By David Lichter
This issue of Vision is dedicated to the Church’s pastoral care ministry, of which we are all ministers — whether board-certified members or anyone who continues “the healing ministry of Jesus in the name of the Church.” We are so familiar now with that final phrase of our NACC mission statement, are we not?
Over the past three years, we have explored how the NACC can take more leadership in the pastoral care ministry of the Church. When we submitted a grant proposal to the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities in 2015, we explained that in the United States, healthcare reform was having an enormous impact on pastoral care, which is not a reimbursable service, and thus often seen as expendable. NACC’s board-certified chaplains often were the vital agents in healthcare settings who helped reshape pastoral care services.
However, in the midst of all these changes, the Catholic Church is still living out its mission to provide healing pastoral care for all who are broken and vulnerable, especially the sick, aging, dying, imprisoned, migrant, and refugee. This ministry is provided in a variety of ways and settings, and those Catholic members providing it require different levels of competencies and education/formation. While many Catholic dioceses and organizations have initiated programs in pastoral care, nationally we do not have consistent sets of competencies, nor approaches for training to ensure the highest quality of pastoral care.
We proposed that a collaborative planning process with representatives from key partners would identify:
- those with the most critical pastoral needs and the settings where they are found;
- the type of pastoral care needed;
- the specific levels of competencies to meet those needs;
- the diverse ministries involved (board-certified, pastoral associates, volunteers, deacons, etc.);
- the necessary standards and training;
- the core elements for professional and volunteer formation;
- an agreed-upon approach to provide training.
Not too ambitious, were we?
We were delighted to receive approval from Raskob in May 2016 and immediately went to work to invite key Catholic ministry groups to study the landscape and to determine how we could collaborate to address the needs.
Our first meeting occurred in October 2016 in Milwaukee. Those gathered identified the settings where pastoral care needs are most critical. They included elder care; home care settings within parishes; migrants, immigrants, and refugees; and criminal justice settings, including the families of those incarcerated.
To identify the pastoral care competencies needed for those serving these populations, the partners reviewed the USCCB National Certification Standards within the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral categories. The planning partners further specified pastoral care competencies within each of these categories.
Before the next planning session in May 2017, work groups met to identify further specific pastoral care competencies for those groups. At the meeting, the partners discussed the outcomes from these work groups, endorsed the competencies developed, and agreed upon some next steps.
- Creating one set of competencies for the eldercare and diocesan/parish settings to be shared with the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification of Ecclesial Ministry and Service (SCEMS);
- Developing further and making available leading practices for preparing and supporting those providing pastoral care in diverse settings;
- Continuing to explore national recognition processes for the diverse formation programs;
- Working on an organizational plan for ongoing collaboration for providing education, formation, and other services.
A steering group met in person in Milwaukee on Nov. 30, 2017. Key outcomes for that meeting included:
- Agreement that our NACC 2019 Conference be dedicated to the pastoral pare ministry of the Church at University of St. Mary’s of the Lake in Mundelein, IL, on May 29-June 2, 2019.
- Agreement that the NACC stay in the lead with project management, while all partners work on 2018 deliverables and the NACC works on grants.
- A list of potential funders to assist in supporting next steps.
- A willingness to endorse in writing the work going forward, so we have documents for the final report to Raskob and for future potential funders.
Since that meeting, the NACC continues to lead this effort by exploring ways to provide networking and support among those with diocesan responsibility for pastoral care, among directors of permanent diaconate formation, and most recently with the formation committee of the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition to identify and develop the pastoral care formation needed for those in prison settings.
This leadership role in the Church’s pastoral care is a main priority of the NACC’s 2018-2020 Strategic Plan. The fruit of these partnerships continues to grow, and our collaborative efforts have received strong support from the bishops, both from our NACC Episcopal Advisory Council, as well as the USCCB Subcommittee on Certification of Ecclesial Ministry and Service.
We look forward to getting all of you, our members, more involved in this partnership effort. And we look forward to our 2019 Conference that will devote itself to our common ministry.