By Jean Marie Weber
Shortly after the NACC conference opened, Sister and I walked down to the pier overlooking St. Mary’s Lake. The weather was pristine, and the lake view was overwhelming as we witnessed a few fish jumping and a few fishing boats. Sister, a veteran chaplain, and I, an educator of lay ministers, had never met, but our meeting and conversation was a living out of the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we had just celebrated at Mass on this 31st day of May.
Upon concluding our walk, Sister observed that it is these types of conversations that make the NACC conference special. This setting and the variety of meetings and conversations that took place on the beautiful grounds of the university were life-giving for many of the participants. Our visitation was symbolic among the many gathered!
The theme of the meeting, “Partners in Pastoral Care: Continuing the Healing Ministry of Jesus in the Name of the Church,” convened members of NACC, those representing diverse ministries, and in general, those who are working to address critical pastoral needs in a variety of settings. This conference responded to a new NACC initiative which began about two years ago through a gracious grant from the Raskob Foundation. Those gathered were challenged to examine the needs and types of pastoral care; the specific levels of competencies needed to meet those needs; the standards, training and formation required to obtain those competencies; the core elements for professional and volunteer pastoral care formation; and an organizational approach to provide the needed training.
At the opening Mass, Bishop Donald Hying, episcopal liaison for NACC, emphasized the importance of continuing the healing ministry of Jesus in the name of the Church and rejoiced with all of us as an impressive group of newly certified chaplains joined the ranks and were sent forth in this commissioning ceremony. On the feast of the Ascension, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, presided at another Eucharistic liturgy in remembrance of deceased NACC members. Personally, I was very moved as I remembered a colleague, Tim Charek.
Ministry networking time provided more opportunity for these meetings and conversations. Many of us were delighted to engage in a workshop on “Healing, Health and Wholeness.” After traveling and gathering, this seemed to soothe and yet challenge all present to remember that self-care is essential. All present were sent off with a wellness checklist, reminding us that one cannot give what one does not have.
Two plenary sessions invited the entire gathering to consider the larger context of ministry in the Church and society. Dr. Zeni Fox invited all to ponder the nature of A Ministering Church by viewing the role of chaplain as part of the emerging models of lay ecclesial ministry. Her books, New Ecclesial Ministry: Lay Professionals Serving the Church and Lay Ecclesial Ministry: Pathways Toward the Future summarize this new reality. The second plenary session, by Robert Mundle, was a creative approach to learning to listen to others. Art, music, nature, drama, and other creative elements, virtual or real, can be amazing and remarkable venues for experiences of grace and healing. Both sessions were refreshing, bonding the group into the larger community of the Church in the United States.
Two representatives from the USCCB shared “Resourcing Best Practices in Pastoral Care: Overviews and Conversations for Formation Leaders.” The emphasis highlighted the Partners in Pastoral Care project and templates for formation that were developed with the help of this office. For example, the six-hour session on jail and prison ministry referenced the outreach of those serving in prisons and the need to continue services to the incarcerated, as the formational structures that formerly supported these ministries are collapsing.
The NACC business meeting included awards, recognitions, updates, member engagements and looking ahead to the 2020 conference in Cleveland. Although familiar with NACC through my work at the USCCB Commission on Certification and Accreditation, as a guest presenter at this conference, I was impressed again with the responsibilities of the organization, the history and vast chaplaincy experience represented in this group. It was an honor to have my own Cardinal Stritch University listed as an education institution member. A surprising reality was the decline in religious sisters serving as chaplains. The needs in pastoral care ministry are many and increasing as healthcare delivery systems continue to shift and change. We are called to respond!
It was my privilege to present “A Parish Perspective: Laity at Work in Pastoral Care,” which explored the call to recruit and form diverse groups to minister. It focused on a 2017 research study I conducted which revealed that many lay ministers in Catholic parishes take responsibility for the pastoral care of the sick and dying and the hosting of funerals — but they are functioning with little or no formation. Who and where they are and what they are about is often taken for granted.
The need to work with these lay ministers became a new reality and a shared resolution for those in attendance. These parish lay ministers share the ministry with chaplains, but need formation, mentoring and support. This outreach effort provides new challenges for all of us. James 5:14 calls for a response: “Is any among you sick?” And in the words of Jesus, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Let us all join hands and be partners in pastoral care, continuing the healing ministry of Jesus in for the name of the Church. Sister and I discussed this down by St. Mary’s Lake!
Jean Marie Weber, PhD, is director of educational programs and liaison to the Catholic community at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI.