View from the Road: Surprised?
By Steve Ivy, Director of Community, Practice, and Member Development | June 11, 2018

I am frequently asked, “What has been your biggest surprise as you have visited educators and their colleagues in centers over the past 8 months?” My reply is easy. I have been surprised by how ready my colleagues are to positively engage the changes in governance and certification that ACPE has chosen. Even educators with qualms about some of our choices are prepared to move forward with them. Few doubt that substantially new directions were needed.

However, I have heard one key area of anxiety or resistance. “I am going to miss the colleagueship and fellowship provided through regional meetings and activities.” While this concern has been most clearly stated by educators with longer ACPE histories, even those with less tenure sometimes worry whether a community of practice and other groups will meet our need for face-to-face relationships. We are people who need and want intimate relationships, but frequently work in isolation, often marginalized within the organizations that employ us. We have looked to our professional association as one source for deep relatedness.

After discussing this with one of our educators with a very long ACPE history, he sent me a document that I had never seen. It was produced by an ACPE Special Study Committee: “Custodians of History Project: A Survey of ACPE ‘Fathers’” coordinated by James Gibbons. The purpose of this 1977 project was to review what had happened during the first ten years of ACPE. While I found much of interest, what really caught my eye were the comments regarding the need for personal relationships within the association. Apparently angst concerning fellowship and relationships that were changed when the four smaller organizations became one was quite strong. Several people had concluded that the regional structure was too bureaucratic and smaller groups were needed for genuine personal engagement. Our DNA seems to require deep personal engagements. “How can ACPE as an ever-enlarging organization not be a contradiction in terms and an affront to its individual members and their needs for nurture and fellowship?” The 1977 expectation was that the regions would provide this nurture, but this led to calls for regions that included few enough members that each could be in primary relationship. Even regional groups were too big for some.

The Custodians Report highlighted the tensions created by competing loyalties. How do we resolve the tensions created by organizational structure and personal priorities, bureaucracy and individuality, intimacy and efficiency, family-feeling and professionalization? I write at some length about this 40-year-old report simply because it so clearly states the same concerns, questions, and hopes that I hear today.

From this historical record, I turn to my listening tour of 2017-2018. I am able to hear even more deeply the essential place we expect deep, collegial relationships to hold in ACPE. Certainly regions provided a structure around which many relationships formed and in which space for convening was routinized. But other structures such as committees, commissions, local relationships, and networks also provided the space and time for intimacy to form. And some never found their place for collegiality in any of these structures. We no longer have regional structures to hang our relationships around. But we still have multiple opportunities, now including Communities of Practice, for developing the kind of deep collegial, professional relationships that sustain our ministries and honor a core strand of our DNA.

Many have realized that the regions provided for us relational structures, but now we are more responsible for choosing and activating our own collegial relationships. This is both challenging and encouraging. I deeply appreciate many who have commented on the danger that our smaller, self-chosen groups may become more tribal and homogenous than regions typically allowed. Based on our value of inclusive community, we will each be more responsible for ensuring inclusion of those with different ideas, different histories, … how many ways shall we count the differences and similarities? Some may even test Henri Nouwen’s conviction that real community exists where the person I least want to be with lives. 

I have also heard people and small groups commenting on what they are doing to be responsible for what they need for personal and professional health. Some are paying more attention to those who are not in a professional circle and encouraging them to ensure both informal and formal intimate relationships. Some are joining two or three Communities of Practice, thereby encountering like-hearted people they had not previously known. Some are staying in open, loving, even conflictual dialogue about ACPE’s chosen path in order to ensure this core value is not lost. One of my standard question sets when I visit educators is “What community of practice have you joined? How else are you developing professional relationships?” I have talked with over 100 educators, and only three seemed puzzled by the questions and had not taken any initiative.

Certainly ACPE will function differently without regional structures. But we will not be a different people or a different organization. Yes, much has changed. Yet, our core mission as spiritual care educators has not changed. And our core commitments to personal, intimate relationships as professionals has not changed. The 1977 report’s final sentence resonates deeply today: “The health of ACPE is related to its self critical style and willingness to maintain an open dialogue about ourselves, our mission, our methods and values.” Much is different from 1967. Our core stays the same. At least that is how it appears “from the road.”
Steve Ivy is a Director of Community, Practice, and Member Development at ACPE: The Standard of Spiritual Care & Education. He may be reached at  steve@acpe.edu
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