2023 APC President’s Address

APC President’s Address
by Rev. John Simon MDiv, MTS, BCC

The following is the text of APC President, John Simon’s remarks delivered to the attendees of the Grand Banquet at the 2023 APC Annual Conference on Saturday, June 24, 2023, in Houston, Texas.

We are blessed here at the Association of Professional Chaplains. (Give yourselves a hardy round of applause! Because we made it!


I’m reminded of an old African spiritual that says, ‘My soul looks back and wonders, how I got over.’

As I look back over the last 3-years since COVID, my soul looks back and wonders how we got over. 

This is the first time we’ve been able to safely share ‘the air’ of sacred space in conference physically together.  It is both a mercy and a most beautiful thing that we are still here, still standing. 

When my soul looks back:

  • I can still see the fear on faces wondering what was sweeping the world’s landscape taking generations away in its wake.
  • I can still hear the shaky voices of so many speaking of the hardships of sleeping away from home to protect loved ones from uninvited COVID-19 visitors 
  • I recall the chore of stripping, that is changing clothes in the garage or at the front/back door, bagging and dumping them in the washer, showering immediately afterward or being ‘Lysol-ed-down’ to calm frayed nerves of loved ones.
  • I remember the ‘straight talk’ of medical colleagues in creating last wills and testaments, just in case. 
  • I remember changing gears in my dress. Exchanging suits and ties for blazers,  scrubs and clogs.  

When my soul looks back:

  • The first, second and third times I caught COVID. Ash Wednesday of 2020–that lasted 6-months. When I received my booster that brought symptoms that lasted 6-months. And the 3rd time—over the 2022 holidays. Always wondering what will my life be like. Would I ever get my strength back?
  • I remember learning how to don and doff PPE to go into COVID+ pt rooms.
  • I still remember the starts and stops of hybrid pt visits; IPADS, Zoom calls and meeting too many families in the Lobby escorting only a few to see their loved ones for the last time thru the glass or at the bedside; in white bunny suits being cautioned not to touch—an almost impossible task.
  • I recall never being able to fully adjust to breathing in/out of the N95s and surgical masks.

When my soul looks back:

  • I can still remember rounding on patients and staff–walking the corridors filled with pts on vents lying on their chests;
  • I can still see bedsides empty of family and loved ones.
  • I can still see many houses of worship closing their doors.
  • I remember ZOOM celebrations of life.
  • I remember the absence of repasts, the hugs, tears, food and fellowship moments—making the work of grief much harder. 
  • I remember and am still recovering from the exhaustion and the exhilaration of the renaissance and re-discovery of spiritual care providers in many spaces and our vital roles going places where other leaders dared to tread.
  • I remember wondering if and when it would ever be over? Where was the bright side? What would a new-normal look like?

But here we are. Still here by grace and mercy. Tested but Stronger. Weathered but Wiser. 

Some gifts come to us oddly wrapped. During the past 3years, there were many lessons gifted to us at the back door of our sufferings. Lessons learned:

  • We are stronger together 
  • We can disagree without being disagreeable
  • It’s kind to be kind (or as my mother would say, ‘it’s just nice to be nice.’

Lessons learned:

  • We can validate other’s feelings without agreeing with them.
  • We can help build a better world by acknowledging our unique differences and divergent perspectives yet bond over the essential things we have in common.
  • We can disagree without caustic discourse that demonizes and degrades, and divides, if we choose to rise to the occasion.

Or as African-theologian Augustine is believed to have said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

This is by far what resonates with me as President of our organization. 

And in these moments, I am also reminded that our future is ahead of us not behind us.

What should we be proud of facing the future? (Just four things—to respect our time not repeating issues shared in my previous Presidential messages.)

  1. Our new strategic plan with its five pillars to reset, refocus and remember  who we are; what is our purpose—discerning where do we go from here.
Member EngagementProfessional AdvocacyBCCI CertificationStrategic PartnershipsAnti-Racism

We should be proud of our strategic plan as we push and pull together in the same direction to make it happen. Especially here on the home soil of my birthplace. In this week of Juneteenth, where we remember slavery having been legally ended, but the conspiracy of silence and lies in Texas kept the truth of freedom a secret for two years keeping many of our African ancestors gripped in the vice of chattel slavery.

I’m glad we are here in Texas at this auspicious time as many remember and celebrate the history and history-makings of African-Americans. Because many love our rhythm but not our blues. Yet it is indisputable, we helped build this great this great nation and democracy of ours, that remains under threat to this very hour.

