Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in the Twenty-First Century: An Introduction. Edited by Wendy Cadge and Shelly Rambo, University of North Carolina Press, 2022, 336 pages.
By Paula J. Teague
Wendy Cadge and Shelly Rambo begin their anthology with an illustration of two chaplains. The two contexts are different, and the needs vary, but the mission is the same. Each one is providing care to those in their deepest moments of pain and suffering. Far from the traditional definition of a chaplain (someone who provides religious services in a private setting), these two people are present in their worlds, creating space for not only interpersonal support but also systemic understandings and pushes for justice and equity.
This opening provides the context for this volume: that chaplaincy has evolved and is continuing to progress. Those who come to chaplaincy do so on many paths. And though the settings might differ, and the demands may have advanced, there is much in common as well.
In the present moment, chaplains face social justice issues as never before, while also facing the disasters of a pandemic and social isolation. The fabric of our political system, as well as the many understandings we have about truth, power, and communication have been tested in the United States.
Within this context, it is foolish to think that the work of chaplaincy could be static. Spiritual care practitioners need to address the new layers of pain and suffering and to stand present in public spaces in new ways as advocates, the voices of justice.
Cadge and Rambo lay out the book “to feature the work of chaplains and to offer a resource for those exploring and preparing to be chaplains.” Regardless of the path toward chaplaincy or the function of the chaplain, they identify three necessary competencies: Facilitating meaning-making and navigating worldviews in public settings; interpersonal competencies; and navigating systems and organizations.
Throughout the book, various real chaplains and chaplain educators are featured. This gives a much fuller sense of the faces of chaplaincy. It was a pleasure to read about the journeys and experiences of so many doing the work of chaplaincy.
Each chapter has a simple introduction and then reflection questions and recommended readings at the conclusion. The writing is consistently clear. As an educator, I found myself thinking of how various chapters fit into the curriculum for our CPE program. The book also encouraged me to expand theories behind the work of chaplaincy, especially in the chapters on spiritual trust and organizational understanding.
The three competencies are illustrated with case studies, plentiful examples, and concrete tools. Here are a few highlights:
- Dagmar Grefe, Pamela McCarroll, and Bilal Ansari offer foundational understanding of meaning-making in the face of crisis, trauma, and loss. They focus on presence, spiritual assessment, and spiritual care interventions.
- Leading and facilitating spiritual reflection: Victor Gabriel and Duane R. Bidwell share their own stories briefly and note that it is in self-knowledge that one can facilitate while not imposing on others. They define key terms and outline capacities for spiritual reflection.
- Meaning-making through ritual and public leadership: Rochelle Robins and Danielle Tuminnio Hansen provide information on five competencies for facilitation of rituals. This is laid out in a way that provides a structure and process for rituals that is inclusive and theologically sound.
- Interpersonal competencies: Carrie Doehring and Allison Kestenbaum focus on spiritual care alliances and how these interconnections provide healing and offer an understanding of spiritual trust.
- Thomas St. James O’Connor and Michelle Kirby outline interpersonal competencies for spiritual care, which they see as integral for building spiritual trust. Their inventory of helping styles could be useful for chaplains’ self-understanding.
- Richard Coble and Mychal Springer expand interpersonal competence to understand dynamics of power so that spiritual care is socially just. Their case study is illustrative.
- Organizational competencies: Barbara McClure and Mary Martha Thiel expand the understanding of chaplains into the realm of change agents in the dismantlement of the “isms” in systems.
- Facilitating resilience: Nathan H. White plugs into the post-pandemic world of chaplaincy as embodiment of well-being, creating opportunities for organizations to sustain changes that are just and equitable.
- Surviving, thriving, and leading organizations: Su Yon Pak sees chaplains as optimizers of human flourishing. He uses the ideas of “frames” as important theory to do this.
- Emotional undercurrents of organizations: Laurie Garrett-Cobina visualizes how chaplains can build organizations that promote justice, equality, and moral integrity. She uses her personal experience of navigating “troubled waters of racist, sexist, and classist insults and invalidations” to explicate how chaplains must walk that boundary of personal authority and speaking up/out from their experience.
- A commissioning: Trace Haythorn and Jason Callahan close the book by outlining the focus for the future.
I highly recommend this volume to anyone preparing to become a chaplain, as well as those who are old souls on the journey of chaplaincy. Let us grasp anew our mission in this new day. This book will help us do that.
Rev. Paula J. Teague is senior director of spiritual care and chaplaincy in the Johns Hopkins Health System, Baltimore, MD.