Big questions…

...and two very different futures for chaplains

My new book, Spiritual Care: The Everyday Work of Chaplains, took longer to incubate than my children. My son was one and my daughter was not yet born when I started thinking about the future of chaplaincy. Today, they’ve just entered third and sixth grade!

The research for this book, which you can also read about at my own website, gave birth to the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab and the book itself offers the full intellectual justification for the work the Lab has been doing for the past four years.

Known problems; unknown people

It was in early interviews with the leaders of professional chaplaincy organizations across sectors that I realized

  • many were facing the same problems and challenges; and
  • most of them didn’t know one another.

This didn’t make sense to my efficiency-oriented brain. I wondered how to bring them together to talk and learn from each other. As the world has continued to change, questions about chaplaincy have become more urgent.  COVID, local congregational closures, more and more people who are not religiously affiliated, and broad societal polarization prove this.

The future: growth or decline?

In the book’s conclusion, I describe two very different paths for the future of chaplaincy – one of growth and one of decline. What happens may depend on how quickly and in what ways religious organizations are willing to change. This includes congregations, national religious bodies, and theological institutions. Organizational leaders should think broadly and boldly; to take the risks and make the changes needed now to fulfill their missions not today but ten years from now.

Big questions for chaplains

I ask big questions in the book and urge you to read it because we will only come to the best strategies and plans when we continue to think and work together. If you have limited time, skim the introduction and read the conclusion carefully; check out the teaching and other resources here, including discussion questions and possible assignments for small groups. 

Image promoting event launching Wendy Cadge book on present and future of chaplaincy

How chaplains can help shape their future

Talk to stakeholders and funders in your communities; the financial support and business model for spiritual care of the future has not yet been built. Write to me and Michael Skaggs with your ideas about how you can help build the demand-focused spiritual care essential for the future. 

I am grateful to all of the chaplains who talked with me and allowed me to shadow them. I’m thankful for librarians and research assistants who helped me in an archive, organized documents, copy-edited, and so much more. 

A special thanks to Michael Skaggs, who has been my partner in all things chaplaincy since 2017. We met then at a maritime meeting in Connecticut that included port chaplains. The analysis and synthesis in the book is mine. The stories about chaplains – which are the heart of it – are yours.

With continued gratitude, 


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Wendy Cadge, PhD is Director of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab as well as Barbara Mandel Professor of Humanistic Social Sciences and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis University.

Book launch in - person event