Category Archives: Authenticity

Death Bereavement and Be-ing

Republished with permission from Spirituality and Griefcare.


Death does not respect age; any death is a loss whether it be an 18-month old infant, an 18-year old youth, or an 81 year old matron. They are all significant losses to someone and each instance has its own pattern of grief responses and challenges to overcome. Regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status or any other feature, each death is unique and special, like no other death ever or anywhere, because with each death we lose an entire world, an entire package of experiences that may have just been in the process of unwrapping.

We hardly ever speak of a beforelife but tend to be overly concerned with the afterlife. It may be comforting for some of us to reflect on who and where we were before we became who we are when we were born. It’s interesting to ponder that question because we can either trust that we were in fact somewhere, existing, before we were physically conceived. But where was that? The alternative is to believe that once a random sperm entered a waiting egg, a cascade of events was triggered that became the infant you and developed into the you you are today. Quite honestly, neither of the two hypotheses can really be resolved, because we have no real idea what constitutes “you.” Perhaps that’s why we prefer to occupy ourselves with an afterlife, since in that discussion we at least have a tangible quantity to work with: a physical person with all sorts of attributes has died, and we ask the many questions associated with a death, most often Why? and Where?

We are terribly uncomfortable with being so vulnerably human and can’t bear to think that we will someday, somewhere, somehow die. We will physically stop working and some rather disgusting changes will take place in our physical bodies. Like the proverbial ostrich, most of us wander aimlessly and with minimum purpose along the myriad possible paths through the time and space we call life. We greedily seek one diversion or entertainment after the other, never getting enough, and yet demanding and getting more and more distraction from the reality of ourselves and the world around us. We become a shell of what we potentially can be.

Shells of former selves.

When death finally arrives to claim a loved one or a friend, we are shocked, confused, angry, and demanding. How could this have happened? Why did it have to happen? If only…! Reality is really hard to take and when you are so arrogant that you think you can handle all the answers or can control what happens, reality gets even harder on you. You attempt to quench your anxiety with denial but it doesn’t seem to work for you – or anyone else. Death visits and seldom knocks. Death rarely makes an appointment to come around when it’s convenient. Death just drops by and takes what is his.

When a death occurs it almost always ushers in a psychospiritual process we commonly refer to as grief, and a psychosocial process we generally refer to as mourning. Both grief and mourning have their sociocultural patterns we call ritual on the “micro” level and ceremony on the “macro” or public arena. Within these we have social norms, including how grief is politicized, acknowledged, and cultural dictates, bundled together into what we call practice or on a more substantial scale, tradition. Religion / spirituality of one form or another, or one of the philosophies seeking religion, frequently provide a foundation upon which these behaviors can establish and legitimize themselves. The psychospiritual and the psychosocial environments provide the contexts in which the bereaved engage in their grief work, find meaning in their loss, incorporate the transformed deceased into their lives, continue their bonds with the deceased, and transcend the bereavement experience as transfigured persons. It’s a complex process that requires time and permission to proceed. Although the social / public process of mourning may have temporal waypoints and a particular culture may set an end time for the public display of bereavement, grief does not have such an amenity. In fact, grief may be experienced for many years after a loss even without being classified as “pathological,” or complicated, and grief is unique to each griever, it’s a personal experience and must be accommodated by each griever in his or her own way. Grief cannot be rushed nor can it be stereotyped.

Today, in the early 21st century, we are deluged with information and stimuli of indescribable variety and in asphyxiating volumes. Some of the deluge tends to shape our very physiology and repattern our nervous systems, especially our brains and the way we think. The information and stimuli enveloping us at every instant of every day is insidiously evil in that it is directed at transforming human beings endowed with free will into means to unhealthy ends. The media bombarding every single human being today is dehumanizing us and transforming our very existence from beings to doers. We are no longer mindful of the gift of the moment we are living in and we are unable to enjoy the moment in silent reflection We have no peace. Television, radio, emails invade every moment of our lives with commands to “Hurry!” “Don’t wait!” “Do it now!” “Last Chance.” Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging have all replaced real personal relationships with virtual personal relationships. The once sentient being we called human has become a mere reflection in a smartphone screen. We don’t even take the opportunity to speeddial a significant other and would rather spend the time texting rather than  talking. Even “chatting” which was once a form of informal oral communication and stimulus sharing has become realtime texting and responding but there’s nothing real about it.

All of these intrusions and incursions into our humanity and their tragic effects on who and what we are can be seen in our death practices. Digital death is a term that once described online practices centering on death-related communications; today, digital death is the counterpart of a person’s physical death. Our dehumanization is almost complete now because we have moved away from metaphysical, spiritual trust in an afterlife and are now even concerned about what happens to our Facebook page or our Twitter account after we physically die; we are now concerned with a digital afterlife! How pitiful can it get?

Materialist consumerism has decided that your death-related experience, your bereavement, your grief should be limited to three days and then you need to get back to work, get over your loss, and become productive again. It’s called bereavement leave. But it’s not leave to grieve; it’s merely time to get the necessary paperwork done to dispose of whoever it was who died. Three days, people! You’ve lived with an individual for decades, sharing almost every moment and you have three days to get over his death. You’ve raised a child to young man or womanhood, watched a helpless infant become a strapping happy young adult and you have 3 days to get over the car crash that killed him. What have we become?

On April 25, 2017, at 9:20 a.m. two young men, Logan Penzabene and Matthew Hamilton, each 18 years old, were traveling down a main road near their homes, a road they had probably traveled dozens if not hundreds of times on their way to school or once they qualified for their drivers licenses. But today was going to be different, very different. Today was going to be so different that at about 9:20, one would be dead and the other, Matthew Hamilton, in a coma, and hundreds of lives would be forever changed. One would be dead, Logan Penzabene, and the other in a coma. Two families would be plunged into the darkness of despairing grief; a whole community would be plunged into disbelief. An entire school district would be offered grief counseling. Why?

Well, on that fateful morning, the two young men were driving along and for some reason we may never know – perhaps they were texting, perhaps making a call, perhaps responding to some electronic notification – the driver crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic and hit a flatbed tractor trailer head-on, killing the young driver and causing critical head injuries to his passenger. Were they texting, making a call, responding to an electronic notification? Does it really matter? Yes, it does matter! One young man is DEAD, another is in a COMA, a whole community is thrown into disarray. Yes! It does matter!

The appalling part of the story is not that the event was preventable – I cannot support the belief that anything is truly preventable and must dispose of that notion of preventability as just more arrogance believing that we can control events. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is one of those arrogant, self-important political figures who believes that if he announces to a so-called program, “No Empty Chair”,  Teen Safe Driving Campaign, which is heralded on the Campaign website as: “Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today launched the “No Empty Chair” teen driving safety education and enforcement campaign to raise awareness of highway dangers during prom and graduation season.” Apparently, Cuomo believes that if he announces a campaign the problem is solved.  Cuomo’s campaign  was announced on April 15, 2017, the fatal accident occurred on April 25, 2017.

