Partnering for Professionalism and Progress
By Amy Greene, Board Chair | June 4, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, Trace and I got the opportunity to gather with representatives (other executive directors and elected heads) of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and the Association of Professional Chaplains (see photo in last week’s ACPE newsletter under “History in the Making”).

We met at the APC headquarters outside Chicago. Though certainly these organizations are no strangers to each other, there have been many attempts over the years to come together more strategically. So far, however, nothing formal has ever come of those meetings. This time we gathered intentionally to think deeply about the ways our goals overlap and our current needs converge, as well as to be realistic about how we might be stronger together as a fleet of services to our members, our employers and the world than we will be if we keep on sailing in our individual boats.

There have been joint conferences in the past, and even attempts to see what a more official relationship might look like. And there are many people who know a lot more about these past efforts than I do (I invite those folks to write the story down for future generations). The one aspect of these attempts that I do have firsthand knowledge of is the joint ethics process between ACPE and APC, which was piloted in 2004. I had the great honor of serving on the Professional Ethics Commission shortly after that and I received training in the early days of the joint process. In my own experience, and as far as I’ve ever heard from anyone involved, it has been a huge success to share our processes. The misery of having to delve into an ethics investigation between colleagues or against our own Certified Educators was mitigated, for me at least, by the pleasure or working alongside my APC colleagues, whose sheer professionalism, fairness and compassion were inspiring.

There has been talk ever since of how to include other “cognate” groups who have comparable standards for education, certification, accreditation and ethics in this joint process. I think I can declare without dissent that we all have experienced the joint ethics process as one that has only brought advantages.

But that’s just one point among many. Much of the day’s conversation revolved around the future of chaplaincy itself. We were joined via technology by Wendy Cadge, author of “Paging God” and perhaps the best friend our profession has outside our own ranks -- precisely because she is “outside” looking in with a researcher’s eye. Wendy has the clearest sense of probably anyone on the planet (along with our own George Fitchett) of the waters we now sail in. As a sociologist at Brandeis University she has been studying the changing tides for many years and is asking the right questions: What exactly is modern chaplaincy? Who’s doing it? Who teaches it? Who certifies whom and how? And perhaps most importantly for our survival, “Who’s hiring for it?”

We (the groups represented at the meeting) are certainly not the only boats on these waters and part of our task is the same as ever – how to collaborate with others in our fields without losing our own sense of direction – especially in the matters named already (rigorous standards of education, certification, accreditation and ethics.)

Many of us feel (and there’s some evidence to suggest) that chaplaincy is not in fact a dying art but a growing one. In a world where more and more people are abandoning (or just drifting away from) traditional religion while also maintaining an identity of “spiritual,” the need for sophisticated, high-quality spiritual care in institutional settings would seem destined to grow. Therefore, it is more incumbent upon us more than ever to assure that we are training, vetting and certifying the highest quality professionals to represent the field. It’s an historic opportunity that we don’t want to lose by letting our fears drive us to lower our standards. The times call for us to do the very opposite of that – to be fearless, steady our course, and strive even harder for professionalism.

If we want to be taken seriously, not only in the halls of healthcare, but in all the other places where our kind of care and education are needed, we have to know who our partners are and will be. We need to be clear about who is maintaining high standards and who is asking us to water them down in the interest of “inclusion.” These are tough matters, but the times demand we wrestle with them.

As we talked with each other in Chicago, we all felt a spirit of collaboration and resolve that was energizing. The handful among us who had been present for some of the earlier conversations noted a change in tone – we were no longer talking about “whether” and “if” we should come together more formally, but rather “when and how.”

That’s where we stand at this point, asking when and how. We all were there as representatives of our respective groups – not as the “deciders” (a word I’ll always thank George W. Bush for inventing). No one felt any need to rush a charter or a name or a new entity. All six groups have unique tasks, needs, services, concerns, etc. No one was suggesting a coup d’etat by some over others. Any word that smacked of a hierarchical approach was roundly rejected by all. Words of collaboration and partnership made heads nod and muscles relax.

So stay tuned. There are a lot of exciting days ahead. There are plans in the works to share our conferences in 2020. This won’t be the first time there have been “summits” or “collaboratives” and these meetings are not even the main goal of our talks. These conversations are about the literal viability of our profession as we prepare for the future.

As our conference theme proclaimed, the world needs what we know, but the world isn’t going to wait for us to figure out how to adapt to its changing needs. We have to do that ourselves and with our partners, we will stand a better chance at progress.

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