By Michael J. Harning
Nearly 18 months ago, I became a board-certified chaplain. For the last five years I have been a chaplain in a Trinity Health hospital in Pontiac, MI. Stretched by the COVID pandemic for the past two and a half years, and strengthened by my faith, and that of others, I have been able to accompany many on their spiritual journey.
This year, I needed to attend the 2022 NACC conference in Buffalo, NY. It was the first time in three years that our courageous chaplaincy contemporaries have been able to meet. The conference theme, “Stretched by Life and Lifted by Faith,” powerfully rang true to my ministry experience. The liturgies, a retreat opportunity, the workshops, the meals together, the keynote speeches and the personal storytelling, gave witness to the challenges of life and provided a keen awareness of the strengthening power of our faith.
I was equally inspired by chaplains who have served for well over 40 years and by those who have just completed their first unit of clinical pastoral education.
The NACC was also formally saying farewell to retiring Executive Director David Lichter, while offering a warm welcome and expressing excitement for the new leadership from Erica Cohen Moore. In addition, several dedicated board members were about to leave their responsibility as the association welcomed newly elected officers. These grace-filled moments of “adios” and “adieu” inspired my spirit.
Gratitude and hope were virtues on display. This conference offered the power to renew old friendships, as well as give witness to those who have gone before us. The altar cloth, a prominent focal point, had hundreds of names of NACC friends, mentors, and leaders who are deceased. I was blessed to find five individuals that I knew personally and offered a silent prayer for their ministry.
This gathering also offered multiple moments to make new friends, providing hope for a future filled with life and faith. I was buoyed by this solidarity of mission and purposeful living. This memorable gathering reminded me what the prophet wrote: “Stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2)
In the meantime, the stretching and lifting continues, and for that I am grateful. I am ready for the next NACC conference at Mundelein in 2023.
Michael Harning, BCC, is a hospital chaplain at Trinity Health Oakland, in Pontiac MI.