Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains

Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains

Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains is intended to shape our practice, improve our chaplaincy care, and help us tell the story of professional chaplaincy to others.  They will additionally give focus to professional development and goals for chaplains. The standards also briefly describe our work to those outside the profession and help differentiate it from amateur facsimiles thereof.

Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains


Having Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains (SOPs) helps chaplains communicate with other disciplines, our administrators, as well as with ourselves, about what types of services we should expect from professional chaplains. Different in scope and application from the Common Standards for certification and the Code of Ethics, the purpose of the SOPs is not to replace either of these, but rather to serve as an additional tool to help ensure a consistently high clinical practice for our profession.

In 2009, APC affirmed, and invited the boards of other chaplain organizations to join them in affirming, Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains in Acute Care. In subsequent years, SOPs for long-term care, and then for hospice and palliative care were developed and affirmed.

In 2014, the time had come for the APC Quality in Chaplaincy Care Committee to review the Standards of Practice (SOP) for Professional Chaplains in Acute Care, which had been created in 2009. As plans were being made for this process, it was determined that that all three SOP documents – Acute Care, Long-Term Care, and Hospice and Palliative Care— were similar enough that they should be integrated into one document that could be utilized by all disciplines within professional chaplaincy. So in January of 2015, the Integrated Standards of Practice Task Force was created, and consisted of board certified chaplains from acute care, hospice and palliative care, mental health, pediatrics, long-term care, military, VA and workplace specialty areas.

In summer 2015, a draft of the integrated SOPs was developed and was presented to the public and the chaplaincy profession for comment. Comments were reviewed and considered, and changes made to the SOPs. Then, in November 2015, the APC Board of Directors affirmed the Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains, which are presented on this site. In addition, the APC board has recommended the peer review process for board certified chaplains center on these standards. The governing boards of chaplaincy cognate groups are invited to join APC in affirming them.

The Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains document that uses language that can be interpreted in many different settings. Where this is most evident is the use of the term “care recipient.” In a hospital setting, the care recipient would likely be a patient or family member; whereas in a prison setting, the care recipient would be an inmate or guard.

Another example of the integration can be found in Standard 3, Documentation of Care. The task force realized that chaplains, depending on their specialty areas, have many different expectations of how they chart or document their work. So, instead of using language like “medical record” or “personal record,” Standard 3 now reads: “The chaplain documents in the appropriate recording structure.”

In addition to the inclusive language, two new standards of practice were created. Standards 14 and 15 cover the areas of technology and business acumen. Both of these standards reflect the changes that have occurred in professional chaplaincy just since 2009, and will encourage chaplains to stay current with the growing trends in technology and in the business aspects of the industry in which they serve.

There are many benefits to having one integrated Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains document. First, it will eliminate the need for new SOPs to be created for every specialty area. Moreover, realizing that there is still a need for resources to help define the SOPs for our different contexts, in the months to come, separate task forces for the various specialty areas will be created to develop context-specific materials that will be compiled in an appendix to the official SOP document.

A second benefit is that it now enables any chaplain in need of utilizing the SOPs to begin using them immediately, without having to wait until a task force is created for their specialty to develop their own SOPs. In short, whether you use the SOPs for your own goal setting or to promote professional chaplaincy in your organization, they now speak to any specialty setting without having to redefine terms to speak the language of your context.

Finally the integrated SOPs now allow chaplains to have one unified resource to turn to and speak from as we hold ourselves accountable and promote our profession. Just like the competencies for certification are the same no matter what the setting of the chaplain, so too are the Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains. Having one set of standards will create consistency in our diverse profession and will make us stronger.

Participants on the Integrated Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains Task Force included: Brent Peery BCC and Jana Troutman-Miller BCC (co-chairs), Karen Ballard BCC, Anna Lee Hisey Pierson BCC, Mark LaRocca-Pitts BCC, Jan McCormack BCC, and Michael Tarvin BCC.

What About Specialized Chaplaincy Settings?

Moving forward, the APC Committee on Quality in Chaplaincy Care will be enlisting several task forces to produce companion documents for Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains to elaborate on the particular ways the standards of practice are fleshed out in different chaplaincy settings. If you would like to volunteer to serve on a task force to develop a context-specific companion document please contact us at

What’s Next?

  • Ongoing education and dialogue about the Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains are underway. Look for more articles and updates in APC Forum: news and ideas in chaplaincy care (formerly APC e-News) and on this webpage.
  • This Standards of Practice for Professional Chaplains document is a fluid document that will change as chaplaincy continues to mature and as situations change. It is a project of the APC Quality in Chaplaincy Care Committee, which is responsible for the promotion and maintenance of the document.

SOP Articles, Education and Resources

New Standards of Practice Approved by APC Board, by Brent Peery BCC, APC Forum, December 2015.

Article: “Engaging Standards of Practice: Becoming More Professional by Brent Peery BCC, December 2010 APC e-News.

The summer 2010 issue of Healing Spirit magazine included a case study article about a health care institution’s use of the standards in strategic planning: “Putting Standards into Practice,” by Daniel H. Grossoehme BCC and William Scrivener BCC.

Russell Dicks Article on Standards of Practice

In 1940, the Reverend Russell L. Dicks worked with a small committee to prepare a set of standards of practice for hospital chaplains, which were adopted by the American Protestant Hospital Association. Below is the introduction to his article on the subject in which he discusses the need for standards of practice, as well as a link to the complete article.

“Standards for the Work of the Chaplain in the General Hospital by Rev. Russell Dicks DO,” reprinted, with permission, from Hospitals, November, 1940.

“It has come to the attention of the American Protestant Hospital Association that the spiritual needs of many patients, both in private and public institutions, are not receiving proper attention. In some instances patients are not receiving any spiritual care, in others they are receiving altogether too much. We know of institutions where as many as seven or eight different religious workers may speak to the same patient in a given afternoon while hundreds of other patients in the same institution receive no attention. It has also come to our attention that many religious workers in hospitals attempt to force their own religious views upon the patient whether he desires them or not.

“It is our hope that through the following suggestions hospital administrators, board of directors, medical staffs and church authorities will be aided in judging the nature of the religious work going on within their institutions and further, that they may be aided in securing a more adequate type of chaplaincy service.

“It is not our thought that all the suggested standards which follow shall be considered minimum standards but that they shall present a goal toward which the institution and the chaplain shall aim in serving the religious needs of their patients. However, there are certain practices which we consider indispensable in the chaplain’s work; where such practices are not being followed we suggest that serious attention be given to an investigation of why they are not by someone in authority.”

Read the complete Russell Dicks article