By Fr. Bryan Lamberson
A few months ago, I was eager to explore the topic of leadership, to review the ways (formal and less so) in which practitioners of spiritual care might advance our careers and visions for the ministry. But my plans as an individual are not always those placed in front of me. In the midst of this undertaking, my ordinary has asked me to pastor two parishes in a rural part of my archdiocese.
As a result, my plans for pursuing healthcare ministry leadership have radically changed. I will no longer primarily serve as a hospital chaplain. Perhaps it is ironically appropriate that I alter my submission to a retelling of my personal experiences in pursuing healthcare leadership opportunities, what those efforts achieved, and what they did not.
Even before achieving certification through NACC, I thoroughly examined leadership in the ministry and the established paths to achieving it. I knew that the healthcare ministry careers of priests who are friends was very different from what the ministry (and the industry) currently requires. A highly successful mentor who recently retired as regional vice president for mission integration of a merged system had taken no CPE — zero units — and therefore was not certified. Another priest friend who served as an institutional director of pastoral care and vice president for mission integration had taken only one unit of CPE — which had become a requirement for ordination in the years between my mentor’s priestly formation and my friend’s.
More structured and formal preparation is now required. I quickly began pursuing those avenues offered by the Catholic Health Association (“The Fundamentals of Catholic Health Care Leadership,” “The Basics of Catholic Health Care Finance,” “Community Benefit 101”). In addition, I took advantage of the ongoing opportunities for training and growth offered by NACC, APC and the Spiritual Care Coalition through webinars and teleconferences. Within my organization, I undertook a yearlong course of study and achieved certification as an associate in biomedical and institutional ethics. These undertakings, while invigorating, were all I felt I could accomplish while simultaneously working full -time in three hospitals and serving two parishes on the weekends.
After a few years of working as a chaplain and accumulating these preparatory trainings and CEUs, I began to actively search for positions in Catholic healthcare leadership: director of spiritual care, director of mission, vice president of mission. I looked first within my own organization, announcing to leaders that I was interested in greater opportunities and responsibilities. When I worked in public relations, the old phrase was, “Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.” Well, I discovered that nobody was saluting my flag.
I realized that from a logistical perspective, I was more valuable to my organization as a priest/chaplain than in any other capacity. Given the widespread shortage of priests, it’s no wonder. Simply put, I could better serve their needs in those functions that the Church requires priests to perform than in those that laypeople can do effectively. The days of religious sisters running hospitals were long over; it appeared to me that the Catholic healthcare ministry was witnessing the demise of leadership by clergy, as well.
I wondered recently whether the emailed survey from NACC regarding the demographics of our membership wasn’t a further bit of the writing on the wall concerning my hopes for advancement within Catholic healthcare ministry. It’s a moot point for me now, as I prepare to transition from full-time chaplain to full-time pastor. The emphasis on care of the spirit and for the whole human person, which has been a hallmark of my time as chaplain, will serve my parishioners and me well in the future. I ask for your prayers in that undertaking.
Fr. Bryan Lamberson, BCC, is now pastor of St. Francis of Assisi and Holy Cross parishes, both in Loretto, KY.