By Jim Letourneau
All who believed were together and had all things in common. – Acts 2:44 (NRSV)
This Scripture line describes the characteristics of the early Christian community: being together and sharing resources. In many ways, these are the experiences of the various Catholic pastoral care groups gathering and collaborating for the sake of the Church’s ministry and for those we serve. We are working together to share our resources – our experiences, our training, our hopes, and our wisdom – to strengthen the pastoral ministry of the Church.
Why has NACC entered into this collaboration? Our shifting member demographics challenge us to reimagine who we are and what we can become. In 1996, we had 3,548 members. In 2018, that number has declined to 1,993. In that same time frame, we’ve shifted from 50 percent religious women, 25 percent lay people, and an average age of 60 to 20 percent religious women, 57 percent lay people, and an average age of 64.
Confronted with this reality, the NACC Board discerned our future strategy. We unanimously agreed that the language in our mission and vision statements continued to animate our identity as well as challenge us to incarnate the healing presence of Jesus Christ. So we embraced our mission and vision and didn’t change a thing. We noted that nowhere in our mission or vision did we read the words “hospital” or “healthcare,” though most of our members minister in these environments. Knowing the radical changes facing healthcare, and the push toward population health rather than just acute care, we knew our chaplains would be challenged to minister on unchartered holy ground.
We believe NACC is still called to “forming life-giving relationships,” as our vision statement says, but we wondered whether we needed to shift with whom we formed those relationships. We asked our members whether we should continue our collaborations with our strategic partners in spiritual care (ACPE, APC, NAJC, etc.), or whether we should nurture relationships within the Catholic community (National Conference of Veterans Affairs Catholic Chaplains, American Correctional Chaplains Association, National Association for Lay Ministry, etc.). Unanimously, our members told us to pursue partnerships with both groups.
The 2018-2020 NACC strategic plan addresses the importance of these relationships. Our first strategy continues to build on the ministry of professional chaplaincy as we’ve known and lived it through the years. The second strategy highlights NACC’s gift to the Church, as well as the gifts in our mutual relationships with other Catholic ministries. These synergies cannot help transforming our association. While the details are not clear yet, there is great enthusiasm and commitment to our common pastoral ministry, to our Catholic communion, and to “people experiencing pain, vulnerability, joy, and hope,” as our vision statement says. Please join me in this exciting journey!
Jim Letourneau, BCC, is the chair-elect of the NACC Board of Directors and the director of promoting Catholic identity and mission initiatives at Trinity Health System in Livonia, MI.