What we have to come to understand is that inflated programs and bombastic political rhetoric or police efforts during a so-called “campaign” do little or nothing to fundamentally change what government and corporations have worked so hard to create: producers to produce goods and services, consumers to consume goods and services, and sheeple to hear and obey (and to consume). The hypocrisy is conspicuous, it’s glaring, but if you’re constantly gazing into your smartphone screen, constantly receiving the indoctrination (in the past called “brainwashing”) and loving every digital minute of it, you won’t notice.

The churches and deathcare providers are elated. The churches because you may never have set foot in church for Sunday worship but they’ll wheel you in one last time and the church and pastor can get 30 minutes of exposure and a check. The deathcare industry doesn’t care one way or the other; the funeral director will get each and every one of us sooner or later, but sooner is better for the bottom line, and even better if it’s a sensational death that will attract multitudes of mourners! Visibility for both. Revenues for both. Rescue and paramedical personnel get to flaunt themselves and their equipment, which is good stuff for budget negotiations. Local political hacks, including everyone from the coroner / medical examiner, to law enforcement responders, to local elected stumpers ever eager for that special moment to appear and look devastated and share “Our prayers are with you today” canned expressions for the cameras. Even the public mourners and their makeshift shrines erected at the accident site. Everyone wants to be seen meditatively and reflectively, even prayerfully standing at the roadside memorial, “paying their respects,” showing solidarity for the momentary grief of a community. It’s really difficult to tell the real from the virtual.

The Penzabene Crash Site.

But the bottom-line, naked reality is that one young man is dead; another is critically injured. The bottom-line, naked reality is that one family is grieving the loss of a vibrant and vital part of that unit called family; a limb has been amputated and just like in the case of amputation of a physical limb, it is acutely painful, and there will be phantom pain even when the limb is no longer there.

Three days of bereavement leave is not going to work. Empty political actions like “No Empty Chair” or whatever they’re calling that stupidity is not going to work. Law enforcement “efforts” – as yet ineffectual and unrevealed – don’t seem to be doing very much. People are still killing each other, and people are getting dead regardless of whether the killing is intentional or unintentional. Sorry but dead is dead.

We can’t change what has happened and there’s no way we can justify any attempt to rationalize what has happened. That’s what makes Gov. Cuomo’s “No Empty Chair” campaign so political and so scurrilous. That’s what makes Bethlehem Police Commander Hornick’s statements like “it’s a tragic loss”  and “our feelings to out to the families” so pro forma and empty. Incidents like this one are not “tragic” and they’re probably not “preventable” by inaugurating campaigns with political undertones like “No Empty Chair.” Most people would probably disagree with what I just wrote. Not tragic!?! How heartless! Not, preventable? How fatalistic, how pessimistic! But those people would be wrong and misguided, victims of their own delusions, denial, and despair.

What I will say is that incidents like these, while not tragic and not preventable, are important teaching moments. Are important opportunities for everyone concerned to re-evaluate themselves and decide what they have become. It’s a time to become reflective and for self-examination. It’s a time to honestly admit that we are all contributing to our own psychospiritual demise, some of you willingly others inadvertently, but the vast majority are all part of the “preventable tragedies” of our post-modern, post-Christian, dehumanized world.

So what’s the final take-home message? Dead is dead. Loss is loss. Grief is unavoidable. The living will bury their dead and go on living. But is it that simple? Not really.

In my thinking, grief is a unique opportunity for personal and community growth. What you can’t change you have to take good advantage of. We do this by extending ourselves in compassion and love. We have to allow ourselves to stop for a moment so that we can catch up with ourselves. In other words, we have to take a moment and sit on a rock and become lost in time watching the brook flow around the obstacles. We need to shut out the white noise in our lives, and listen to the music of the brook and the birds. We need to raise our eyes from the illuminated screen and allow our souls to be illuminated by the sunlight playing off the ripples and the leaves. We need to stop feeling guilty about caring for ourselves and for others. We need to take time off from being busy to being just be-ing. This is essential to reclaiming our humanness, our spirituality.

I recall as a child the silent dying of a favorite apple tree. Of course, as a child I had the time for be-ing and for listening, for seeing; where there is no time for be-ing there’s no time for seeing or for listening. If we slow down we can hear what the Spirit is telling us about the dying of trees, the planet, of people, and what these deaths mean to us as beings capable of creating meaning and reflecting on love and how all of these things came into being, how a Spirit of love brought us into being.

The questions that we ask about death and dying are basically questions about the meaning of being, of be-ing. These are the questions that go into the stories once told around tribal campfires, and which now become part of the narratives that are told about our dead. These stories were the subject matter of the drawings on cave walls long ago, of the poetry of love and loss, and the emotions associated with the death of green in autumn. The Spirit is very generous in using any opportunity or event to make a point to us arrogant, uncertain, hesitant creatures.

We as educators, spiritual care providers, thanatologists, human beings, need to get back to basics and enter the world of the deep soul.

No condolences, no campaigns, no law enforcement efforts, no roadside memorials, no funeralization service will every have the desired, the needed effect unless we learn to appreciate silence. Our institutions from the family to church to government have taken a wrong turn. We live in an “increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualized world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness…” [McGilchrist, p. 6]

Our institutions cannot help but have a stake in blunting our maturity even if it means they must destroy the original versions and insights on which those very institutions were founded. We can easily identify that fragmentation in our education system, our government, our churches, and even in our families. [Aside: Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is a fascinating work of literature in many ways, but the story about the Grand Inquisitor is probably the best illustration of the perverse change in institution over time. Here’s a link to a brilliant portrayal by Sir John Gielgud. The Grand Inquisitor ]

I’ll close with a quote taken from Maggie Ross’ fascinating book, Silence: A User’s Guide, in which she cites a passage from Richard Holloway’s Leaving Alexandria, noting that Holloway’s use of “religion” should be thought of in broad terms, in the sense of any pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance

Hear the flow. See the light. Enter the silence.

“All institutions overclaim for themselves and end up believing more in their own existence than in the vision that propelled them into existence in the first place. This is particularly true of religions. Religions may begin as vehicles of longing for mysteries beyond description, but they end up claiming exclusive descriptive rights in them. They seque from the ardour and uncertainty of seeking to the confidence and complacence of possession. They shift from poetry to packaging.” [italics mine]

Download the final article from Spirituality & GriefcareNo Empty Chair

Read a related article at Tragedy or Failure?

Peace and blessings,
Rev.  Ch. Harold

Further reading:
Holloway, Richard. Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt.   Edinburgh: Canongate, 2013. Print.
L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art,  2016. Print.
Ross, Maggie. Silence: A User’s Guide, 2014. Print.

