This post is being posted here, and also on my personal blog, Episcopal Chaplain o the High Ground. However, I hope that comments will be left here, to allow conversation among members and friends of AEHC and Episcopal Chaplains.
Twelve years ago I posted on my own blog , “To Become an Episcopal Chaplain.” All these years later, it is the most viewed of any of my more than 800 posts. I will be revising that post, as I have done in the past. However, as I prepare to bring that up to date, I wonder if it’s not worth asking a slightly different question: who is an Episcopal chaplain?
I want to think about this for several reasons. One is that the healthcare industry has changed a great deal over my career. When I was President of AEHC I received several calls with the same question (including one from an office in the Episcopal Church Center): how many Episcopal hospitals are there? But, the question at the time was based on the assumption that most care, or at least most chaplains, was associated with hospitals. One thing I can confidently assert, though: there are fewer hospitals than at the beginning of my career. At the same time, there are more places chaplains are working. For some time, the fastest growing arena of healthcare has been hospice, the one corner of the healthcare industry that requires some form of chaplaincy. While I don’t have specific statistics, I also have a sense that there are more retirement communities and long term care facilities; and any associated with the Episcopal Church will have some provision for spiritual care.
That leads me then, too, to think about the future of AEHC. AEHC in one sense also started with that assumption. Indeed, our original title was the Assembly of Episcopal Hospitals and Chaplains. (We did recognize that the number of hospitals was shrinking. That’s why we changed the name.) If we are to serve the Episcopal Church, and to serve chaplains in the Episcopal Church, we need to consider how we will reach out colleagues in many different venues.
That also means thinking about how we communicate and reach beyond our certifying bodies. I first became part of the College of Chaplains, one predecessor of APC, more than 30 years ago, and I believe strongly in the value of certification. The annual meetings of our certifying bodies have also made it easy for Episcopalians to gather. That challenges us with two opportunities. The first is to reach out to those who are not certified, and whose positions aren’t going to press them for certification. The second is to demonstrate the value of certification and to support and mentor those Episcopalians who pursue it.
So, who is an Episcopal healthcare chaplain? The answer is certainly not a matter of order of ministry. Happily, the Episcopal Church can endorse a person in any order of ministry – any of the four – who demonstrates a call to ministry in healthcare. Nor, really, is it a matter of venue. If the venue is focused on healthcare, a chaplain there is a healthcare chaplain.
That does, though, press us to think about how much healthcare focus we would want to require. There is no question that the care of souls in a parish or a school or a university setting does involve caring for folks with health issues. However, chaplaincy is a matter of focus. Pastoral care of the sick engages the sick person and immediate community. The Chaplain does so, and also engages the institution and in some meaningful sense integrates with the staff and administration. So, I would insist that the chaplain is serving all patients or clients, and not only Episcopalians. That may not mean that the chaplaincy is paid, or is central to the income of the chaplain. I’m aware of more than one Episcopal long term care facility served by a parish Associate. That Associate participates in leadership, provides an on call response, and serves all residents. The associate is paid through the parish, but functions as a professional chaplain in care of that long term care facility. Another venue to consider is pastoral counseling, Any parish cleric will provide some pastoral counseling; but the professional pastoral counselor is focused on the wider community, and not an individual congregation. These are examples to help us distinguish the healthcare chaplain from the school chaplain, the correctional chaplain, or the military chaplain. (I would note, for example, that the Association of Professional Chaplains will consider unpaid work toward required hours for certification, but the functions must be those of a chaplain.)
Is an Episcopal chaplain endorsed for healthcare ministry? I am a strong advocate of endorsement, and will be writing more about the current status of endorsement. However, there is a lack of information about endorsement, especially among the bishops. That’s a problem, because we’re an Episcopal church, and endorsements are provided by bishops. We have an Endorsing Officer, and an Office of Record to communicate endorsement to the certifying bodies; but the endorsement itself (or the critical confirmation of it) comes from the diocesan bishop. Bishops can also endorse persons for healthcare ministry who are not interested in being certified. While I would very much want to see all chaplains endorsed, I don’t think our recognition of them should wait.
Should we have educational expectations of an Episcopal chaplain? This is an interesting question, with some interesting ramifications. Our current endorsement process only requires that the individual meet the diocesan bishop, and that the bishop feel the person has a vocation for healthcare ministry. I have often observed that in at least this we are virtually pentecostal. Other communions are more rigorous, to the point that one must have completed all paperwork toward certification before requesting endorsement. To some extent, we are better preparing professionals for healthcare work. All our seminaries integrate clinical pastoral education (CPR) into their programs; and many dioceses require or encourage CPE for ordinands who are alternatively educated. On the other hand, these may not be requirements for jobs. While Medicare will not reimburse for hospice care without a chaplain on the team, Medicare takes no position about the qualifications of the chaplain. Also, not only do we endorse lay persons without specifying an educational track, but many dioceses have most if not all ordinands in alternative programs for education that will not integrate CPE. This, like endorsement, can only be addressed with our bishops; and I don’t want to require AEHC to wait to engage such chaplains.
