Why did we revise our Certification Standards and Procedures?
By David A. Lichter, D.Min.
I hope most of our NACC members know that the Common Standards for Professional Chaplaincy document was one of four foundational documents that were affirmed in 2004 in Portland, Maine, by the boards of what was known then as the Council on Collaboration.
The six organizations were: American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Association of Professional Chaplains, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Canadian Association of Spiritual Care, National Association of Catholic Chaplains, and National Association of Jewish Chaplains. Together, they represented over 10,000 members who serve as chaplains, pastoral counselors, and clinical pastoral educators in specialized settings as varied as healthcare, counseling centers, prisons, and the military. Collectively, these documents established a unified voice for the six organizations that affirmed them. They describe for the NACC and the other organizations what it means to be a professional. They remain a very important step to position chaplaincy as a profession among other healthcare professions. The four documents were:
- Common Standards for Professional Chaplaincy
- Common Standards for Pastoral Educators/Supervisors
- Common Code of Ethics for Chaplains, Pastoral Counselors, Pastoral Educators and Students
- Principles for Processing Ethical Complaints
Over the next three years, the NACC Standards Commission added standards that provided the Catholic elements in those Common Standards, and developed procedures unique to NACC. Those became the Standards for Ethics, Certification, and Renewal of Certification, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Certification and Accreditation (USCCB/CCA).
In 2009, the NACC began to submit materials for certification according to these standards, and those renewing certification also began to submit their ongoing education and continuing education hours according to these new standards and procedures.
While we were adding the Catholic elements to the Common Standards, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published in the fall of 2005 a new, groundbreaking document, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, to address new realities in church’s life and ministries. With the growth and diversification of Catholic population, the expanded and diversified lay participation, and the emerging roles of laity in the administration and financial management of parishes, Co-Workers established a framework for the preparation and formation, authorization, and forms of leadership for lay people who assume pastoral leadership roles, especially in parish settings that needed “pastoring” without a pastor. “Lay ecclesial ministry” was the term used to describe this form of ministry, but Co-Workers cautioned that it was a generic term to identify a “developing and growing” ministerial reality in the church, not a specific position title or ranking.
An important historical point here is that in 2004, one year before Co-Workers, the bishops informed the NACC Board of Directors that we would continue to certify professional chaplains, but when lay members seek ecclesial endorsement of their respective ordinaries, the endorsement request is as a “lay ecclesial healthcare minister.” Another article will address this reality. Here is a link to Bishop Dale Melczek’s July 2004 article in Vision. For the past 10 years it has been NACC’s practice to seek endorsement of its lay members in this way.
In recent years, the NACC Standards Commission began to study the content of Co-Workers. We found that the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral elements of formation from Co-Workers aligned rather well with the four headings of the 2007 NACC Standards for Certification: theory of pastoral care, identity and conduct, pastoral, and professional. The theory of pastoral care standards lined up closely with the intellectual formation of Co-Workers. The identity and conduct standards aligned with the human and spiritual formation of Co-Workers. The pastoral and professional standards aligned with the pastoral formation of Co-Workers.
When the USCCB established in 2012 the new Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, it published revised Certification Standards for Specialized Ecclesial Ministers based on Co-Workers. This was timely, as in fall 2013, the NACC Standards Commission was able to conduct a crosswalk (see yellow highlights) between the NACC Standards and the USCCB standards/competencies, and discovered competencies in the USCCB Standards that needed to be incorporated into ours. The NACC Standards Commission proceeded to draft revised standards that incorporate those USCCB competencies. The NACC Certification Commission further reviewed and made recommendations to the standards.
The revised standards were finalized in April 2014, and approved by the NACC Board of Directors at its May meeting. They were then sent in July to the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry as part of our seven-year report for the renewal of NACC Standards and Procedures. The full report was reviewed and the revised Standards and Procedures were approved for another seven years (2015-2021).