So the message I want you to really hear tonight is that I believe we are on the verge of our best work ever. I believe our finest hour IS ahead of us. Unprepared and unqualified? God forbid! ACPE – we have been preparing! We are making progress on every front, including the research front. If you’ve not been keeping up with the work of Transforming Chaplaincy, please do. Thanks to Wendy Cadge and George Fitchett and many others, we are starting to create a research presence beyond just our own trade publications.
Many of us are getting involved in offering education to our medical and other professional colleagues. We have a lot to offer – not just in terms of teaching them about spiritual care in the clinical setting, but about reflective learning in general. We’re the best at this, folks, and we have to stop being quiet about that. We’re not therapy and we don’t need to just imitate therapeutic models. The noun in our name is and always been EDUCATION, and we know how to engage people of very different views in transformative adult learning. We should be more assertive about that.
I think that we as an organization are on the verge of being tapped on the shoulder. The world DOES need what we know and we should be able and ready to articulate why. We should ALL be preparing for our finest hour and we should learn to think as a system rather than separate centers and programs. When you talk about ACPE to anyone, the preferred pronouns should be we/us/our/ours….not it/them/they/theirs.
I believe the world truly does need what we know. We know how to build temporary communities of adult learners who actually do transform one another’s world views. We know how to teach the art of confident, competent, compassionate presence that holds a space while suffering people find their own way back to courage. We know how to model reflective learning – the cycle of doing and evaluating and trying again. We can offer these tools far beyond the offices of chaplains. We can and should be ready to teach and speak on the value of being able to give and receive real collegial feedback that is respectful and productive, not simply offer cheap flattery or, at the other extreme, sling criticisms at people we don’t really feel invested in. The world needs to know how to engage in respectful critique and we should be leading the way in teaching it.
I believe that the growing demand for us to account for our value has actually improved our craft. I remember as a CPE intern fresh out of seminary in New York City more than 30 years ago asking my supervisors why the hospital should pay for chaplains if we couldn’t show our impact and importance. You can imagine that didn’t endear me to them. But I wasn’t asking because I DIDN’T value what I was doing. I was asking because I DID! When I got back to the South, to a religiously based hospital that valued spirituality as a core need of its patients and staff, I still had similar questions. And I had both the fear and the exhilaration caused by watching Franklin Duncan and Robin Booth learn to adapt to new market forces when the religiously based system was bought out by a secular corporation. We had to learn to make the case for the value of our work, and that was not a bad thing to have to learn.
Since going to the Cleveland Clinic 11 years ago, to a completely secular, research-based hospital system, I’ve gotten a whole new kind of on-the-ground training. When Dennis Kenny arrived there a year before me, there was ONE staff chaplain and a CPE program in hoc with the Accreditation Commission. We had 7 residents, one SIT, and my coming doubled the CPE staff. Almost no one knew (or cared) that we were there. We had the ride of a lifetime as Dennis loudly and widely proclaimed what chaplains could do – essentially selling something we didn’t yet have the labor force to produce. But together we started building a team that could demonstrate who we were and what we could do for such an institution. The department has grown since then and we still have a long way to go, but they know we are there. We still have to show our impact, but we believe in it more than ever and it’s energizing to be able to demonstrate our contribution, not only to better patient care, but to the care and education of our fellow caregivers as well. And we know, better than any of our colleagues from the other professions, that in spite of the decline in religiosity (or maybe because of it), the hunger of the human spirit for connecting to the ineffable, the mysterious – especially in times of fear, uncertainty, horrible news and death – hasn’t gone away. And the search for meaning and purpose beyond our immediate circumstances hasn’t slacked up at all; I believe it never will. We’re the ones who get this and we should be ready to talk about it at a moment’s notice. When the culture we live in spends most of its energy and resources in the fear and denial of pain and death, we are the ones who know how to talk about it. And we are the ones who know what to do when there’s nothing more to do. We should be proud of this. It is hard! But we know how to do it!!!
So I say to you tonight we are in very exciting times. I agree with Churchill that we often don’t know when it is we will be tapped on the shoulder and asked to do something that we really are uniquely fitted for – something bigger than us, something that maybe even feels too hard, out of reach, especially when we’re all being asked constantly to do more with less. But if we are prepared and qualified – truly qualified -- we will be ready to respond to that tap on the shoulder….to rise up and get about the work at hand. And we might just find out we have been preparing all along for what will turn out to be our finest hour. Thank you.