Thanatology Café: Where Presence and Empathy Meet Death.

Church and clergy have fallen flat on their faces when it comes to supporting the bereaved in their difficult moments of loss.  Whether it’s ego or complaisance, pastors are failing their flocks! Scripted, cookie-cutter rituals and services, bland remarks, formulaic prayers all serve to leave the bereaved high-and-dry at a time when they need empathy and presence. A new opportunity for bereavement ministry is being offered in a unique program called Thanatology Café.

Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death, is being launched in Ravena, at the RCS Community library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York.

Be sure to mark the date: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 2-4 p.m. The program starts promptly at 2:00 p.m. so don’t be late. There will be light refreshments.

The organizers do ask that you sign up at the RCS Community Library using the sign-up sheets available there. You can also sign up at thanatology.cafe@gmail.com. When you sign up via email, you’ll receive an initial registration form that you should fill out and bring with you to the program on April 9.

What is Thanatology Café?

We thought you’d never ask!

joke's over


Thanatology: [than-uh-tol-uh-jee] the study of death and dying, and bereavement, especially the study of ways to understand the coping mechanisms, meaning-making, transcendence and transformation to support the bereaved and mourners, and to lessen suffering and address the needs of the dying and their survivors.


It’s a  totally unique program and it’s called

Thanatology Café.

It’s a place where anyone can come in and talk about their thoughts, concerns, and interests centering on death and dying, bereavement, grief, society and death, spirituality and death, the death industry, our responsibilities as human beings who will die some day.

Thanatology Café is a safe place to talk about the ultimate mystery and to share thoughts and concerns about death and dying. It’s a place where you won’t be judged, no agenda will try to convert you or attempt to sell you something. It’s neutral ground, a sacred space where you can open your heart and mind to benefit everyone.

Thanatology Café will also be a source of valuable information from professionals who work in the field of death and dying. The program will include speakers, presenters, or even a film for discussion. But most of the time it will simply be a place to freely express ideas and thoughts, to share with the entire group or in smaller groups working off their own energies, monitored by a facilitator.

Thanatology Café is going to be offered in at least four counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Greene to start. Since community libraries are centers for education and information and are central to most communities, the organizers will be holding the regular monthly sessions in community libraries throughout the area. There will also be other sessions for special interests or to organize special events like tours etc. to historic sites. One such site is Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, where Uncle Sam is buried along with a slew of other historic figures. But the crematorium chapel is a must see and TC is working on a tour for sometime in May or June 2016.

Thanatology Café is an important resource for first responders, church bereavement groups, bereavement ministries, and even funeral directors (TC will host several presentations by funeral directors with Q&A sessions).

Thanatology Café is for everyone and the invitation is open to anyone who needs or wants to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning, spirituality, traditions and superstitions, the funeral business. The field and conversation is wide open. Only the participants will decide.

Click the link to visit the Thanatology Café blog.

Don't be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library. The Editor

Don’t be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library.

The Editor

Forming a Church-based Bereavement Group

A couple of days ago a reader, Kathy T., wrote to me asking for recommendations on starting a church bereavement program. After having reflected on Kathy’s request and her plan, I responded with the following counsel. I hope it’s helpful to those of you contemplating a response to such a calling or who are already involved in such a program. Please share your thoughts and insights on what I wrote.

Bereavement_Ministry

“A place to listen, yet be heard.”—”A place to cry, yet also laugh.”—”A place to find peace, yet never be over your loss.”—”A place to create lifelong friendships.” 

A bereavement ministry seeks to provide a safe place where the bereaved can gain an understanding of the grief process, have the opportunity to talk through their experiences, and explore their thoughts and feelings with others who are also grieving the loss of a loved one. Doing so will assist the bereaved in working through their grief on their journey to healing so that they, once again, will be able to enjoy a happy and productive life with memories of their loved one.


Good evening, Kathy:

Once again, thank you for your inquiry. It’s my pleasure to provide some assistance to you for your plan to create a bereavement ministry in your church community.

A church community is a very appropriate place to create such a ministry, and in most traditions it is a no-brainer to have one, at least in past generations. Today, it seems, even church communities avoid supporting the dying and the bereaved, and those that do continue that tradition have a very myopic view of how it is to be done.

Research done over the past 20 or so years has shed quite a bit of light on the real needs of the dying and of the bereaved, and healthcare research has shown hands down that a holistic approach is required when dealing effectively and sensitively with the dying person and his or her survivors. In fact, back in the 90s, Charles Corr published an eye-opening article (see details below) on a task-based approach to coping with dying, which was a very novel notion and gained quite a good deal of acceptance in the field of thanatology.

What-Does-our-Church-BelieveBut back to your plan for a church-based bereavement program. One point that is extremely important for anyone starting a bereavement ministry in any faith or belief community is that the persons practicing that ministry must be absolutely familiar with their faith or belief tradition’s teachings on life, dying, death, and any afterlife. While a bereavement ministry is not the place for evangelizing or catechizing, it is a place where the focus is on hope and hope, in contrast to wishing, is reality oriented. Far too many faith community bereavement groups focus too much on past sins, an afterlife, and a promised resurrection. While the past sins part is OK, the last thing a dying person needs is an 11th-hour guilt trip or an anxiety attack! As for the other two, well, they’re still to be proven. Faith goes a long way but it has to be administered with compassion and good sense.

bereavement support hopeIf a bereavement ministry is to companion the person actively dying that person even while dying is still a living person and not dead yet. As a living person, he or she still has meaning, purpose, a legacy, hope. And yes, the dying person is also a bereaved person, since she or he has lost a great deal that was once valued by him or her, and may also be grieving! The bereavement minister can help the dying person find her or his hope, meaning, and assist in a good death and that should, in my opinion, be your focus.

Then there are the survivors, who are bereaved because they are anticipating losing or have already lost a loved one. While it would be naïve to try to persuade you that everyone who dies is a “loved” one we have to frequently admit that not everyone who dies is especially loved, or if loved, perhaps not very liked. This happens and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a lot of unfinished business and you’ll have to deal with it effectively.

While I’m not trying to dissuade or discourage you from responding to a calling, I do want to impress upon you that dying, death, grief, bereavement, mourning can be very, very complicated and you’ll have to do a lot of work learning about the subject matter. Dying, death, grief and bereavement may be as old as humankind itself and one of the most natural things that there is but it’s incredibly complex. Because of the complexity it can be intimidating, which is why it’s so easy to avoid thinking or talking about and so easy to deny.

