However, with the limited turnout and a gathering enthusiasm for chaplains to network and fellowship with various healthcare professionals, those in attendance voted to disband MCA as a separate organization.

In the years following, chaplains became more active in MHF. In 2018, long-time MCA member Clair Hochstetler was elected to the MHF Board and, in 2019, became the Board President. In 2020, new MHF Executive Director Cate Michelle Desjardins, herself a Board-Certified chaplain, began organizing additional conversations among chaplains through MHF. In 2020, MHF recognized MCA as one of the predecessor organizations of MHF along with MMA and MNA.

See also: Chaplaincy; Clinical Pastoral Education


  1. Mennonite Hospital Association was known by the 1963 meeting as the Association of Mennonite Hospitals and Homes (AMHH) and later as Mennonite Health Association. As the structures of Mennonite health institutions evolved, the annual meeting was eventually known as Mennonite Health Assembly.


Raber, Chet. Email interview by author (November 2020).

"Report of the Mennonite Chaplains Meeting Held February 28, 1962 in Chicago, Illinois." Minutes on file in the online archives of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship,


The archives of the Mennonite Chaplains Association were held by Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship. Some archived records were also available through the Mennonite Church USA Archives in Elkhart, Indiana.

Author(s) Paul D Leichty
Date Published July 2021

Cite This Article

MLA style

Leichty, Paul D. "Mennonite Chaplains Association." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2021. Web. 21 Jan 2022.

APA style

Leichty, Paul D. (July 2021). Mennonite Chaplains Association. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 January 2022, from

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