By Kate Piderman
There are many parts, but there is only one body (1 Corinthians 12:20).
I have always seen research as a way to respond to God’s call to me to minister to the sick. Though most of my time is spent in direct patient care, I find that studying the spiritual well-being and concerns of those we serve as chaplains, and the responses we make, are essential aspects of my ministry.
I will always be grateful for senior colleagues who have mentored me in research through the years. Through them, I have learned the nuts and bolts of how to develop, execute, and disseminate research. More importantly, I have also learned that collaboration is at the heart of research.
Each member of a research team contributes unique, specialized, and necessary gifts, and without each, a project would be less than it could be. I have come to understand that the spiritual values I bring to relationships with patients and family are also integral to a well-working research team. My personal motto, “Be a sign of God’s love,” is just as important in interactions with research colleagues as it is at the bedside. Everyone has a voice that needs to be respectfully spoken and respectfully heard. As with all human endeavors, great things are possible, but mistakes are made. Maintaining a humble and hopeful perspective through all that unfolds is paramount. Genuine interest in and compassion for one another is a kind of sacred glue that is both binding and life-giving.
On a global level, the Joint Research Council, which is led by APC, comprises chaplain-researchers from several countries throughout the world. It provides “a forum for communication and collaboration between organizational partners to advance chaplaincy as a research-informed profession.” Its charter states that its mission is to “communicate about, advocate for, and provide opportunities regarding research within chaplaincy.” When I was offered the opportunity to represent the NACC on the council several years ago, I hesitated to accept. I felt inadequate to join the ranks of those with much more research experience and prominence than I. Yet a small gentle voice inside me nudged me forward, and I accepted the invitation.
As a council member, I found myself stimulated by the exchange of ideas about the importance of research for chaplains and how to bring research to the forefront of our education and practice. I was edified by the commitment to change systems, apply for grants, and make a difference in ways that promise to raise research literacy and research involvement for chaplains throughout the world. At first, I was timid in my participation in these discussions. Communication was fast-paced. The ideas presented seemed so well-formed. I wasn’t sure that there was any room for my ponderings or really any need for them. But again, that small gentle voice reminded me of the value of my voice and the imperative to use it. I responded and spoke as one in the trenches with suffering people, hopeful that research will in some way lead to a gentling of their experience. I spoke as one with dedicated colleagues who are eager to learn and contribute, but who often feel the burden of too many demands and not enough time. And I found that my views were respected and validated and considered.
The JRC meets as issues arise, usually a few times a year. The primary goal is to transform chaplaincy in ways related to research. Some of its most notable accomplishments include securing a Templeton Grant to support chaplain research fellows, research education within Clinical Pastoral Education programs, and a Chaplain Research Summer Institute. JRC members are also designing a website to provide information and encourage research scholarship among chaplains. What a privilege to be a part of this amazingly productive group!
The opportunity for collaboration in research, at any level, invites us to examine our call, affirm our gifts and make choices that are realistic for our situation at a given time. It is not more honorable to serve in research than in direct patient care — or vice versa. That kind of hierarchical perspective is anathema to what we hear in 1 Corinthians 12, but for some, research collaboration is clearly an avenue of ministry that bears fruit. I feel blessed that it is for me and encourage all interested in research to consider possibilities for collaboration!
Kate Piderman, BCC, is a Mayo Clinic Hospice chaplain and coordinator of research for chaplain services in Rochester, MN.