I wear a little pin on my employee identification badge that says “Chaplain,” but I don’t get much chance to make a typical chaplain visit these days.
This is not because I don’t still love those one-on-ones. In fact the sacredness of those visits is what led me into Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) supervisory training 20 years ago, and what motivates me still to fight administrative battles as the director of the Center for Spiritual Care at the Cleveland Clinic – so I can help insure that my team of chaplains gets to keep doing great work.
The Cleveland Clinic is one of the largest (58,000 employees) and highest-ranked healthcare systems in the world. I oversee a staff of chaplains, holistic nurses and family liaisons who help with the reams of paperwork at a death. I also oversee a now robust CPE program. For the first time in the clinic’s history, we have three ACPE (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education) Certified Educators (formerly known as Supervisors), one of whom is a Rabbi. We also have our first Muslim chaplain on the team, and he also is training to become an ACPE Educator.
Now, as board chair of ACPE: The Standard for Spiritual Care and Education, I have my hands more than full. I have a new association with the words, “my cup runneth over.” I often ask myself, “How did I get here?” The truth is, I have simply tried to be obedient to the call God placed on my life when I was five. It has never really dimmed.
It surely wasn’t a call to the specifics of what I’m doing now…because most of what I’m doing didn’t exist in the 1960s. But I have always tried to take up the next challenge that seemed somehow to have my name on it. I’ve tried to do what I advise my students and staff: Just do the next right thing and try to do it right. This has all meant I have gotten farther and farther from the daily work of a chaplain, and I miss that holy work.
However, most days I feel really grateful that I can work at a level, both in my paid day job at the clinic and my volunteer work for ACPE, that helps advance professional chaplaincy both locally and globally. I’m truly blessed to be able to serve in both these capacities and I truly believe that the need for this type of ministry will only continue to grow. “Organized” religion may be on the decline, but the need for spiritual care and guidance, especially in places of inherent crisis, is not. I have heard (but not personally researched) that more people entering seminary now are expressing a desire to entire chaplaincy than parish work.
Being in the roles I’m in now allows me to help set the course for how spiritual care in healthcare will be perceived and performed in the future. The Cleveland Clinic is a trend-setter and what we do gets noticed. I have the privilege of teaching medical students as well as chaplaincy students now. So on the days I miss the one-on-one visits with a patient, where I’m free to listen to their story for as long as they want to tell it, I just tell myself I’ll make a good volunteer chaplain when I’m retired.
Amy Greene is director of the Center for Spiritual Care at the Cleveland Clinic and an Alliance-endorsed chaplain.