By Harry Dudley
When I worked at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, many people asked me about best practices in preparing laypeople for ministry. I would tell them to look at NACC because they are the gold standard. NACC has been involved in developing standards and procedures for pastoral care certification longer than any other Catholic organization.
This is why David Lichter, NACC’s executive director, was invited to meet in April 2018 with over 30 national Catholic service organizations and staff from the USCCB about ministry to those affected by incarceration. While there were still some full-time prison chaplains, the landscape had changed. More of this work was now being done by volunteers: laity, religious, and deacons.
In addition, those who were doing the work were often unaware of what others were doing. We had national standards and competencies for chaplains, but none for volunteers. We also needed to identify, recognize, and share information about the many fine programs that existed or were being developed.
That 2018 meeting ended with a decision to form the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition to recruit, train, support, and empower those called to this ministry. Three committees were formed: a steering committee of leaders from the participating organizations, an executive committee to implement the decisions made, and a formation committee to research, create, and promote formation efforts.
David Lichter agreed to chair the CPMC Formation Committee. In 2020, NACC became CPMC’s fiscal sponsor, but CPMC continues to seek funding and support. He shared about the efforts of the NACC’s Partners in Pastoral Care Project in developing core and specialized competencies for pastoral care. The Association of Catholic Correctional Chaplains of America, which was involved in the Partners project, had already developed the certification process for full-time prison chaplains and encouraged us to move forward.
The CPMC Formation Committee decided to offer three distinct pathways for those who wanted to enter the ministry: Foundational for volunteers, Intensive for those considering a greater commitment, and Leadership/Specialization those committed to leading at an institutional, diocesan, or parish level. The framework for this training would be the four dimensions of formation found in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.
Each session of the pathways would help participants to answer the following questions:
- Why am I doing this? (Motivation for pastoral care ministry)
- Where am I, and who is there? (The culture I am called to serve in)
- How do I represent the pastoral care ministry of the Church? (Pastoral identity)
- What am I doing there? (Accompaniment, listening presence)
- What am I doing there? (Religious agent)
- How do I navigate the system? (The dos, don’ts, relationships)
The first fully developed and piloted pathway is the Foundational Pathway – a national online training effort for volunteers. Two members of the CPMC leadership team were recruited to develop and offer the six sessions for this Foundational formation: Rev. George Williams, SJ, Ph.D., chaplain, San Quentin State Prison, San Francisco, CA; and Rev. Dustin Feddon, Ph.D., pastor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Crawfordville, FL. This six-hour program was filmed and called Prison and Jail Ministry 101.
Participants were introduced to prison ministry with an emphasis on their own discernment and the unique spiritual, psycho-social, and ministerial needs of the incarcerated. They learned core knowledge and practical tools for successful prison ministry, focusing on empathetic listening and pastoral care presence. Finally, they were invited to consider joining and inviting others to join the next generation of professional prison chaplains.
After filming these sessions, the formation committee developed further support materials, including links to CPMC videos and readings for the facilitated session. A reflection booklet was developed that includes a full script of the video presentation, additional reflection questions, and links to resources mentioned in the videos.
Participants prepare for a facilitated (online or live) conversation by reviewing the module sheet and the required video(s), booklet(s), and readings. Then they briefly answer in writing the reflection questions for review, which become a journal of what has been learned.
The six modules were piloted by a combined session including volunteers from the archdioceses of Santa Fe and New Orleans. Participants in the pilot and each new cohort have been offered the opportunity to provide input and suggestions. The Archdiocese of Seattle has completed the second cohort, and the Archdiocese of Portland began a third cohort in June.
“It gave me the feeling I’m not alone, that there are resources to tap into that I didn’t know about,” one participant said. “There are other people who have the same longing to be able to enter into it more deeply. So, I can do this job with the Holy Spirit and with all of you. All the mistakes that I make are things I can learn from, especially now that I have all these materials that were sent. I can keep going back to them and saying, oh yes, that’s a great idea.”
How can this Foundational Pathway benefit dioceses or parishes?
- By including more experienced persons in the ministry in the training with beginners, a team of mentors can be formed.
- Although this is designed for volunteers, experienced chaplains can benefit from the opportunity to mentor. CPMC has also developed a basic mentoring guide for dioceses interested in developing this aspect of the program.
- The cohorts formed can become support groups to sustain each other in work as well as provide a community for ongoing formation efforts offered by CPMC.
- The Foundational materials and training enable experienced trainers in the diocese to continue replicating the training as needed.
Dioceses and parishes can take advantage of these resources by taking training so that they can offer it themselves, or engaging a facilitator provided by NACC/CPMC. For more information, diocesan or parish staff can visit https://www.nacc.org/cpmc/cpmc-formation/
Harry Dudley is founder and consultant for Ambulans Vobiscum Consulting in Western Pennsylvania. He assists parishes, dioceses, and nonprofits in recruitment, formation, and support of volunteers and leaders.