By Bob Barnes
Helen Keller once stated, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” I have experienced the wisdom of this statement many times in my life and my work as a chaplain.
In the summer of 2015, I was blessed with an opportunity to participate in the collaboration by several chaplaincy cognate groups to create the new Certification for Professional Spiritual Care: Common Qualifications and Competencies. The task force consisted of representatives of APC, ACPE, NACC, CASC (the Canadian chaplains group), and NAJC. David Lichter and I represented NACC on this task force, which was formed to revise the Common Standards of 2005. David played a key role as the facilitator of this process.
We quickly agreed that the 2005 Standards had served our respective associations well but needed updating in light of changes in the practice of spiritual care and concerns that had arisen around the clarity of some of the Standards. Some specific issues the task force addressed were employer concerns about the value of professional certification; inconsistent application of the standards across associations; unclear integration of certification competencies with CPE learning objectives; and new skills, such as research literacy, that were needed to promote chaplaincy as a profession.
Over several months of regular conference calls and email exchanges, task force members wrestled with the meaning and importance of professional chaplaincy in the various settings in which we serve today. What are the spiritual care and professional skills needed? How do we best express them through defined competencies for certification? How can our chaplaincy associations standardize and improve the certification processes for applicants of all the cognate groups?
While these broad questions framed discussions of the task force, our charge was to focus specifically on both the content and the clarity of the revised standards — now to be called qualifications and competencies. Members brought to the discussion their broad and varied experiences as department managers, chaplains, and CPE supervisors.
Personally, I brought to the table my experiences over many years of applying the former standards to the certification interview process, both as an interviewer and as an interview team educator. The discussions of the Task Force were without exception open, respectful, and collaborative. All members recognized the value of naming with one voice those competencies required for professionally certified chaplains.
The CQCs are the result of this effort. They will guide the work of the cognate groups as collectively we begin to live into the new competencies. Since our work as chaplains in NACC exists within the broader context of ministry in the Catholic Church, the NACC Standards Commission has already included additional subheadings of competencies to reflect that reality. These provide additional guidance to our members as they prepare for certification and renewal of certification.
We will all have many opportunities over the coming months and years to learn about and reflect upon the CQCs. No doubt, experience will teach us how we can improve them over time. That will also be a process of dialogue and collaboration.
Bob Barnes, BCC, is a staff chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, MN.