Volume 22
Number 6
The Forum issue of Association of Professional Chaplains

A Message from APC President… Oct 2020

APC President Joseph Perez MDiv BCC

The following is a transcript of the President’s speech given during the APC 2020 Annual Membership Meeting.

I’d like to begin today by saying a big “Thank you” to the membership of APC for allowing me to lead this bold group of professionals. You have demonstrated this boldness this very year by your willingness, through great risk, to go into life’s most uncomfortable places to practice the art of professional spiritual care. I am honored beyond words to walk this year’s journey with you. I appreciate Pat and the APC national office team; you have led and maneuvered this economic crisis with great effectiveness and you have stepped up to create virtual community as the country – for safety reasons – pushed everyone towards isolation. I know we are not out of the woods yet, but I have experienced your competency to adapt to change and it gives me great faith in the APC’s future health. You are a joy to serve beside. Board, you too, do amazing work and I am privileged to work beside you. The future of APC is in good hands. There are so many “thank you’s” that I could spend my entire time doing so. But for now, I will share one more, and that is for Sylvia, my life partner and forever supporter; you are essential to my holistic health as a person, a husband, a father and a professional chaplain. I am graced beyond my wildest dreams having you in my life.
Now, with more gratitude than I can possibly express verbally, let me move on to some other things I’d like to say today.
Some of you know that I like to hike. There is something about being on the trail that grounds me to life and the universe. Last November, some lifelong friends and I hiked the Grand Canyon. On the third morning as we were hiking along the Colorado River, I was struck by the beauty of the canyon and reflected on my eventual death and wonded, “when I die will my spirit be set free to return back into this beauty of the universe as a way of returning to the Holy.” It brought tears to my eyes. Thinking of dying reminds me that life is a journey and we are limited in our time here on earth. I like hiking because it makes me ponder the journeys I’m on. As I am sitting here in front of my computer station speaking to you all over the country because of the coronavirus pandemic, I’d like to reflect a few minutes on how I see our profession as a journey also. Think back to the essence and genesis of your professional chaplaincy journey. Where did it begin for you? What were the passages or channels that brought you to where you are now?
I like what Henri Nouwen wrote about passages as we think about the multiple journeys we make within a life time, he writes:
When we are born we make a passage from life in the womb to life in the family. When we go to school we make a passage from life in the family to life in the larger community. When we get married we make the passage from a life with many options to a life committed to one person. When we retire we make a passage from a life of clearly defined work to a life asking for new creativity and wisdom.
There are many passages in one’s personal and professional life, and some are marked with anchor experiences illuminating what is most valuable in our life. I remember one such experience as I was being called to into the ministry, which led me to professional spiritual care. This story really does mark a foundation of my philosophy and calling into professional chaplaincy. When, at age 21, I became aware that ministry rather than business was going to be my professional track, I had to tell my dad, an agnostic business man, that I was not joining him in business. I was worried how he might respond, for we had had some uncomfortable conversations about faith and belief in the past. To my surprise he responded mostly out of concern saying, “Joey, you cannot save the world.” My response is etched in my mind, “I know dad, but I can make the part of the world I live in better.” Thus, my trail of professional ministry began.
I also remember Seminary and my first unit of CPE – a summer unit in the parish where I learned of chaplaincy. This was the spark that gave me a clear direction, because parish work did not feel like a good fit. Thus, I engaged in seven more units of CPE in a variety of health care settings, all leading to my first full-time chaplaincy position with hospice. There, the hospice philosophy furthered my professional spiritual care education and engrained in me the concept of holistic care, and (though I couldn’t articulate it at the time) the practice of holistic community care.
As you already know, holistic care is the context that gives the practice of professional spiritual care its value.  If an organization has as its goal the holistic care of its team and/or the care-recipients it serves, a professional chaplain/spiritual care provider becomes essential to their model of service.  Holistic community care is grounded in every professional in the organization practicing holistic care with each other, so we naturally practice it with our care-recipients. This parallel process needs a champion and advocate within the organization’s structure to highlight and articulate its value and call the whole team to participation. I found the leader role kind of thrust on me when I began with hospice. I was the chaplain, a member of the interdisciplinary team and not its leader, mind you. Yet, the leaders and team members looked to me for insight in building our holistic community and I did so by practicing professional chaplaincy skills. Most of you are already practicing as a holistic community specialist in your role as a professional chaplain. I believe this niche in the markets where we serve can be developed if we perform competently and are able to articulate how holistic community is foundational to the whole health of the organization where we are serving and the organization’s service to the community. Our profession has everything to do with integrating our chaplaincy and work place’s resources with the broader community resources to build a better place where we live.  Therefore, if you are not already doing so, consider in your role as a professional chaplain the practice of holistic community specialist.
This opportunity to serve as holistic community specialist can happen on many levels. These levels are illustrated in my faith tradition’s exhortation to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I interpret “witnesses” to mean “servants”, professional spiritual care servants to be specific. We begin where we are and broaden our influence as we have opportunity. This is done with a servant’s heart, not to seek power. At the same time, we do use our power/authority as the late President George H. W. Bush quoted, “there is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people.” With our hearts open to serving, opportunity will begin to come to us like Rumi’s poem (he wrote):

I know that God will give me my daily bread…
When I run after what I think I want,
My days are a furnace of distress and anxiety;
If I sit in my own place of patience,
What I need flows to me,
And without any pain.
From this I understand that
What I want also wants me,
Is looking for me
And attracting me;
When it cannot attract me
Any more to go to it,
It has to come to me.
There is a great secret
In this for anyone
Who can grasp it.