The saying, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions” applies very precisely to many persons, with the best intentions, embark on a course of action for which they are ill-prepared, and consequently do a lot of damage. This is no place for doing damage and all the good intentions in the world cannot substitute for an ounce of good planning. As a bereavement minister you’ll have to learn all about yourself and your intentions before you step up to the plate, and attempt to provide support to others in crisis. You need to give some thought to what is motivating you to provide bereavement support and if that motivation is really more for you or for your helpees. It’s not uncommon for people to think they are responding to an altruistic calling, when in fact they are the unconscious focus of their efforts. That’s not to say that they don’t do a hell of a lot of good work despite that fact, but some can really cause problems. That’s why it’s so important to be honest with yourself and seek a couple hours of counseling, psychological or competent pastoral counseling, avoiding any sectarian or denominational emphasis, to ensure that you can be authentic and not self-serving.

So, for starters, I’d recommend you get your hands on a very helpful book published by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), Handbook of Thanatology: The Essential Body of Knowledge for the Study of Death, Dying, and Bereavement (link: Handbook), by David K. Meagher (Editor), David E. Balk (Editor). The book is a superb overview of death, dying and bereavement and should be on every bereavement minister’s desk. It covers just about all the essentials and has an extensive bibliography. Once you dive into the Handbook, you’ll initially have a sense of being overwhelmed with the scope of bereavement and its myriad manifestations and complications but as you acquire some experience, you’ll find it’s all quite natural.

In Clinical Pastoral Education we teach that the intentional ministry of presence is the essential activity of the bereavement minister. Just being present to hold a hand, give a hug, silent but there. That’s harder than you might think because most of us go through every phase of our lives making some sort of commotion, talking, not listening. But as a bereavement minister, silence, listening will be your greatest challenge.

Boundaries are something you need to explore and I can send you a good bibliography on boundaries in bereavement and crisis facilitation. One of the essential boundaries is that unless you have the credentials, you are not a therapist or a counselor, and as a bereavement minister you are not there to “fix” anything but rather to be an authentic and compassionate companion to the person doing the dying and the survivors.

Again, I’d refer you to ADEC’s professional Code of Ethics (link: Code of Ethics) for some idea of how to manage your conduct in various situations.

You are going to have to invest some time in taking some courses and one place I’d start is with the National Center for Death Education or NCDE (link: NCDE), which is located at Mt Ida College in Newton, MA. The NCDE offers a number of online courses, as well as a Certificate in Thanatology (death studies), which, if you do not have some sort of ministry or pastoral credential or qualifications in phychology, social work, counseling, etc., would almost be essential as a credential for your bereavement ministry. The NCDE also hosts an annual Summer Institute, which is a week-long event that brings in death specialists from practically all over the hemisphere, and features renowned experts in the field of dying, death, grief, and bereavement. You should contact Diane Moran, NCDE director, at dmoran@mountida.edu. You can mention my name when you contact her and let her know I recommended you. She’s a wonderful person and very, very helpful and knowledgeable. She’ll put you on the right path as far as initial credentials are concerned.

As I mentioned, the field is immense, and the learning is a challenge. Once you get the Handbook of Thanatology, you’ll understand what I mean. But please, don’t buy the book outright; it’s very expensive. Have your community library request it on interlibrary loan for you. Take it out for a couple of weeks and just peruse the chapters to get a feel for the field. It’s the kind of book that you can just pick a chapter and read it rather than one that you have to drag thru every chapter to have some continuity. Then, if it’s your cup of tea, purchase it as your desk reference.

In addition to Charles Corr’s article on A Task-based Approach to Coping with Dying (see below for details), I would recommend another of Corr’s articles articles, Dying and Its Interpreters (see below for details). I find the article is very informative and synopsizes much of the important work that has been done on dying over the past couple of decades. Pay close attention to the end of the article in the “Some Lessons to Draw from the Review”, which I find to be very helpful to students.

If you would find it useful, I can send you a short description of the Intentional Ministry of Presence, which describes being present to the dying and by extension to the survivors.

At this very early stage in your journey, it would be very difficult to provide anything more specific, since the field is incredibly wide and complex, and I’m not sure where you stand in terms of background, education, experience, etc. It all makes a difference.

You see, some faith or belief communities have very systematized doctrines on dying and death, while others treat it merely as a transition to something that follows temporal life. Christian and non-Christian traditions can have very complicated death practices, while others simplify the process to an embarrassing degree.


When life brings terrible storms our direction, we may react with anger, fear, depression, sadness, disappointment, and or disbelief. We may vacillate between these feelings until we come to terms with a solution or acceptance of our grief. The object of our grief maybe the loss of a love one, of a job, of a relationship or loss of security. Also, failure, crisis, divorce or any life changes may be substantial for grief. Remember this, healthy grief comes to a solution or acceptance, unhealthy grief is unresolved and may appear either as a psychological or physical illness.
“We walk in faith not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7


I guess the best way to proceed is to have an open-door policy, that is, once you have a look at some of the material and look at some of the literature, you’ll be better able to articulate what you want to do. I can’t stress enough that you must also be very well read in your own faith or belief tradition to competently apply it to offering hope and meaning to your brothers and sisters in your church community. One caveat: the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are fine as guidelines but to take them literally may cause problems; they must be read and interpreted in the light of the times and in the context in which they are applied. At the risk of seeming areligious or insensitive, the deathbed, the vigil, the funeral, the memorial is no place to start Bible-thumping or pushing Jesus on the bereaved; what they are looking for is meaning and hope in their faith both for themselves and for the dead loved one. Once they are dead, everything else we do is for the living.

So there you have some ‘random’ thoughts to digest. Please feel free to contact me any time if you have any questions or need any information.

Prayer is good only if it is invited; we can always pray silently even when not requested to do so. So let’s now close with a little prayer of faith, hope and love:

Let me know be firm in my faith as my end draws ever nearer.  When my time comes, let me depart this life peacefully, and join my family and friends, waiting for me on the other side, now more of them gone than remaining here below.  The sands of my time are running out…I am yours, Lord, now and forever, in faith, in hope, in love!  Please, please, hold me ever in Your heart.  Let their souls rise blazingly bright once more, and please receive them Jesus into shining and eternal glory with You! All this I pray to You My good Redeemer, in hope and confidence and burning ardent love. Amen.

Peace and blessings!
Chaplain Harold

Resources:

  • Corr, C.A. (1991). “A task-based approach to coping with dying”. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 24,81-94.
  • Corr, C.A., Doka, K.J., & Kastenbaum, R. (1999). “Dying and its interpreters: A review of selected literature and some comments on the state of the filed”. Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying, 39, 239-259.

As interfaith chaplains, it is becoming increasingly necessary to acknowledge the failures of institutionalized religions as regards the real and existential spiritual needs of their adherents and their conspicuous success in alienating them either by dismissing revered doctrines to court political correctness and decadence, or populating key leadership positions with careerists in lieu or pastors. The role of the interfaith chaplain/spiritual care provider is becoming more and more in demand as and educated public seeks and develops hybrid spiritualities from a plethora of faith and belief systems, making it necessary for the interfaith chaplain to become an interfaith scholar in order to competently and professionally serve the faith-unbound faithful. We are providing in this article an account of the plight of a Brooklyn family trying to find an interfaith chaplain who could competently and compassionately serve them.

