By David Lewellen
The NACC’s annual business meeting on Saturday showed a picture of an organization with more money, fewer members, and several strategies to attract the younger generation.
Executive Director David Lichter said that membership has declined from 2,900 when he joined the association in 2007 to 1,900 now. The largest category of membership is now laypeople, but their absolute numbers have not increased greatly, while the number of sisters has dropped dramatically. The association’s challenge is to “make sure more people know about chaplaincy,” he said. Last year 111 new members joined the association, about 60% of them lay, but “the numbers need to be much higher in our work and effort together.”
The NACC will continue to appeal to bishops and to members to find the next generation; one strategy has been to invite graduate theological schools to join the association, and a similar invitation may be extended to dioceses. Also, the ongoing Choose Chaplaincy marketing campaign is working to put online and printed material in front of students and young adults who might not know about the profession.
Treasurer Tim Serban said that the NACC’s total net assets have increased from $167,000 in 2008, during the worst of the financial crisis, to $1.45 million in 2019.
Board chair Jim Letourneau said that the NACC is working on partnerships in multiple directions, and “this conference is a birth of that strategy,” since it heavily involved other Catholic pastoral care organizations. The NACC has helped other associations set up competencies in fields such as criminal justice, diocesan ministry, and elder care, based on USCCB language for lay ecclesial ministry. This year, he said, the NACC will engage the USCCB “with our concern that Catholic pastoral care is in a crisis.”
During the question period, the issue of stagnant salaries and shrinking staff came up, and Serban said that a CHA subcommittee is working on benchmarks for staffing. Board member Bev Beltramo said that chaplaincy staffing is a “symptom of a greater struggle in healthcare more broadly. We’re not icing on the cake. We’re the eggs or the flour. It’s critical and it’s core to all we do. But you need the education and the research to be able to tell the story.”
Serban added that at the moment, even if chaplaincy jobs open, systems are having a hard time finding Catholic candidates to fill them. But board member Carolanne Hauck pointed out that on an individual level, everyone can do something — she now has five people in the process of becoming chaplains whom she encouraged along the way.
An attendee who just finished his M.Div. and is starting a CPE residency asked about the expense of pursuing the profession, and board members agreed that it’s a problem. Hauck said she is “pained” by the low CPE stipend at her institution, and Beltramo pointed out that chaplains can find part-time work with less than four units of CPE. Letourneau said that the NACC already has invested in marketing and research, and it should investigate how else it can use its resources to remove barriers to the profession.
And Letourneau encouraged anyone else with questions or ideas to write to the board at firstname.lastname@example.org.