By Jim Letourneau
All of us who work in healthcare know that our work environments are changing rapidly. Many chaplains find themselves doing more with less, as well as doing what they used to do differently. At the same time, the NACC recognizes that we need to operate differently if we are to sustain ourselves and thrive in order to meet the needs of the people we serve. As projections for our membership continue to drop, we know we can’t keep doing business as usual.
Mindful of those dynamics, the NACC Board supported Executive Director David Lichter’s successful application for a grant in 2016 from the Raskob Foundation, which supports the work of various Catholic institutions around the world. The grant supports the NACC’s effort to bring together national Catholic voices to discuss the pastoral needs of the people of God. We called this gathering Partners in Planning.
In our application, David wrote, “While many Catholic dioceses and organizations have initiated formation/education programs in pastoral care, nationally, as a Church, we do not have consistent sets of standards/competencies, nor approaches for preparing those providing the service to ensure the highest quality of pastoral care in our Catholic pastoral care ministry.”
The first meeting of the Partners in Planning was in October 2016. I was blessed to be a part of that experience. Representatives gathered from the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, the Catholic Health Association, the American Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association, the National Association of Diaconate Directors, Catholic Charities, the National Association for Lay Ministry, the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, the Association of Graduate Programs in Ministry, as well as individuals involved in various forms of pastoral ministry and formation programs across the country. Those ministries included Faith Community Nursing, prison ministry, geriatric care, ministry to the immigrant population, and diocesan ministry.
I have to say, there was something in the air that was electric. I’ll call it the Holy Spirit. A synergy was quickly created in our coming together. We had common concerns and common passions. All of us want to minister effectively in the name of the Church to those with spiritual needs. Those spiritual needs are not confined to hospitals, as we all know. But how can we ensure that deacons who are visiting the sick are providing the best spiritual care? How can we support the volunteer who is bringing Communion to the homebound parishioner? How can we prepare chaplains in the correctional system to minister to the prisoner?
At the same time, the partners all recognized that the pastoral needs are great, but we don’t have adequate resources to address those needs. In many ministry contexts, volunteers are vital ministry partners to bring Christ’s presence to those who struggle. Clearly, the expectations of volunteers are different from professionally trained ministers, but we do need some level of expectation in order to serve those in need and to protect those we serve. At the same time, we don’t want to place insurmountable expectations on volunteers that prohibit their partnership with us in spiritual care ministry.
And how does NACC fit into this constellation of questions and uncertainties that the partners share? We are recognized by the USCCB as having the “gold standard” of certification for pastoral ministry. The discipline we bring to initial certification and ongoing professional education is certainly a strength. I would suggest that all of us need to remain open to the work of the Spirit through our collaborative conversation with our partners. Yes, we have much to offer, but we must recognize that our partners have something to offer us. Hopefully, through our collaboration with our Partners in Planning, we can identify what is needed by the people of God and how we can together minister to their pastoral needs.
In this early stage of our collaboration, there seem to be more questions than answers! However, I am convinced that there is a common commitment among our partners to wrestling with these questions together. I suspect, and frankly I hope, that NACC will emerge from these collaborative conversations with a new clarity of vision for how we can serve the Church. Please stay tuned! These are exciting and formidable times for us.
Jim Letourneau, BCC, is Director for Promoting Catholic Identity for Trinity Health in Livonia, MI.