It seems that it’s very difficult to find a competent, experienced, professional interfaith officiant in the New York Metropolitan Area. Even the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn reports that they frequently cannot fill the need for officiants at funerals and memorials.

The beautiful historic chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

The interior of the Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel. A beautiful venue for a beautiful service.

The family of a victim of violent death was searching in vain for an officiant for the memorial service and ennichement of their loved one and finally found Chaplain Harold Vadney, who initially deviated from protocol to compassionately provide a memorial service program for the family. The family was so impressed with the program and with the service and support they received from Chaplain Harold that they insisted he travel to Brooklyn’s historic Greenwood Cemetery to officiate the memorial service and the ennichement.

Chaplain Harold initially encouraged the family to take some time to think about their request and to consider the cost involved to bring him from Albany, New York, to Brooklyn. The family made their decision: they wanted Chaplain Harold.

Although the family insisted on the chaplain’s comfort when traveling and wanted to bring him in by train, the chaplain suggested rather that he travel by bus at less than a third of the cost of a train ticket and, noting Amtrak’s reputation for unreliability, suggested its was the most reliable mode of transport. Chaplain Harold’s slogan is: “I don’t waste my resources and I won’t waste yours.

Chaplain Harold made the trip and had the privilege of celebrating the memorial service,a special Christian-Muslim hybrid ceremony, and ennichement rites in the beautiful and historic Green-Wood Chapel to the family’s complete satisfaction.

For more information on the beautiful national historic site, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, please click this link: Green-Wood

“The administrative and support staff at Green-Wood couldn’t have done more to accommodate the family and the celebration; they were some of the most compassionate and helpful cemetery staff I have ever experienced!”, says Chaplain Harold.

Chaplain Harold Vadney is a professional bereavement chaplain and provides interfaith, non-denominational, and humanistic (non-religious) pastoral care services and funeral/memorial services in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Greene county region in central New York state, and travels to other areas to provide services to families in need. Chaplain Harold can be reached at compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com or through your comment on this blog.

Another Beautiful Service! Thank you! Chaplain Harold

Another Beautiful Service!
Thank you! Chaplain Harold

An essential asset to the mortuary services provider and to the consumer

New Article

Unity SymboldThe professional interfaith bereavement chaplain: an essential asset to the mortuary services provider and to the consumer

A straight – from – the – hip discussion of the state of affairs, solutions and recommendations by an experienced provider of professional interfaith bereavement services.

Abstract. This article presents an uncosmetized impression of the deterioration in quality of death services, and based on firsthand observations makes practical recommendations for improving the services provided to and requested by the bereaved and supportive of mourners. This article makes recommendations to the consumer as well as to the mortuary services provider, that include among other things: sensitivity to the spiritual needs of the mourner, addressing those needs with appropriate sensitivity, providing for those needs through the services of a competent professional bereavement chaplain. This article highlights not only the human-spirit aspects of dignified and personalized funeral and memorial services but also points out the considerable economies to be realized by both the consumer and the service provider by enlisting the support of an on – call professional interfaith bereavement chaplain. With the holistic interdisciplinary team approach advocated in this article, the insidious deterioration in care and support services can be deterred if not prevented by the mortuary services provider partnered with the on – call professional interfaith bereavement chaplain, and the necessary grief work, healing and transformation effectively nurtured.

While this article focuses in specific terms on providers and consumers of mortuary services, its principles and applications, and recommendations can be extended and generalized to any of the helping professions.

While this article attempts to address a number of points, which are high in priority to both the consumer and service provider, many points must necessarily remain unmentioned. With that in mind, we do encourage feedback and comment from our readers, and we invite you to provide your thoughts either by private e – mail to compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com or by using the comment feature on this blog.


Keywords: Funeral, memorial, mortuary services, funeral director, funeral home, grief, mourning, chaplain, pastoral care, spiritual care, officiant, helping profession


“Death is psychologically as important as birth. Shrinking away from it is both unhealthy and abnormal … because it robs the second half of life of its meaning and purpose.”
Ernest Becker

CONCLUSION

The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain is an important but frequently overlooked professional support person available to the funeral home as well as to mourners. As a professional member of the funeral home team the on-call or p.r.n. chaplain assumes the responsibility for the funeral and memorial service design, organization, coordination, execution, and follow-up, freeing the funeral home staff to concern itself with other important matters. As a highly trained, empathetic, authentic, facilitator and support person, the professional interfaith chaplain provides essential and necessary support to the bereaved and mourners, and forms a de facto therapeutic alliance with them, facilitating the grief work necessary to the healing and transformation process.

The on-call or p.r.n. chaplain virtually eliminates personnel, equipment and logistics overheads

On the more mundane side, the professional interfaith bereavement chaplain represents a cost-saving model for both the mortuary services provider and for the consumer of mortuary services. The on-call or p.r.n. chaplain virtually eliminates personnel, equipment and logistics overheads by being available for effective liturgical, spiritual, religious or humanistic services on site at the funeral home or mortuary services facility, practically eliminating the need for organizing and coordinating resources for complicated and costly movements of staff, equipment, remains, and mourners. The funeral liturgical service, the memorial service or other rites are done right at the funeral home. The chaplain processes then with the cortège directly to the cemetery or crematorium for the graveside, cremation, or columbarium rites.

The Funeral Home Staff Should Bear In Mind The Importance Of Spiritual And Religious Or Pastoral Care Support

In the context of the 21st century death and bereavement culture, the professional interfaith chaplain plays an enormously important role both to the funeral home or mortuary services provider and to the bereaved and mourners. Wherever possible, the funeral home staff should bear in mind the importance of spiritual and religious or pastoral care support to the bereaved and should impress the importance of such support to families when making funeral arrangements. Even if the bereaved do not list a religious or faith preference, even if they do not belong to or actively participate with a faith or belief community, they may have a significant religious commitment without even realizing it, and will benefit from the meaning-making and closure effects of a well-designed funeral or memorial service. It would be a disservice if funeral home staff and mortuary service providers were to ignore this important element of mortuary services.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Empirical observation supports the medical, psychiatric, psychological, pastoral care literature and the growing consensus that spiritual care, whether religious or non – religious, plays a significant role in the health and well-being of all sufferers, including the bereaved. Spiritual care supports the mourner in myriad ways both in the acute grief period into the grief work and mourning stages and well beyond. Spiritual care as offered by the professional interfaith bereavement chaplain represents a significant added value to the funeral home’s product offerings and further represents substantial tangible and intangible benefits to the insightful funeral services manager and his or her establishment.

