holding hands facing one another
By Michael Skaggs

What is the present state and future development of spiritual care? From December 11 to 13, 2019, the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab was grateful to partner with the Fetzer Institute on a convening and dialogue focused on just that. We welcomed spiritual care providers from an array of professional contexts and educational backgrounds including healthcare, higher education, social movements, state and federal agencies, and more. In small group discussions, morning reflection sessions, and over meals we learned more both about each other and the future of spiritual care than we could have imagined at the outset.

The Fetzer Institute's mission is as ambitious as it is simple: helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Who better to help carry out this mission than chaplains, especially as year after year fewer and fewer Americans count themselves among those with a formal religious affiliation? Over the course of 2019 the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab and the Fetzer Institute began a conversation and developed a relationship with one goal in mind: working together, how can we help chaplains and spiritual care providers meet people where they are and reach those who have no access to spiritual care today? And how we can help widen the paths into the profession for those who may feel called to spiritual care but have historically been excluded, for any number of reasons? The Lab is grateful for this partnership and eager to be in conversation together about these questions.

Continuing the conversation
One thing about which we felt very strongly was that our conversation not remain confined to our time together in Kalamazoo. How could we bring this nuanced, complex, in many cases deeply personal reflection to chaplains, educators, and others in order to broaden the dialogue? We determined that an eBook, available to all at no charge and for distribution to anyone and everyone, offered a simple solution. Now, Meditations on Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care is available through the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab for all to use, reflect on, and further their own conversations with colleagues.

Following an introduction that describes the state of the field, several contributors in Meditations in Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care—working from widely different backgrounds, both professional and personal—offer insightful observations about the needs of the field today and what they hope to see for the future.

  • Tahara Akmal notes that in a world of individuals who were isolated from one another even before the coronavirus pandemic, chaplains are the ones best equipped to connect people across lines of difference.
  • Kirstin Boswell Ford challenges the field to be nimble and adaptive to providing spiritual care, especially in nontraditional spaces: "to be rigid in this regard will lead to the field's obsolescence."
  • Lab founder Wendy Cadge calls for a change even in how we talk about spiritual care, noting that "the language of chaplaincy is too old fashioned, not accessible, and shuts down possibilities for some."
  • Margaret Grun Kibben, with military precision borne of her long service in the United States Navy, focuses on what we should expect of chaplains before they are out on their own. How do we balance the needs of specific contexts and best practices applicable to all chaplains? How do we help organizations and institutions understand the value of chaplains within them to help expand this vital service?
  • Allison Kestenbaum calls us to think constantly about diversity in the field, making sure that planning and decision-making processes include chaplains representative both of the demographics of the field and, more importantly, that of the communities they serve.
  • Sue Phillips calls for a radical reappraisal of pathways into the field and how spiritual care is "delivered" to those in need. Given the unprecedented shifts in religious and spiritual affiliation, how far can time-honored assumptions and frameworks of spiritual care take us?
  • Asha Shipman highlights the need that chaplains have for other chaplains, especially across the contexts of spiritual care. The soul work of chaplaincy rarely is easy, and chaplains need to be able to rely on one another through "nourishment and insights from shop talk with those whose shop is different but relatable."
  • Eric Skidmore, through his experience as a public service chaplain, calls attention to the need to think hard about qualifications and training for spiritual care: while he has a traditional clerical background and education, "the cop with 30 years of service, an undergraduate degree, a public safety chaplaincy certification (18 months), and an extended unit of CPE is very well-prepared for service with our organization." Once more, the need for chaplains to reflect the communities they serve is an enormous issue.

Looking ahead
In Meditations, Fetzer Senior Program Officer Michelle Scheidt says that Fetzer "is proud to collaborate with the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab" in this crucial labor of service to one another. We at the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab are proud to partner, too. We hope you will read this resource carefully, reflect on it, and see what this conversation can mean for spiritual care wherever you are. We invite feedback and want to include as many in the discussion as are willing. We thank chaplains and spiritual care providers everywhere for the work they are doing, and we thank the Fetzer Institute for its recognition of the importance of this vital work.

Michael Skaggs is executive director of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab.


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The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab sparks practical innovation in spiritual care.