On Being Prepared for Our Finest Hour
ACPE Annual Banquet Speech

By Amy Greene, Board Chair | May 14, 2018

Thank you for participating in my installation. And thank you all for sharing your evening with us at ACPE for the annual banquet. This officially marks the start of our Second Half-Century as a professional association!

I want to begin by also thanking the ACPE staff. Honestly, we are so lucky to have them. We’re a volunteer-led organization, but without the incredibly resourceful and talented staff here in Atlanta and out in the field, we could not exist at all. So if you don’t know who Trace, John, Marc, Sheila, Terry, Jasmine, Kim, Tiffany, Carl, Zizi, Katherine, Steve, and Wayne………are, please find out soon. You need to know. I’d like for them to stand.

Next, I want to thank all the members who have served on committees and commissions from 2014 to the present. These individuals have provided countless hours and dedicated leadership to our association on boards, commissions, committees, task forces, and work groups. I’d like anyone who has served on any of the following to stand as the group name is called and remain standing please:

  • Organization Design Work Group
  • Certification Reform Task Force
  • Professional Development and Peer Review Task Force
  • Redesign Implementation Team
  • Accreditation Work Group
  • ACPE Board of Directors
  • Foundation Board of Directors
  • Accreditation Commission
  • Certification Commission
  • Professional Ethics Commission
  • Advocacy Committee
  • Finance Committee
  • Leadership Development Committee
  • Professional Well-being Committee
  • Research Committee
Look around you. This is what a professional association with an engaged membership looks like!!! If you are not standing, see me (or Stephen Robinson) after dinner….and prepare to be standing next year!

I also want to thank my Cleveland Clinic colleagues in CPE… Bob McGeeney, director of the program, and our two new Associates, Rabbi Jim Egolf and Rabbi Shula Izen. Also our Candidate Rev. Sahra Harding and our new CEC, Imam Jawad Bayat. Please stand.
Lastly, I want to thank my family – my best friend and husband of 34 years, Thomas Reuter, and our sons Nathaniel and Dominick, and our amazing daughter-in-law Tracy. Without their love and support, I don’t think I would be able to do anything worth doing. 

A few years ago, when I had just recently become Director of Spiritual Care at the Cleveland Clinic, I heard the following Winston Churchill quote, and it has really stayed with me: 

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared and unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” 

There are a few key times in our lives, if we’re lucky and if we’re paying attention, when we are tapped on the shoulder in just this way…asked (from either deep within ourselves, or from someone else, or from that strange and mystical thing we call vocation) to do something unique to us and “fitted to our talents.” It can happen to us individually, or in teams, as organizations or even countries. I believe it can – and will – happen to ACPE in the very near future. I feel strongly that all our work of the past few years, to reorganize and restructure, has been our becoming prepared and qualified – not simply to survive, but to be ready for our finest hour.

In the midst of adapting to all our new processes and structures, I want to invite and encourage us all to remember that in spite of all the changes, we are still ACPE! When the focus group met with the rebranding and marketing consultants over 18 months ago, it became clear after much consideration of a new name that our acronym was too big an asset to give up. We realized, with their help, that it has come to stand on its own, regardless of what each letter stands for – much the way no one cares what UPS or IBM’s initials stand for. We know who they are and what they do. The same is true for us. WE are ACPE. And WE are the Standard for Spiritual Care and Education.

And so to honor our rich history and the legacy we’ve inherited, we must be more vigilant than ever to live up to the standards WE have set – to continue to professionalize in ways that keep us relevant to the changing demands of our culture. What we are uniquely fitted to do IS needed by the world – not just the healthcare world, but in all settings where our theologically and spiritually grounded way of caring and learning can offer unique benefits. Though we must become savvier about the market forces and cultural shifts that affect our ability to offer such in-depth training, we cannot ever afford to water down or cut corners on an educational process that is designed in its very DNA to transform both the educator and the educated, the caregiver and the recipient.  