Corresponding author
Chaplain Harold W. Vadney BA, [MA], MDiv
Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain
P.O. 422
New Baltimore, New York 12124 – 0422
e-Mail: compassionate.care.associates@gmail.com

Click here to view or to download the entire article: Interfaith Bereavement

Where Have All the Mothers Gone?

One of the Take-home Points of Genesis (Both Books of Genesis I & II read together, not separately) is the Distinction of Male and Female, and Their Naturally Different Roles in Creations.

Yes, this is a Pastoral Care blog and I want to make a clear statement at the outset that my vision of pastoral care is holistic and very straight-forward; those who are familiar with my preaching and writing know that I shoot from the hip with a penetrating accuracy. I tend to pick things that are right before our eyes, and illuminate them so you can’t deny them.

We as pastoral and spiritual care providers, clergy, chaplains, pastors, ministers, lay ministers and religious have been called—whether by the Holy Spirit or by another spirit—to serve as exemplary disciples and servant leaders—although, as you will see, some are in the self-service business of leadership, if their ministries can be called “leadership”. We not only teach and preach sacred scriptures but teach and preach morality and ethics, appreciation of tradition, and humility when it comes to questioning the mystery of what makes our faith communities.

Some more or less recent events have drawn attention to the role of women in today’s world, and how they have not managed very well to handle the roles they have precociously demanded, and how they have managed to make a travesty even of their natural prerogatives and functions.

While this blog appeals to and is read by a very broad spectrum of traditions ranging from Orthodox Catholic to Buddhist and Hindu spiritual care providers, and some of our readers will be women who will take extreme offense at what I am about to discuss, while others will strongly agree with my observations, I will ask at the outset that readers, both male and female,  bracket their personal agendas and cast a seeing objective eye on the world around them.

Lets begin with a couple of images:

Yes! You are not seeing things. They are Vaginas carrying signs.

Yes! You are not seeing things. They are Vaginas carrying signs.

Now, think for a moment. Here are a bunch of women dressed up in vagina costumes, parading around in public and representing their most intimate parts. Is there a spiritual statement that can be made on this image?

How about this going down Main St?

How about this going down Main St?

We’d like to think that human procreation is analogous to Divine creativity. Indeed, for thousands of years the woman has been celebrated, even worshipped as the Earth Mother, as the giver of life. So where did this go awry and the outrage of commercialized abortion come on the scene (which implies reasonably, a promiscuity that is unparalled in human history).

Very, very ugly.

Very, very ugly.

Some of us can actually remember when women had some self-respect.

Would I want my mother, sister, daughter includedin this bunch?

Would I want my mother, sister, daughter included in this bunch?

For thousands of years women have had very important roles in community and family, and in ritual cultic life, too. While the notion of women as “priests” has almost universally been the subject of prohibitions—whether for reasons of cultural paradigm, ritual purity, or doctrinal reasons (such as the teaching that women as officiants reminisces of pagan practices)—women are not content with being honored and worshipped as carriers of new life, heads of home and hearth, and maternal figures—in fact, they almost insist on making parodies, if not making complete monsters of themselfs (vide supra).

We tend to agree with one traditional Church spokesperson: Vatican says women priests a ‘crime against faith’. The ordination of women as Roman Catholic priests has been made a “crime against the faith” by the Vatican and subject to discipline by its watchdog. When I am confronted by “disgruntled” women who want to be priests in the RC Church, I remind them that it has been tradition in the RC church that only celibate men be sacramentally ordained; if women can’t accept that, perhaps they’re in the wrong place.

While some may say it’s an overgeneralization, it has been my personal experience that the women who have been ordained in Protestant and Calvinist (note the distinction!) are generally post-menopausal, loaded with baggage, have an extreme feminist agenda (in many cases they have had failed marriages or have been abused as children or adults), are misfits anywhere else. One classic example is the popular Britcom “Vicar of Dibley”, an anglican clergy woman who is lonely, unattractive, judgmental, severely troubled, and sex-starved. Ring a bell ladies?

What you see is not what you get!

What you see is not what you get!

One Presbyterian clergy-woman I trained with came to work with clerical collar and multiple hues of clerical blouse, tight-fitting clamdiggers, and heels or slippers. Another, a Canadian Anglican, came from an alcoholic home, was abandoned by her husband, overweight, smelled like a whorse, tended to get weepy when complaining of her “suffering”, liked to tell male clergy off. What is your spiritual assessment of these pictures? What is the message being sent? Reverence? Humility? Psychopathy? Discordance?

A real mixed bag of tricks!

A real mixed bag of tricks!

In the photo above, center, you see Joy Carrol Walls, the real-life vicar of Dibley. Show me the company you keep….

A woman [?] priest.

A woman [?] priest.

As for women lay religious a.k.a. “nuns”…You know, the powdered and painted women who dedicate themselves to Christ among other pursuits (they used to be called temple prostitutes in the past). No not the ones we remember in the religious habits who stuck to the convents, the hospitals and the schools; they’re now extinct! We’re talking about the ones we write about at Renegade Nun… (it’s a longish article but it makes my point).

The questions we should be asking ourselves as pastoral and spiritual care providers is why this depravity is happening. How has the situation deteriorated to the point where sacred tradition, human dignity, biological prerogatives, even nature has been cast to the winds and gender has become ambiguous and all but disappeared. Why is it that God has to be male or female? Can’t we agree that whatever you call the Divine, it is pure spirit, ethereal, and purest mystery? What have we gained by dragging down our Divine differences that imbue us with dignity, created male and female, and even dragging the Divine down to our decrepit and miserable level?

Where some deranged women’s groups today are complaining of abuse and disparagement based on sexism, we see a myopic one-sidedness. Never before in the history of humankind has the male been made so ridicuolous as he has been made in the American entertainment media, especially American sitcoms. Women have set out on a massive conspiratorial campaign to castrate and enthrall American males to the point of reducing them either to sex toys or absolute morons. And the American male is allowing this to happen. Why is that, I wonder?

Living the Stereotypes We've Created

Living the Stereotypes We’ve Created

Duality, Yin and Yang, male and female are complementary, not antagonists; why can’t we leave it at that. And as PC providers are we providing more artificial and artifactual Political Correctness than spiritual Pastoral Care? Which PC are YOU providing?

Meeting the Monster We've Created Face-to-Face The Editor

Meeting the Monster We’ve Created
Face-to-Face
The Editor

Chaplaincy Sunyata Before Chaplaincy Nirvana

I rather enjoy reading what some of the contemporary pundits of professional chaplaincy have to say about the current status of the professional chaplain and state of affairs IN professional chaplaincy as a healthcare discipline.

George! Do you really mean that?

George! Do you really mean that?

 In a recent posting on a popular forum for professional chaplains, a renowned personality, albeit from the podium of a branded accreditation organization, George Handzo, in a post “Lack of Integration for Chaplaincy is an International Issue” (that links directly  to his Handzo Consulting blog article) preaches some disputable notions about the profession and the burden of responsibility attaching to the community of professional chaplains (“we” per Handzo), and ipso facto to the individual professional chaplain.

