By John Gillman
What if we viewed our association through Erik Erikson’s stage development model? As it reaches its 50th anniversary, the NACC is in the thick of adulthood (ages 40-64), where the key question is “How can I make my life count?” Applied to our association, it might be, “How can we make our association count?” For Erikson, the contrasting values for the stage of adulthood are generativity vs. stagnation.
NACC came to birth in the glow of Vatican Council II. In 1965, the council put the church on a new path, with visionary documents such as Lumen Gentium (The Church) and Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World). The first of these offered the initial and primary image of the church as the people of God, emphasizing the common priesthood of the faithful. Through our association, board-certified chaplains as well as all members of NACC have found a meaningful way to exercise this priesthood.
Having served on both the Standards and Certification commissions for a number of years, I can recall several conversations with members, especially women, who felt disenfranchised as they struggled to find their rightful place in the church. Coming to NACC, they often found a caring and supportive community that provided a meaningful way to exercise their gifts as members of the Body of Christ. Some of the pain in the past came in dioceses where the local ordinary chose not to endorse as “chaplains” those who sought certification. Thankfully, a compromise was reached wherein endorsement is provided for “lay ecclesial ministry” as articulated in the resource guide “Co-Workers in the Vineyard” (2005) by the USCCB.
Erikson understands generativity as making your mark on the world through caring for others and contributing to the development of future generations. There is no doubt that NACC has been a force for generativity through its certification of chaplains, its promotion of spiritual care, its new certification for palliative care, and the educational opportunities provided.
Personally and professionally, I have experienced this through the support of colleagues on my journey toward certification as a CPE supervisor, through the welcome from Sr. Shirley Nugent to the Standards Commission — my first involvement on the national level — and through the invitation of executive directors Joe Driscoll, Tom Landry and David Lichter to participate on planning retreats, commissions, and the task force that contributed to the Common Standards. I particularly valued serving with colleagues on the planning retreat in 2007 facilitated by John Reid and Maureen Gallagher that brought new vision and energy to our association. I am grateful for the relationships formed and the sense of community that developed among us.
The generativity of NACC has been felt abroad as well, with our supervisors offering seminars and CPE units in such disparate places as Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. I have fond memories of working with the chaplains, supervisor, and CPE students sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocesan Commission in Hong Kong. Their commitment to spiritual care and to bolstering their identity as chaplains in the hospitals where they served was indeed inspiring.
I have also seen disappointments on our journey. At the top of the list for me has been the phasing out of CPE programs sponsored by NACC and accredited by the USCCB. Without these centers, Roman Catholic students can no longer train at centers where the standards unique to our faith tradition are incorporated into the curriculum. Two factors are the declining numbers of supervisors in training and the difficulty in filling openings at NACC centers with qualified supervisors, especially Roman Catholics. These have been significant losses for us and for our church.
A second disappointment has been the gradual decline of membership within our association. I do not in any way want to overlook the vision, energy and creativity of new emerging leaders. I also want to acknowledge with gratitude the tremendous service that our retired members have provided, and applaud the ongoing ministry of those who are still active. Across the country, healthcare organizations, parishes, and urban areas are significantly enriched by our leadership and presence.
What are the challenges of generativity that lie ahead? One comes from the clarion call of Pope Francis, directed to the world’s priests but applicable to all of us, to stay close to the marginalized and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” Another is to embody the essential role of the spiritual for the well-being of the communities we serve. This means staying grounded in our vocation, remaining close to Christ the healer, and being animated by the Spirit of love and compassion.
An important facet of generativity includes, I believe, an openness to expand our horizons, learning new skills and ways to serve others more effectively. The invitation is to develop our leadership, teaching and pastoral practice with attention to current research. Our association has done well in highlighting new developments through articles in Vision.
From those early meetings at the Cousins Center in Milwaukee when I was first introduced to NACC almost thirty years ago, to the collaboration with Sr. Anita Lapeyre in the Center for Urban Ministry in San Diego, to my current responsibilities at the hospice-based CPE program, I am grateful for the multiple ways I have been blessed by so many in our association. I remain confident that while our future story is yet to be told, we can go forward with a spirit of hope and optimism.
John Gillman is an NACC and ACPE supervisor at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care in San Diego, CA.