Inside these walls: Manuel Cordero, retired correctional chaplain, talks about his career.

Author:Gibson, Grace
Position:WORK LIFE - Interview

Many people who choose to enter a religious field describe their decisions as being spurred by "callings." Remaining mostly mysterious to those who cannot say they've ever experienced one, a calling is best described as being strongly drawn to an occupation, often attributed to a spiritual source. In one sense, Manuel Cordero, who was senior director of chaplaincy ministries for the General Council of the Assemblies of God (dwelling within the Pentecostal Christian tradition) before his recent retirement, is no different from the other religious workers said to have experienced callings. However, Cordero's calling was not typical to those in the religious field.

"When I went to seminary, I was invited to teach a Bible class in Spanish [in a prison], and when I came out of the prison, I felt a definite call," he said. He then opened his Bible to what happened to be Matthew 25:36, quoting Jesus: "'... I was in prison and you came to me.'" (1) For Cordero, that was that.

Starting in 1983, after earning a Bachelor of Science in Bible/Biblical studies from Central Bible College and a master of divinity from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (both in Springfield, Missouri), Cordero served as an institutional chaplain, regional chaplain and central office chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). After 23 years at BOP, he then went to work for the Assemblies of God--first as correctional ministry representative, then as senior director of chaplaincy ministries--for a decade. In addition to his "day jobs," Cordero also served as an adjunct professor, at Nyack College for nine years and then at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary for five years. He even found time to earn a doctor of ministry from Palmer Theological Seminary in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.


Defined as "spiritual representative[s] in a secular institution," chaplains, who come from a variety of religions, serve as spiritual resources for those within an institution's walls. They perform ceremonies--such as a weddings, memorials or typical religious services--and also provide emotional and religious counseling through talk, prayer and other resources from the chaplain's faith. (2) In essence, a correctional chaplain is a support of multiple kinds for inmates, staff and visitors.

Duties and responsibilities

It's a big job. But in some ways, being a correctional chaplain is like a lot of other jobs. For example, correctional chaplaincy doesn't...

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