In this posting I take issue with three of the venerable George’s distillations of statements made in two published texts cited by him (Wendy Cadge, Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine, University Of Chicago Press (2013) ISBN-13: 978-0226922119 and an article by Ian Macritchie appearing in the Scottish Journal of Healthcare Chaplaincy (not more specifically cited by Hanzo)).

While George Handzo is generally more or less on target in most of what he exposes to the professional community of [healthcare] chaplains, and while one cannot discount his allegiances, especially to the ACPE, he sometimes appears to preaching from his cathedra of laurels than from a more praxis-oriented position of insightful compassion for the frontline, in-the-trenches chaplain.

In general, I found his comments to be facially insensitive, almost indifferent to the actual obstacles facing the institutional chaplain, and he fails to note fairly that those obstacles have little to do with the professional chaplain but with the larger picture of institutional models and cultures, not the least to do with how we educate, train, and form the hierarchs running those institutions. Here my responses:

Handzo Point: “1. The responsibility for the lack of full integration and lack of growth of professional chaplaincy in health care rests mostly if not entirely with us as chaplains.”

This is placing an inordinate and unrealistic burden on the shoulders of professional chaplains and does not take into consideration the real fact that developments in both “professional” (viz. interfaith) as opposed to “denominational” chaplaincy, socio-cultural changes, and models of healthcare in the past half-century. Whereas prior to the most recent five decades chaplaincy was generally the purview of the ordained cleric or, in the hands of “religious,” it is now, like spiritual guidance, up for grabs, if you will, for just about anyone discerning a “calling” to serve the suffering. This, compounded by the problem of over-marketing of certification and the suspicion associated with the process. Some of that suspicion granted is pure envy and professional lassitude but some is factually based.

Yet another problem is posed by the fact that the practically inexhaustable availablity of unqualified volunteers being welcomed by ignorant volunteer coordinators with the blessing of indifferent institutional hierarchy is not even broached, despite the fact that it is an insidious affront to professional chaplaincy and its institutional and public image!

The decline in membership, rather active participation, in mainstream faith traditions, the aging of faith communities, the declining availability of qualified and formed clergy and religious, and the various popular theologies espoused by overzealous agendas have fostered, and nurtured, a climate of “apostolic missionary ministries” and programs, volunteer programs are the most culpable, that welcome the half-baked, baggage-laden, “chaplains” and pastoral care associates responding to nebulous “callings” into nursing homes and hospitals. Why? Not because professional chaplains (those with professional degrees, appropriate life experience, necessary acquired skills, and an understanding of the organization and dynamics of their chosen or preferred work environment) have shirked their duty of “evangelizing” hierarchy in institutions that would benefit from the ministrations of professional chaplains and well-organized pastoral care departments, but because the hierarchy is generally inculturated with the focus on institutional efficacy and efficiency in a fiscal, technical and regulatory sense, rather than in a customer-centered wholistic sense.

While I do not disagree that the chaplain, as a professional minister, bears some responsibility to guide and to educate institutional hierarchy, we are also inculcated with the notion of boundaries and avoidance of making and impression of overstepping, trespassing. We are admonished against proselytizing, evangelizing where inappropriate; so, too, we are admonished against proselytizing the important role of chaplaincy in an institution that feels expanding the gift shop has priority over providing the chaplain with a respectable space. This requires an attitude shift not in hierarchies that are focused on corporate business objectives but in the very early stages of education of the individuals who will later become the board members, the vp’s of quality, customer relations, public relations, etc.

Healthcare delivery models have changed. No longer is there the family physician or event the primary care physician at the bedside. The hospitalist model has taken the lead. In some respects this is good for chaplaincy because the chaplain has a finite number of physicians to deal with and a chief hospitalist to recruit to the cause, with whom to communicate, and from whom to gain access to the inner sanctum. Analogous models can be found in other institutions benefitting from the ministry of spiritual support such as jails, long – term care facilities, colleges, etc. Indeed, no amount of theology or scriptural studies, nor human developmental theory, nor spirituality and prayer discipline is of practical value when attempting to communicate and to work in such an environment.

The bottom line here is to first of all to access the decision-makers of the institution, to speak their languages (sometimes also their institutional dialects), and to make the impression of understanding the culture and the concerns (especially the institutional strategic mission and how chaplaincy plays an integral role in that mission) of hierarchy.

Handzo Point: 2.  To the extent that our status in health care is due to the lack of understanding by others of our capabilities and possible contributions, we need to bear full responsibility for that situation.”

Vide supra (the above is included here in its entirety by reference).

The status of the professional healthcare of the professional chaplain is that of a healthcare provider. Period. Again, I beg to disagree with the venerable George on the point that we (I am assuming George is referring to the community of professional chaplains) “bear the full responsibility for lack of understanding by others of our capabilities and possible contributions.” That statement is not wholly true and if not wholly true, is false.

Neither the individual chaplain nor the various corporate entities that claim to advocate for the individual chaplain can claim to bear full responsibility for the general, regional, and local understandings of attitudes towards the capabilities and contributions of chaplaincy. First of all, the statement is overly broad and overreaching in its scope. Acceptance of chaplaincy in general differs widely from locale to locale, from institution to institution. To homogenize this understanding to positively affect the overall acceptance and admittance of the role, competency and contribution of chaplaincy would be an almost impossible task. It would have to start at a national level, preferably in the form of recommendations, regulations, and legislation. This is, in fact, in the making when one considers more recent HIPA and JCAHO statements and provisions, and while I may rightly be accused of strong criticism of the various chaplain accreditation organizations, I do admit that they may have a role in a sort of lobbying activity to nudge legislators and key bureaucrats and other influential pundits of healthcare.

Again, I must make a point that chaplaincy can be advocated and promoted only early in the formation of the hierarchs or, in the alternative, with an organized authoritative presence in places where the hierarchs convene to discuss their agendas such as at conferences and congresses. If recognized authorities in chaplaincy–not branded accreditation schemes or representatives of such agendized operations–are admitted a place at the head table or on the discussion panel, then we may gain certain ingress to the minds of those hierarchs, and through those sacred spaces, to their institutions as bona fide healthcare providers.

Handzo Point: “3. We have failed to make the case about how we ’help address larger institutional issues’ or how dispensing with chaplaincy would be a ‘great loss to healthcare outcomes.’”

Again, I must take issue with this statement, and again, vide supra.

I take umbrage that venerable George uses the corporate “we,” or in the alternative that the “we” is intended generally to embrace the community of professional chaplains. Here, too, we cannot go where we are barred access or where we are not expressly invited. It’s a long haul to move beyond the first level caregivers (nurses, techs, support staff, even physicians) to get to the boardroom. Nor do most “chaplains” have the credentials with which to impress hierarchs that what the chaplain has to say carries reliable business weight.