But I’m so glad to be part of APC, an organization filled with freedom-loving folks of good will, who are committed to being known by what we do, not by what we just say on paper.

Our internal efforts to root out racism and bias in our organization has never been more focused. We are working to ensure fairness, equity and justice minimizing racist-tendencies, and cultural conditioning in our certification and ethics processes.

We should be proud of our new strategic plan.

What should we be proud of facing the future?

It has been said, “if one is blessed, build a longer table not a taller fence.”

  • I am humbled to announce we have initiated the first Common Council. The creation of “a new table.” Not a merger nor acquisition. But first among equals.

The hope is creating  a new atmosphere of collaboration where chaplain membership organizations in the eco-system of spiritual care will endeavor to collaborate in good faith as communities within community. (No one entity owns or speaks for the entire eco-system of spiritual care. No one.)

We need a Common Council—a new Table!

Gone are the days of rancor and disrespect. That game of “I’m the king of the hill and no-one can knock me down”—is reserved for the playground.”

It is to our mutual benefit to respect, invite, welcome and journey together on issues of common agreement and concern that impacts our future. Working together works!

We need a Common Council—a new Table! Because a ‘try’—beats ‘a no-try’ any day.’

We should be proud that 18 chaplaincy membership groups have consented to accept the invitation to have a seat at this “new table.” At this “new table” all voices are heard, valued and respected with a rotating-Chair for each meeting being passed around to those who have the desire and organizational bandwidth to host future virtual gatherings. Working together works as we discuss, discern and decide; digging deeper into addressing real issues of common concern guided by the spiritual tenants of honor, love, justice and mutual respect.

As Big Momma said in the movie, “Soul Food” teaching a lesson at the dinner table. She raised her hand and said, “separately these individual fingers are nothing—but balling up her fist, Big Momma said, “but together they can strike a mighty blow.

This Grandma theology speaks of unity in community within eco-system of spiritual care.”

This is the strategy of the Common Council. Many were invited—3/4 accepted.

These are they who have said yes to participating in the Common Council:

Association of Clinical Pastoral Education

Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies (AREB)

Canadian Association for Spiritual Care

Clinical Pastoral Education International (CPEI)

College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP)

Islamic Society of North America: Chaplaincy Services

Military Chaplains Association (MCA)

Muslim Endorsement Council Inc.

National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC)

National Association of Veteran’s Affair Chaplains (NAVAC)

Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC)

National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces

National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains (NIBIC)

Pediatric Chaplains Network (PCN)

Presbyterian Federal Chaplains

World Spiritual Health Organization (WSHO)

I still believe that African proverb that I use in every area of my life. To go fast—go alone. But to go far—go together.

The goal is build a longer table—not a taller fence to keep others out.

May we at APC be known for who we include—not those we exclude!

Our future is bright!


What should we be proud of facing the future?

3) APC is leaning into innovation. We are working to adapt and be inclusive; we are looking for ways to do what we do, but better.  From launching a new website; to taking the BCCI Application process digitally.

APC is not shying away from what we can do and how we can improve. 

APC is in talks with educational institutions that are working on new paths for chaplains to entire into this important profession.

APC is energized with new ideas and programs that are reflected in the strategic plan.  

APC is exploring new relationships and partnerships with groups we have not previously worked with. 

A more formal announcement will be shared at the proper time. But this is Good News!

Why do they want exclusive partnership with the Association of Professional Chaplains? (I’m glad you asked.)

Because our members and leaders have demonstrated:

  • value in workspaces;
  • professionalism and grace under fire
  • creativity and innovation in our organization to make our best better.

What should we be proud of facing the future?

And fourth and finally: 

Our relationship with our Strategic Partners, though tried in the fire and tested, remains strong. With time, distance, respect for autonomy and understanding how business decisions are made—we have worked behind the scenes rebuilding frayed relationships.

Thank you Shawn Mai and Csaba Szi-la-gyi for taking my calls. I enjoy the mutual-sharing, the real-talk, the mixing it up on our ZOOM calls and check-in texts to move our relationship forward.


APC Friends and Colleagues; it’s because of all ya’ll—that these four strategic steps are possible.

There are no big ‘I’s’ or little ‘you’ here. There are different kinds of smarts. Everybody is somebody in APC.

And what about our rock-star national office staff that makes it and easy to serve as a labor of love.

So please rise on your feet, if you can, put those hands together and give yourselves what you so greatly deservea standing ovation because:

We are still here.

We are stronger together

And our future is bright!

Give your neighbor a high-five—tell them. We’ve still here. Still standing.

Our future is bright!