From the Desk of the Executive Director
By Trace Haythorn, Executive Director/CEO  |  November 18, 2019

I read bell hooks Teaching to Transgress twenty years ago when I was working on a PhD in cultural foundations of education. In the first paragraph of the first chapter, hooks writes the following: “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (p. 13). In the margin next to that quote, I wrote, “This is why I’m here!”

That sentence struck me like a lightening bolt, a moment that created the kind of shift within my mind and the grounding within my soul that has shaped my work as an educator ever since. Of course, it is aspirational – we all fall short of such a high-minded commitment on those days when the busy-ness of life distracts us from our deeper sense of purpose. But even twenty years later, I come back to this sentence time and again to make sure I still hear that “yes!” to this commitment to the respect and care of souls.

This week, Amy Greene, Melissa Walker-Luckett, Shawn Mai and I will represent ACPE with our strategic partners, continuing a conversation that in some ways dates back to the late 1980s about how our organizations work together, the values and aspirations we share, and the possibilities of weaving our operations together to better serve the whole. We will work with a team of consultants from La Piana, a firm that has facilitated dozens of these conversations among and between groups at similar places in their organizational journeys.

We know that these conversations will be both rich and fraught. Rich because we care about each other as colleagues, we celebrate each other’s mission, and we know the larger ecology where our members serve is longing for clarity within the professional field of spiritual care. We know this is fraught because good people have tried and failed before. We’ve learned a few things, and the larger context has changed dramatically since those prior efforts.

I will fly from the strategic partner meeting to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, where I will have the opportunity to facilitate a panel discussion by people working in a variety of chaplaincy contexts as well as those teaching about chaplaincy within theological education. Our program is titled, “Formation and Training in Contemporary Spiritual Care.” The description is as follows: “How are chaplains and other spiritual care providers trained to meet contemporary religious and spiritual needs? The very definition of chaplaincy has changed enormously in the past generation, yet the field is still adapting to significant shifts in the nation's religious demographics. In this roundtable, chaplains and educators discuss the state of the field across sectors and how education should develop to meet future needs.”


To go from discussions about the larger field of spiritual care with our partners to the question of formation and training with academic and CPE colleagues is thrilling. And while we cannot predict where either conversation will take us, it seems abundantly clear how important both are in today’s world.


I have no doubt that Amy Greene and (after January 1) Melissa Walker-Luckett will keep you informed with each step we take. I know that whatever emerges will have some pieces that will excite large groups and disappoint others, while other aspects will have the opposite effect. I know that a significant part of my work will be to interpret, clarify and address the models, questions, concerns and dreams our members share with our colleagues and vice versa. And when all is said and done, I know that the result will likely be revised and revisited in the months and years to come.

But most importantly, I know that the leadership of ACPE engages in all of this because of a shared commitment to the respect and care of souls that defines our shared work. We will make mistakes. We will make decisions that will receive both enthusiasm and criticism. And we will do it all because of what we long for with the people our students serve, the students themselves, and the members who are the heart and soul of this work.

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