Take, for example, the hospital: How many chaplains can say that they have an adequate knowledge of the structure and organization of the hospital? Or of the myriad regulations that affect the hospital? Is the hospital a too  complex example? Take, then, a prison, if you will. What does the generalist chaplain know about prisons? About the regulations affecting prisons and their operation? So, absent specific, specialist training in specific and particular institutions, how does the chaplain addresss “larger institutional issues?” Without such training, knowledge, experience how does the chaplain address “larger institutional issues?” Does the professional chaplain have to have a degree in theology, in pastoral care, in business administration, public administration, and social work to do that? Or, in the alternative, does s / he forge inter –  or multi – disciplinary networks or support resources to do that? Does the professional chaplain need to be the epitome renaissance person or just know how to finagle and kibutz?As to the suggestion that “dispensing with chaplaincy ‘would be a great loss'” I must comment that to experience loss you must first attach value to the thing lost. And so we make full circle.

But what is pristinely clear to me is the fact that, like efficacious chaplaincy itself, the response, if not the answer, lies in an early access to the core decision makers…

The basic question to be answered, far from heaping the burdens of responsibility on the community of professional chaplains, as George Handzo appears to be willing to do, we must ask ourselves: At which point and how do we inculcate the much touted holistic healthcare model (spirit, mind, body) in the hearts and minds of the seculars who call the shots? It’s a very complex question and, since chaplaincy is such a variegated ministry and the cultures in which the ministry is done are so myriad, I personally doubt that there is really one answer. But what is pristinely clear to me is the fact that, like efficacious chaplaincy itself, the response, if not the answer, lies in an early access to the core decision makers, effective formation of the decision makers, comprehensive education, training, and formation of professional chaplains (after an appropriate period of reflection and ongoing discernment), frequent, open, and affordable continuing formation for chaplains, and express support from mainstream denominations of the ministry of chaplaincy based on a spiritual rather than a traditional model.

If I commit the offense of overgeneralization by making the statement that in the past chaplaincy has been its own arch-enemy, I humbly apologize. But chaplaincy must advocate itself as a professional healthcare discipline both internally and ad extra.

If we fail to communicate or document “outcomes” might it not be the shortcoming of the CPE programs themselves and not of the product they churn out as “chaplains”?

Handzo continues his editorializing by noting the problem of outcomes in chaplaincy. According to Handzo, “We often still resist the idea that outcomes are something chaplains should have. We don’t have commonly understood sets of outcomes, we don’t train our students to work toward outcomes, and we often don’t document outcomes so other members of the health care team know what we do.” Again that ubiquitous, corporate “we,” that contributes only to the ambiguity of what Handzo is writing. Who is this “we?” It certainly cannot be the in – the – trenches professional chaplain, or can it, George? It also seems a bit misleading to hear an apostle of the CPE movement, a board member of the consulting firm Healthcare Chaplaincy and a past president of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), would make such a statement, especially in view of the reasonable prestige that Rev. Handzo allegedly has in the chaplaincy movement. If “we” have not established “commonly understood sets of outcomes,” and we “don’t train our student to work toward outcomes,” “and we often don’t document outcomes,” that is, we do not communicate to other members of the inter –  or multi – disciplinary team members, whose fault is that? Might it not be the shortcoming of the CPE programs themselves and not of the product they churn out as “chaplains.”

Handzo is describing a lack of community, a lack of consensus, a lack of fraternity among professional chaplains –  – could this be attributable to the plethora of competing “advocacy” or “standards” or “certifying” organizations and competing “outcomes”

Handzo continues, “I am convinced that one of our greatest barriers is our own infighting and the time we waste debating internally whether professional chaplains should have outcomes, demonstrate value, and have measurable outcomes. I find myself increasingly disinterested in engaging those questions.” I am appalled that a leader in the chaplaincy movement and a leader in the CPE movement should be “disinterested” (I am somewhat at a loss what Handzo intends to mean by “disinterested.” Does he mean “indifferent?” “Impartial?” “Dispassionate?”) in engaging such questions! It would seem that Handzo is describing a lack of community, a lack of consensus, a lack of fraternity among professional chaplains –  – could this be attributable to the plethora of competing “advocacy” or “standards” or “certifying” organizations and competing “outcomes.” I’m also having some difficulty with the notion of “outcomes” in spiritual support, and wonder where that one came from. Handzo conspicuously avoids any further elaboration of what are the outcomes to which we should aspire, or how we demonstrate value and to whom. I have not problem demonstrating value to the suffering nor demonstrating value to my contributions to staff education, institutional image, community outreach, service retention, etc. but my point is: How many readers understand these to be values to be demonstrated?

My further point is that Handzo fails to define his terms like “demonstrate value.” Measurable outcomes poses another problem. From the administrative, management point of view I can appreciate the the board or the corporate director for quality might be so limited as to grasp only PowerPoint depictions of measureable outcomes, metrics, etc. If that’s what Handzo is meaning, does that really fall on the lap of the in-the-trenches chaplain? True, the professional chaplain very frequently wears the administrative, managerial hat, too, of director of “pastoral care” (Ugghhhh!) but does the in – the – trenches provider have the time, energy, inclination to start recording “measurable outcomes?” I think not, especially when the professional chaplain, if the institution even has a professional chaplain, has the burden of impossible numbers of patients and the responsibility to triage who gets the visit and who doesn’t. There seems to be a serious disconnect between Handzo’s statement and the real world.

There are many saints that are locked out because of the rigor of artificial and ambiguous certification agendas; likewise, many individuals with more temporal than spiritual / apostolic aspirations gain access to sensitive precincts and cause much damage…

Regrettably, Handzo’s concluding statement: “I continue to rejoice that this is a large and growing group both in the US and abroad that I hope and trust will continue to make a difference in how spirituality is integrated into health care” does not lend much lucidity to what he attempts to share with us. In fact, it reveals a deplorable lack of sensitivity to the complexity of chaplaincy, especially when considering chaplaincy in terms of international models. Which group? The wannabe’s or the professionals? The branded certificated or the natural vocations? The international organizations’ membership censuses or the invisible ministers of spiritual support to the suffering. I’m not quite clear what Rev. Handzo’s point is, really.

There are many saints that are locked out because of the rigor of artificial and ambiguous certification agendas; likewise, many individuals with more temporal than spiritual / apostolic aspirations gain access to sensitive precincts and cause much damage. As impractical, even impossible as it may sound, we must self-police, inter-form, and inform each other as co-disciples, and then corporately police, form, and inform our target institutions. We can do this only if we are humbly authentic and emptied of self-interest and attachments. In other words, we much attain chaplaincy “sunyata” before we can attain chaplaincy “nirvana.”

plant in hand