A Clear Voice... A Reply to “A Silently Politicized Profession, Part II," by The Rev. Dr. Belen Gonzalez y Perez, CPSP Diplomate -- by David Roth

14 Oct 2015 5:00 PM | Perry Miller, Editor

In his recent piece here, our dear colleague Belen Gonzalez y Perez offers a truism: “All politically charged circumstances have a historical antecedent.” That is of course undoubteIdly true. It is not entirely clear, however, whether he is referring to circumstances today or those at the time of the publication of the famous (infamous?) 2001 White Paper on professional chaplaincy.

If his intended reference is to a decade and a half ago, back when the White Paper was written and the College of Pastoral Supervision was barely a decade old, not even an adolescent in the life cycle of an organization, and our membership was very small, the politically charged circumstances were quite different from ones today.  Distrust and acrimony was still fresh in the pastoral care world ten years after the founding of this reform movement of ours.  Many believed and more than a few hoped that CPSP would not survive. Very few imagined it would thrive. The fact that some ignored CPSP and others shunned and made every effort to marginalize it – as some still do – was combined with the the fact that CPSP did not (and rightly still does not) see itself as an organization with promoting spiritual care in healthcare as its main focus.  

If Belen was referring to circumstances now rather than nearly 15 years ago, well, these are indeed very different times. The White Paper is in many ways out of date, an artifact of a times past. Those who hold onto it like a sort of manifesto or sheaf of identity papers risk looking and sounding anachronistic. The document is there, but does anyone really treat it with reverence like a sacred text or set it out as a master plan? Only those very few who are unable to move into the present. Since it was written, CPSP membership has tripled. While remaining true to our Covenant and to the original vision of the founders we have demonstrated that both our standards and the quality of our training are on par with that of our cognate group colleagues, while remaining philosophically distinctly different. CPSP sits at the same table as ACPE, APC, NACC and what was formerly known as NAJC in HealthCare chaplaincy meetings. Our leadership and the leaders of other cognate groups respectfully communicate and occasionally collaborate. We have come a long way.

The fact is that we are different and intentionally so. We in CPSP approach the work of pastoral care differently from those who 15 years ago decided to marshal their combined energies and resources to advance a professional chaplaincy agenda in healthcare. There is a history to this that is tied to Boisen (and Cabot), to the Council (and the Institute), to New York (and New England). Sadly, most of that history is entirely unknown or mostly misunderstood today.  It is important for all of us, and especially those of us in CPSP, to be who we are and not try to conflate our identity with that of others for the sake of a hoped-for legitimacy and indispensible role in healthcare institutions. 

I’m afraid that in Belen’s eagerness to improve the status of CPSP by including us in a diverse array of professional chaplaincy organizations – including military, police, prison, veterans, and others – who he would like to see recognized by those who crafted the White Paper he inadvertently does a disservice to all. “Chaplain” can refer to anyone doing ministry outside the setting of a faith community. A “professional chaplain” can be anyone who makes a living doing such ministry or even someone who ministers in a specialized setting whether they get paid for it or not. By background, training and particular qualifications, professional chaplains are a very diverse bunch. 

Those who have been trained and certified as chaplains by CPSP are professionals but that is not what distinguishes or defines us. Our distinctive is that we are clinical chaplains, and ones of a particular sort in the tradition of Anton Boisen who founded the clinical pastoral movement.  We are trained and certified in a particular way, using an engaged, action-reflection model of learning, in hopes of helping others to find meaning and purpose in the midst of their crisis, distress, loss or grief.  We do share the same form, if not always the same substance and aims, as the professional organizations that a decade and a half ago were signatories to the White Paper.  

Instead of advocating for a broader definition and more inclusive recognition of professional chaplains, we should foster a greater understanding and mutual appreciation of our distinct differences, especially among others who claim to be sharers in the clinical pastoral tradition. Today and moving forward it will be on the basis of our uniqueness, nurtured and expressed, that CPSP’s rightful claim to acceptance and legitimacy will lie – among those in healthcare chaplaincy but most importantly among those persons who are in need of a chaplain.

David Roth, PhD