From December 11th to the 13th, the Fetzer Institute hosted a small gathering for the Lab to talk about the current and future state of chaplaincy and how we might move into this future state together. We’re grateful for Fetzer’s generosity and hospitality in hosting this vital conversation. One year in, the Lab remains in a state of becoming and these conversations helped us see several things more clearly:
- American religious life and many of the ways people find and create meaning are changing, and will continue to change, largely away from traditional churches, mosques and synagogues and into more flexible forms. Many of the ideas coming from these institutions are powerful but their delivery systems are out of date in today’s spiritual and religious ecology.
- Chaplains have always had another (better?) delivery system. They meet people where they are, as they are, and they journey with them at different points in their lives. If the survey we conducted in March 2018 is correct and 20% of Americans had contact with a chaplain in the last two years, chaplains are uniquely positioned to be the voices and vessels of love and compassion and are quietly connecting with more people across the country than we might think.
- As we think about the work of chaplains, we *must* start with demand. Where are the skills of deep listening, presence, bridging communities, improvisational ritual and others needed in today’s world? I see this demand today in so many places – among people being detained by ICE and their families, in people of all ages who are socially isolated, among those (people and pets) facing the end of their lives and those journeying with them, and in too many of us focused on what my Dad calls “doing” rather than “being.” In some of these places there is actual demand for chaplains. In many more there is a demand for the work that skilled chaplains bring. Too much talk about chaplains focuses on supply (how to train them, how to credential them, etc.) rather than on how they are meeting demand and how we can scale those innovations that are working.
- Finally, the word “chaplain” works for some people and institutions in this conversation. It opens up opportunities for this work in places like the military, healthcare and corrections that have long had chaplains and understand who and what they do. In other settings like tech companies, among millennials, and in less traditionally religious geographies the language of chaplain is too old fashioned and shuts down possibilities. We are never going to find the perfect language and – to do this work well – must be able to code switch or describe it in different ways to different audiences much as the best chaplains do in their day to day work.
We’re grateful for Fetzer’s hospitality and generosity!