Because of the talent and dedication in our membership and our staff, we continue to transform our craft and prepare for our future. We have a lot to celebrate tonight, and a lot to be thankful for:
  • We offered over 8,500 CPE units of training this past year. That is over 3.4 million hours of clinical pastoral education!
  • We certified 43 new educators in 2017. The average age of our Certified Educators seems to be stabilizing rather than continuing to spike upward, meaning that we will have people to carry the work into the future. Many of you know this has been a major concern of mine. We must continue to tap the shoulders of the best and brightest folks we come across and help them to think of this work as a viable and satisfying form of ministry – one that is constantly challenging but also relevant – and may even allow them to feed their families. We are moving in the right direction.
  • We are prepared for the uncertainty of the 21st century with its skyrocketing education and healthcare costs because we had the courage to reflect on who we were and to evaluate how we operate. By implementing the recommendations of the Organization Design Work Group and the Certification Reform Task Force, we accepted that our existence was no longer a given but a gift. And it is a gift we must keep making sure we use wisely.
  • We have developed a great team. The ACPE staff are energized and creative. For the first time in our history we have three – not just one -- Certified Educators on the staff, whose primary responsibilities are to help create our new models of community and to be a resource to all of us. We have a talented and responsive team whose FULL TIME DAY JOBS are to help this thing keep moving forward.
  • We have re-designed the accreditation process to be more user-friendly and collegial. We’re trying hard to eliminate some of the “gotcha” quality of past procedures. We want to address challenges and yes, problems, sooner and with more decisiveness as an organization. Recognizing the wide variety of our programs and contexts, we want to help our members meet the commonly determined goals and objectives without forcing a uniform approach.
  • The new Certification process is designed to place much more freedom but also responsibility directly into the hands of the aspiring Educator, in a way that looks more like a doctoral program than a magical mystery tour. The expense – both financial and emotional – of the old system is something we truly should never forget. Though it had some wonderful qualities, it was not the most efficient or effective use of our time or resources. We needed a better and more compassionate tool for screening candidates earlier in their processes. It is a huge change – maybe the one requiring the most adaptation – and we aren’t there yet. And though our outcomes are still sound, they are not carved in stone, and we need to always be willing to reexamine them and add to them as research and experience tell us we should. We should keep the bar high for what we expect of a Certified Educator. That hasn’t changed. But we have changed how and where we assess competency so that we’re more effectively evaluating the full range of skills needed, and doing so with more fiscal responsibility and better stewardship of our ever-more-precious time.
  • The new Peer Review process requires the Certified Educator to maintain competence and stay in process, while providing greater accountability, and modeling what it means to be a truly lifelong learner. (I just did my peer review yesterday with the new process – it was harder. I won’t lie. But it was richer too. I got real consultation for something that has been thorny for me). The new process also provides us as practitioners with more regular and ongoing collegial support and relevant feedback. It really is focused on our ongoing maintenance of competence and our professional development, not just on checking a box.
  • The new governance structure also provides more opportunity for the membership to get involved in immediate, relevant ways. We’ve gone from a time when it was sometimes hard to fill all the empty spots on the nominations committees, to a wealth of talented folks ready to put their particular passion and expertise to work – ready to be, in Churchill’s phrase, “tapped on the shoulder” for very particular tasks. We’re asking everyone to think in terms of tapping each other on the shoulder, as well as putting forward your own names for tasks and roles where you have particular passion and skill. The new Leadership Development Committee wants to hear from you. 
  • Finally, ACPE has garnered more support from national funders in the past 4 years, than it has in all of its prior history. I’ll say that again. ACPE has garnered more support from national funders in the past 4 years than it has in all of its prior history. Because of our collective giving commitment to our Annual Campaign, we’ve developed philanthropic partnerships with national funders like the Henry Luce Foundation, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, F.I.S.H. Foundation, and the Carpenter Foundation, resulting in over a half-million dollars in grant money for projects to strengthen our work. ACPE is financially stronger than ever—with an endowment valued at close to $4.4 million, thanks to our strategic consolidation of organizational functions and regional reserves. Individual giving to ACPE remains strong, and is growing! 1/3 of our active membership goes over and above by supporting the Annual Campaign, and a growing number of individuals have made gifts to ACPE as part of their estate plans. If you can give to the Foundation, even a small but regular amount, it strengthens our ability to raise other funds.
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.
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