So, what does it look like for a professional chaplain to engage the role of holistic community specialist?  It always begins with serving the care-recipients in our direct care, this is the foundation and all other care builds from this service. BCC’s excel at the practice of professional clinical chaplaincy with the individuals in their care. The BCCI commission continues to mature the certification process to serve the goal of holding up the qualifications and standards for professional chaplains, while also shepherding the confirmation process to affirm and initially verify spiritual care professionals who will champion and advocate for care-recipients and their families.
Next, the chaplain’s journey as holistic community specialist naturally includes service to the community of colleagues with different disciplines we work beside, and to seek the holistic health of the organization as well. Let me say this again, there is a natural parallel process that goes along with caring for our colleagues and building community among them. When the professionals and leaders within an organization practice being holistic with each other, the culture of the organization through its individual team members will naturally practice the same with care-recipients. For the holistic community specialist, the organization’s well-being is always included in the professional chaplain’s care. The professional chaplain uses every influence to make it a better place for all: care-recipients, families, staff, community members and leaders. We do this as shepherds, prophets and shamans in professional life – using the role that best serves the circumstances. Some examples of this work in our organizations are:

All that I have spoken about to this point is the Jerusalem in my holy text’s exhortation.
So, what comes next in this journey is moving out into Judea and Samaria. The professional chaplain as holistic community specialist also engages the broader community where they serve by looking for ways to integrate the professional spiritual care resources and organizations resources to assist in the community becoming more whole. So, this expansion of our influence moves beyond our organization into the cities and counties and regions where we serve, (for me this is Harlingen and Brownsville TX, along with Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley TX). Connecting resources to needs where they fit in the broader community is the goal. Some examples of this are:

And finally, there is the professional chaplain as holistic community specialist’s journey “to the ends of the earth”. This is like the foreign missionary trying to make the world a better place representing an ecclesiastical structure. First, let me say, APC is and has been a holistic community for me. You, the APC holistic community make me a better professional chaplain than I could have ever become on my own. In my theology, you are an agent of the Holy for that very purpose. I remember in my certification interview (in 1998) when the committee turned their attention to ask about my self-care. I felt connected to this new group of colleagues and safe enough to be vulnerable about my challenges. Right then, APC became my professional home, and ever since has allowed me to connect to chaplains all across the country for my professional good, continuing to make me a better chaplain so I could help the community where I serve be a better place (over 28 years now). For example, Alex in Idaho taught and gave me years ago his presentation about “Pastoral Clichés” and I continue to teach it to the local religious community two or three times a year. And there’s Alan, the presenter for my certification interview; he and I became fast friends making sure we met up every annual meeting to catch up and talk shop, as well as having phone contacts throughout the year. And one more, my APC colleague, former CPE supervisor and friend Bob, who was a great help to me when I became the leader of a spiritual care department that has a CPE program. Bob received several calls from me and assisted me with the challenges of this new-found leadership. He also introduced and encouraged me to consider APC board leadership opportunities.

From this benefit, the APC holistic community created a spiritual reciprocity in me, and I wanted to give back to this wonder-filled profession of chaplaincy and the APC, and maybe you can see this in yourself. This journey of serving the APC as a holistic community specialist has been mostly a joy with challenging times mixed in. We have all had to work harder this year as the Covid-19 pandemic changed our practices and forced us into isolation. At that time, the APC built virtual platforms where our community could gather through town halls or professional support sessions. Though we did not get to meet in Cleveland this year, we continued to meet on-line and are here today. And later in this meeting, we will celebrate the newly board-certified chaplains from the past year. Our need for the holistic community of APC will continue to grow as we learn together how to serve and help to heal our communities from the traumas of the pandemic experiences. And holistic community is exactly what is needed everywhere there is social and racial unrest, and leadership will be needed to advocate for dignity and respect to every person in every encounter. Finally, I am very excited about our continued journey with our strategic partners (ACPE, NAJC, NACC & CASC) to build sturdier relationships and a more resilient holistic community, for there is no doubt we are stronger together than separate. These relationships with our strategic partners in holistic community will assist us as we face the ever-changing world now and into the future. All of us have a role in making APC and professional spiritual care better. I want to encourage you, as holistic community specialist, to initiate, innovate and integrate the gift of your professional chaplaincy where you serve, and then with the broader community where you serve and finally with the APC to the ends of the earth.

Once again, I thank you so much APC family for all your support throughout the years and for allowing me to serve beside you.  It is truly an honor.  And I look forward to creating holistic community with you now and into the future.

Joseph Perez MDiv BCC is the Vice President for Mission & Ministry at Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen & Brownsville, TX. He serves as President of the APC Board and may be contacted at president@professionalchaplains.org.


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