The other day, I was at a Scouting Ministry meeting, and one of the lay participants was wearing a Chaplain's patch on his sleeve. Now, I am not one of the those who go around acting as the patch police; I certainly would not confront him about this in a meeting. But . . .
The BSA Chaplain patch is reserved to those recognized by their denomination as clergy, to seminarians, and to a few others who are actually filling the office of chaplain in a camp. And who does The UMC recognize as clergy? Well, broadly speaking, there are two classes of clergy in The UMC. There are ordained ministers (elders, including bishops, and deacons) who have ministerial authority regardless of what job they hold, and there are unordained ministers (licensed local pastors and supply pastors) who can only act as clergy when they are actually appointed to pastor a church. We can argue about whether a "youth pastor" is actually a member of the clergy, I suppose. But if you wouldn't be qualified to serve as a Assistant Spiritual Director on a Walk to Emmaus, you are simply and solely and everywhere a lay person. You are not clergy.
Being a Scouting Coordinator does not make you clergy. Teaching Sunday School does not make you clergy. Counseling religious emblems does not make you clergy. Being on a Conference or General Church Scouting Ministry Committee does not make you clergy. Being a Certified Lay Speaker does not make you clergy. Being qualified according to the standards of a denomination you don't belong to does not make you clergy. Being the only adult on your Troop Committee who goes to church does not make you clergy. Having gone on a Walk to Emmaus does not make you clergy. If you are a lay person, then no matter how many beads or woggles you're wearing, you are out of uniform when you have that Chaplain patch on. And those of us who have given our whole lives to answering the call to ministry and qualifying for entrance into the congregation of the clergy and keeping up on the standards of the clergy are not impressed by your claim to be a Chaplain.
Keep in mind, lay persons are called to ministry, too. And most people who do Scouting as ministry are lay persons. I'm all for recognizing lay persons in ministry. But you are not enhancing your cool by wearing a patch that you are not qualified for. Think of it this way. I carry a lot of First Aid credentials, because I'm always taking kids on trips. If nobody else were available, I could serve as a Health Officer for a District or Council event. Does this mean that I get to wear a Physician patch? How do you think the real Physicians would view me if I did? Would they suspect me of practicing medicine without a license or just blow it off? And even if they said nothing, don't you think their respect for me would be somewhere in the sub-basement regions?
Perhaps I should be flattered that people want to identify with my status, particularly since it is not often valued by the powers that be in Scouting. But when the time comes when we actually need Chaplains to do chaplaincy, then untrained, unauthorized wannabes only devalue the real ministry we need. So, if you're not willing to pay what it costs to qualify for the position, then take off the fershlugginer patch and quit pretending to be what you're not.