By Matt Merges
Reflection is an essential spiritual practice for those of us ministering as chaplains. As I pondered the Revised NACC Standards, I thought of Fr. Joseph Driscoll’s presentation at the NACC National Conference last March. Before that, I had not fully appreciated the linkage between our organization and the movements in our Church that Vatican II precipitated. Now as we know, dealing with change is hard work and can sometimes be frightening, but it can also be energizing. Change was one of the overarching principles of Vatican II, and we today are witnesses to the evolution of the Church that has occurred during the last 50 years.
As the NACC integrates our newest changes, we have formed a work group to help prepare members to meet the content of the Revised Standards. At this time, the target date for using the new standards for certification and recertification is February 2017. This means those who apply for certification after Feb. 15, 2017, will need to follow the revised standards. We have already scheduled two preconference workshops before our national conference in April, and more educational activities and webinars are being planned and will be announced in future months. Continue to watch Vision and NACC Now for more updates.
Thinking about NACC’s direct relationship to Vatican II, I recalled the following words of Gaudium et Spes: “The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.” These words helped me to solidify my understanding of the necessity of the Revised NACC Standards. Executive Director David Lichter’s recent Vision article documents the relationship between the NACC Certification Standards and the USCCB Certification Standards for specialized ecclesial ministers. The NACC Standards Commission completed the revision of the NACC standards incorporating USCCB competencies in April 2014, and the USCCB Subcommittee for Ecclesial Ministry has approved them for seven years through 2021.
Alignment with the USCCB standards was a major driver for the revision of the NACC standards, but other changes must be expected as the chaplaincy profession evolves. In fact, the NACC Strategic Plan adopted in May 2012 envisions changes in the chaplaincy profession and positions NACC to provide its members with the support needed to navigate in the expected new environments. Goal One reads, “To educate and support association members for the future of professional chaplaincy.” The first objective for this goal is “Provide formation and resources for chaplains to be effective ministers and leaders, especially in emerging settings and health care systems (both Catholic and other) and across the continuum of care.” The integration of the Revised Standards into our processes directly moves us toward accomplishing this objective.
The new standard for familiarity with research, described in Austine Duru’s Vision article, is another example how NACC’s Goal One supports its chaplains moving into the future of our profession. Another is the new specialty certification for palliative and hospice care, discussed at length elsewhere in this issue. The Revised Standards and certification processes will directly support and educate our members if they elect to move in these professional directions.
As we reflect on the evolution of our organization that is driven by the signs of the times in our professional and ecclesial landscapes, we are joyful that we have the NACC to provide us the necessary support to navigate in the changing environment. With this support driven by the Spirit, we as individual chaplains and as an organization scrutinize the signs of the times and interpret them in light of the Gospel. And it is with this support that we continue to move toward the NACC Vision to faithfully reflect the healing presence of Jesus Christ.
Matt Merges, BCC, is a hospice chaplain for VNA Health Care in Aurora, IL.