Five Heresies


Here are some of the current potential heresies looming over the clinical ministry movement (CMM), threatening to detract from its purpose, defeat its essential mission, and drain energy from its essential work of clinical patient care.

1. RESEARCHIFICATION Essential as it is to help guide current and future directions of clinical care, exaggerated focus on research can bypass and dilute what is essential to learning to be a clinical chaplain and maintaining that practice over a career. Bordering on rationalism, including research as a part of early chaplaincy training, likely drags some students into cognitive habits that shield them from the ambiguity-filled emotional relating necessary for depth of clinical spiritual care. Research, like the other practices described here, may be necessary in its place, but ought not be encouraged too early and too long. Affective education needs its own process time.

2. ROSIFICATION in Public Relations Preoccupation A substitute for competence and working towards enhancing it can be contenting yourself with excessively drawing attention to your successes and what is good to look at. Validating and celebrating achievements feeds our souls as well as our spirits, without a doubt. But the good news is increasingly suspicious if one doesn’t seem to see the bad news too. Conflict, critical thinking, and opposing perspectives make things real. Image management can make things sparkle. But let’s not get too used to those rose-colored glasses Pollyanna. Real caregivers constantly face sadness, fears, anger and regret as part of the role that can’t always be glamorized.

3. PROCLAMATION CERTIFICATION The pull to make getting authorization to function professionally just a bit easier remains relentlessly strong. When the president of a top CMM association attempted to over-rule the certification process guardians a few years ago and proclaim some candidates certified, this heresy poked its nose out and has been seen many times since. As the process becomes more paperwork than professional encounter, be vigilant for its takeover. The array of sophisticated competencies it takes to function as a chaplain and the many other, completely different ones it takes to be a clinical educator, ought to be observed and challenged by groups of experienced peers before authorization. That is especially true in an organization grounded in small group dynamics as the core of its established education models.

4. CORPORATIZATION Becoming a professionally functioning office with quality staff organized efficiently with adequate space and equipment became essential many years ago, though it precipitated one of the unfortunate CMM divisions, splintering off what is now known as the CPSP (College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychology). When office staff and administrative leaders begin to make decisions and policies better suited to be made by certified educators, an unintentional heresy may be germinating. The natural impulses to: Control communication rather than use it to facilitate professional collaboration among members; exclusively make decisions of what is to be communicated in a newsletter and website; de-emphasize critical thinking and dialogue; heavily influence a board of directors and elected members designing mergers; and set procedures that burgeon into policies about accreditation, research, and certification–vigilance may be in order for heresy developing. Are experienced educators seeming to keep their distance, become passive, talk about leaders more than talking to them, and spurn applying for leadership positions in the association? Is there an underlying morale problem emerging? If so, it may be born of apathy from a feeling of powerlessness from non-clinical over-control of what really matters to dedicated, committed members of this professional movement.

5. HASTY POLITICAL ALLIANCES The various components of the CMM could eventually merge for the benefits of comprehensive professional clarity, public policy clout, and a united voice with government certification and accreditation officials. But such serious influences on history and future flourishing need careful planning to preserve the corporate souls of the various CMM entities that differ immensely in their histories, missions, and inherent values, each with its own unique corporate ethos. Rushing such alliances along speaks of over-anxious river-pushing that can presage disaster or a slow corporate death. Who is keeping an eye on the central goal of all CMM entities, the care of people with seriously troubled spirits, day to day, and the quality of their members’ preparation for lasting, enriching, successful careers?