Rabbi Rochelle Robins is the Vice President, Dean of the Chaplaincy School, and Director of Clinical Pastoral Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion California. She works with the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab on the Educating Effective Chaplains project identifying the key competencies and teaching methods for training the next generation of chaplains.
Michael Skaggs, Director of Programs, interviewed Rabbi Robins for this article.
Q: What most excites you about the field of chaplaincy?
A: Human beings heal and transform through connections with one another. Even when a cure isn’t possible, the possibility of healing remains viable through relationship. Biology has proven that plants and animals endure more strongly and propitiously when in connection with one another. Human beings share this same need. The connection, support, and clinical expertise that chaplaincy provides assists people in cultivating deeper connections and meaningful experiences as they undergo a life transformation or a series of them. The word clinical doesn’t connote anything dry or lifeless. On the contrary, as people cling to religious and spiritual leadership, even as the world leans towards challenges with organized religion, it is the clinical education and immersion that cultivates the skill and sensitivity of the chaplain to match their compassion and concern. In this world where innumerable individuals experience gaps in connection, it is encouraging that the field of chaplaincy is becoming more widely available to serve those in need.
Q: What do you see as challenges to the field at present?
A: What concerns me is also what I appreciate. It’s paradoxical. On the one hand, the field of chaplaincy is becoming more standardized and professionalized. This creates rules, boundaries, and ethical standards for the professional to follow, thus protecting the care seeker. On the other hand, the boundaries, standards, documentation, bureaucracy, and financial requirements challenge the creativity, time spent providing the care, and the inclusion of others who don’t have access to the resources to join the professionalized system. For me it’s not a question about having requirements. These are necessary and prevent religious or other abuses from taking place in the field. At the same time, I grapple with this question: How we can build and maintain standards without causing ultimate harm to serving the needs of the human spirit for connection without drying up the spirit of the chaplain or educator? I would like to see more time and resources spent confronting the issues of bureaucratic challenges and reducing the aspects of its negative impact.
Q: How can educators respond to the pandemics both of COVID-19 and systemic racism?
A: Intentionally designing curricular components that amplify the exploration of diversity, equality, and inclusion to the educational process is essential. Creating a safe environment to explore/confront our biases is just as essential. Students benefit from preparing themselves for meaningful self-introspection, reflection, and a group process that promotes personal accountability within complex systems of disparity and oppression. And in the same breath, it is important to explore where we are empowered to create opportunities for compassionate, persistent, and transformative individual and systemic change. How can we necessitate change while uplifting what is hopeful all in the same moment?
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Rabbinic text reminds us to “Know Before Whom We Stand.” In short, we are reminded to conduct ourselves compassionately, kindly, and respectfully according to the needs and characteristics of the individual and community in our presence. So too, in the field of chaplaincy, it’s important to meet people on their own terms and without personal, religious, or spiritual agenda. We know before whom we stand as the result of what people share about themselves with us, not because we mold them into what we want them to be. The chaplain earns a sacred role to listen, assess, and respond to others from the heart. Is there a text or saying in your tradition that promotes this same idea?
Calling all researchers, chaplains and educators to better prepare spiritual caregivers!
The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab networks with leaders who are working on research and educational projects in a range of settings.
Participants report on their projects through the Lab’s monthly newsletter and social media. If you’re working on an empirically-based research project about chaplaincy or spiritual care, consider affiliating with us.
Join us! Learn more here.