Book Review by John Gillman, PhD
Professional Spiritual and Pastoral Care: A Practical Clergy and Chaplain’s Handbook. Rabbi Stephen B. Roberts (ed.). Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 2011, Hardcover, 460 pp. $50.
This handbook is designed to bring together in a single volume essays addressing basic skills and strategies needed for practicing spiritual care. The intended audience includes congregational clergy, seminarians, CPE students and educators, as well as chaplains. Beyond these groups, healthcare administrators and other multidisciplinary team members may find here much useful information to increase their understanding of the ever-evolving role of the professional chaplain.
The 33 articles in this volume are organized under four headings: theology of spiritual/pastoral care, the process of spiritual/pastoral care, spiritual/pastoral care with special populations, and the infrastructure of spiritual/pastoral care. The ambivalence over the most appropriate term for naming what chaplains do – whether it is spiritual, more specifically pastoral care, or both – is expressed in the headings to these four sections. Spiritual care and pastoral care are both briefly defined (p. 24), and pastoral care and pastoral counseling are distinguished (pp. 123-126), but there is no sustained discussion about the nuances, evolution and interplay of the terms “spiritual” and “pastoral.”
As with any collection of articles the quality varies. In his own contribution, George Fitchett affirms that “not everything written is meaningful or of equal worth.” While something significant can be gleaned from each article, some essays can be singled out as particularly strong. These include: the process of spiritual/pastoral care (ch. 3), charting (ch. 6), listening and responding skills (ch. 7), prayer and ritual (ch. 8), complicated grief (ch. 25), and research (ch. 30). Most articles include footnotes and recommendations for further reading.
The NACC can be proud that a number of authors are from our association. Each offers helpful insights regarding key dimensions of a chaplain’s work. D.W. Donovan, also serving as one of the four consultants for the project, articulates three elements for spiritual assessment: relationship and community, meaning and purpose, and the degree of patient understanding and congruence of response. Linda F. Piotrowski sketches four major functions of a chaplain in her article on transdisciplinary relationships. The vexing topic of complicated grief is explored by Timothy G. Serban. Sister Norma Gutierrez shares some poignant vignettes in her discussion of cultural competencies.
From my perspective, the weakest section of the book is Part I which contains only two articles, each titled, “Creating a Personal Theology to Do Spiritual/Pastoral Care,” one by a member of the United Church of Christ and the other from the Coalition of Spirit-filled Churches. This leads me to raise the question about the strength and depth of the theological underpinnings that chaplains have for doing what they do and being who they are. It would have been helpful to have invited representatives from other major faith groups to contribute to this section. In the second of these two articles David Plummer closely associates personal integrity with honoring religious pluralism. He goes on to state that “if a principle is truth, it is true all the time.” A question for further discussion is how conflicts between truth claims that emerge in the pastoral care encounter are to be negotiated.
More vigilant editorial oversight of the general quality of the content and closer attention to the finer points, e.g., missing dates in some bibliographical references, a misplaced section (“Final Words,” p. 104), and the use of the unidentified first person singular in a co-authored entry (ch. 22), etc., would have enhanced the final result.
John Gillman is an NACC and ACPE supervisor at The VITAS Urban CPE Program of Southern California in San Diego.