By Joan Sweeney
Last month, hundreds of chaplains and their guests gathered at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL, for the annual conference of the NACC. This was my second conference and a very different setting from my first. We celebrated Mass in a beautiful chapel — not in a hotel ballroom. This conference was particularly special for me and for my fellow chaplains who were missioned as newly board-certified chaplains. For me it was a moving ceremony as we were officially recognized with the support and love of our fellow chaplains.
When I think of a chaplain, I think of a hospital, since I have only served in healthcare settings. But we were reminded that chaplains minister in prisons, parishes, the military, airports, seaports, etc. We were also reminded that patients are being moved from inpatient to outpatient settings. This benefits the healthcare system in terms of cost containment, but more importantly, it benefits the patients who receive medical care in familiar surroundings. Given this change, spiritual care must also be brought to the patients. This will challenge us to move out of our comfort zones of hospitals to change our delivery of spiritual care. We will be challenged “to extend with the compassion of Jesus” into communities.
Loneliness is a growing epidemic that worsens physical and mental health. As chaplains, we recognize the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. We also know that bringing chaplaincy into new fields, especially in the rural areas, will help to address loneliness.
One of my growing edges as a chaplain is to know more about the diversity of people’s ethnicities and faith traditions. This was a major topic included in several workshops. I have realized that I need to understand the nuances of other faiths so that I can provide appropriate and sensitive spiritual care to all. This will challenge me to move out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar territory.
The university is situated on acres of natural beauty. As the name suggests, there is a lake on the property. I enjoyed several strolls along the lake and marveled at the beauty that surrounded me. It was conducive to prayer and contemplation. I became immersed in the presence of God and his creation.
Throughout the several days of the conference, I felt the spirit very much present and working with us and through us. We engaged in lively conversations in our workshops, sharing our experiences and developing new understanding. We gathered in fellowship in the Eucharist to nourish our souls and at meals to nourish our bodies and relationships. For me, one of the highlights of the conference was enjoying the company of other chaplains. Some of us may never see each other again, but for the time we were together, we cherished one another in the moment.
Joan Sweeney, BCC is chaplain for Northwell Health in Port Jefferson and Amityville, NY.