And, for all my enthusiasm to engage those working in healthcare chaplaincy, regardless of how they got there, I want to see us strongly encourage education and endorsement. In one sense, if one is to call oneself an Episcopal chaplain, one must also recognize that those outside the Church will expect a reflection of the Church. Sooner or later, the question is will arise, “What does the Episcopal Church say about…?” An Episcopal chaplain must at least be competent in not only the words but also the faith of the Book of Common Prayer. An Episcopal chaplain must have some sense of what the General Convention has said regarding engagement in the larger community. This is what education can form, and endorsement can confirm. I don’t think that requires a seminary education; but perhaps the same canonical expectations should apply. I don’t know that it requires CPE, but I don’t know of many comparable programs to help a minister understand himself or herself in the practice of spiritual care.
So, these are my first thoughts on the question, “Who is an Episcopal Chaplain.” I would hope we can have an interesting and a helpful conversation on this. I think it would be something to offer to the Church, and something to help shape the continuing mission of AEHC.
Our preacher, Sheryl Black, has had requests for a copy of her sermon, and we're happy to share it here.
Let anyone with ears to hear listen!
Listening, and actually hearing, is probably the foundation of what we do as chaplains, no matter our setting, and I read recently that the Chinese character for listening includes the roots for eyes, ears, heart, you, and undivided attention. That sounds a lot like God in our psalm, God who answers when we seek, one who delivers from terror, God who hears when we call, God whose ears are open to the cries of God’s people. God, who chooses to be fully involved with humanity. And as chaplains I see our roles as priests, intermediaries, and, yes, even midwives assisting those in our care – by listening.
As I was reflecting on this homily, I read Bishop Steven Charleston’s post about listening on Facebook. He wrote that
"Listening is such an important spiritual practice, but perhaps hearing is even more critical. There is a difference. We can listen to others when they talk and never hear a thing. Hearing what someone is trying to tell us, even if it means listening between the lines of what they are saying, is a great skill and one that requires a deep level of empathy. Hearing is understanding. It is that moment when we enter into another person's reality. This level of trust and intimacy must be treated with great care. If we are not trained counselors we need to know our own limitations, but simply hearing what we are being told is a profound gift we all have to share."
Listening to those in our charge plants us firmly us on sacred ground, sharing holy moments of encounter with another child of God, created in God’s image. To listen is to be fully present, giving our whole attention to the Other. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “The first service that one owes to others . . . consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His word but also lends us His ear.” And in our hyped up and hurried world, to be truly heard is a rare commodity. In my hospital setting, there are very few disciplines who even have the time to listen – and that’s why there are chaplains. That’s why there is pastoral care. That’s our calling: to listen, to hear, to care. We are servants of the divine, listeners with the job of being attentive to God, with and for the sake of another. While our Episcopal tradition is rich in sign and symbol, church leaders don’t always do well in practice. That leaves much ministry to us: to listen to deepest yearnings and needs, to help others read the signposts that may bring them closer to God, or at least to value the deepest divinity in each person.
When I was in seminary, I had no idea that I would end up as a chaplain; however when I did my first unit of CPE at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, I felt like this was “real ministry” – being with people where the rubber hits the road, people who are often in the midst of the worst thing in their lives, and being able to listen to their stories, to care for them, and, perhaps, offer hope. It was truly eye-opening! For you newly board certified members, and I was in your shoes just 4 years ago – I hope you have spent time in CPE learning to listen. And I don’t think we can ever stop learning, improving our skills, re-filling our tool box. We learn to listen for the real message hidden behind the words people use as they struggle perhaps with a new diagnosis, or a word like Cancer, or with dying, grief, and loss. We are called to listen -- and even more to hear and bear witness, to validate the other. Sometimes, we bring love, sometimes we bring hope. We show God’s love by listening with our entire being – fully present and attending to the patient.
It took me a while to figure out that I don’t have to have answers – and it’s honestly best if I don’t. I have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason! “Why” is not a search for answers, but a cry of pain or protest. People don’t want an answer, they want to be heard, supported, loved. Henri Nouwen wrote that “Listening is a very active and extremely alert form of caring.” He says, “Healing is the humble, but, also, very demanding task of creating and offering a friendly, empty space where strangers can reflect on their pain and suffering, without fear, and find the confidence that makes them look for new ways right in the centre of their confusion.”
Listening – to God, to ourselves, to hurting people – is a high calling! Zen Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax (book Gifts of the Spirit) said, “Listening means that we have stabilized our minds so completely that the person who is speaking can actually hear themselves through our stillness. It is a quality of radiant listening, of luminous listening, of vibrant listening, but it is also very still It is listening with attention, with openheartedness, without prejudice. We listen with our being. We offer our whole listening body”. Like that Chinese character, we engage our eyes, ears, heart, self, and our undivided attention. Fully mindful, fully present.
Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black, MDiv, BCC, is Chaplain and Spiritual Care Manager
Welcome to Chaplair! Chaplair is the blog page of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains (AEHC).
For many years Chaplair was the newsletter of the Assembly. We shared our stories and our concerns. So, when it was decided to add a blog page to our web site, the name seemed obvious.
What will we see here? Some members of the Assembly write, and this can be a place to share thoughts and comments on chaplaincy, the Episcopal Church, and chaplaincy in the Episcopal Church. We will also share historical pieces, whether comments from past members or articles from print editions of the Chaplair newsletter. If you have thoughts about how the blog can be used, share that information with members of the Executive Committee, or with me, your faithful Web/Net Chair.
All in all, this is another way we can share information and work with one another. I look forward to seeing the things we have to offer one another.