By Jim Letourneau
When I joined NACC as a student member in 1992, I don’t think I was convinced that chaplaincy was my calling. However, my membership linked me with many wonderful people who were formative in my life and of my sense of calling. I witnessed creative Catholics called to ministry outside the traditional model of ecclesial ordination. In them, I saw inspiring models of what I wanted to become in my own life: a certified chaplain.
To be honest, I haven’t been a consistently active member of NACC. In fact, there was a time when I felt great distance from the organization, and from all that is Catholic. I questioned the value of NACC membership. I struggled to find my way in this formal structure we call “Church” and to discern my own faith identification.
A phone call one day changed everything. My dear friend Bridget Deegan-Krause, who at that time was on the Board of Directors, invited me to consider being a part of a visioning group to discuss the strategic direction of NACC.
“Me?! What can I offer? I’m not really that connected.”
But Bridget said she recognized leadership and potential in me. I’m not so sure I was convinced, but because of my love for her, I said yes.
That yes was the start of my active involvement with NACC. In that visioning process, I met chaplains and CPE supervisors from across the country. We gathered several times in Milwaukee to share our passion, our concerns, our pain, and our vocation. Together we created a safe haven, a group rooted in faith and prayer. I found community, fellowship, and the affirmation of my call for pastoral care. These members came to know me and could speak firsthand of our collective experience of ministry. I felt connected; I had found a new experience of church.
My initial yes to Bridget led to other yeses: to lead the Nominations Panel (my heartfelt thanks to the late dear Sr. Norma Gutierrez for that phone call), to interview applicants for chaplaincy certification, to become an interview team educator (thanks, Bob Barnes!), and eventually to have my name on the ballot for the NACC Board (thanks, Jack Crabb!). In many ways, I feel I have been blessed with a gift that is our association, and I am entrusted to pass that legacy on to other members, present and future.
This responsibility is awesome in the best sense of that word. It is also a bit daunting and frightening at times. My prayer is that I can faithfully create experiences of fellowship, community, and “church” for other NACC members — particularly those who may feel on the fringes, as I did when I received that initial phone call. “To the one for whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
My thanks to Bridget for making that initial phone call, for reaching out to me when I needed someone to reach out to me. My thanks to all our wonderful members who have called me, grounded me, formed me, and supported me for ministry. Let us together joyfully and courageously enter our next chapter for NACC!
Jim Letourneau, BCC, is director of mission and spirituality at Trinity Health in Livonia, MI.