Monday, January 25, 2010

Jewish Pastoral Care -- moving beyond the days of the Pioneers

Recently, a fellow rabbi who is aspiring to become a chaplaincy educator contacted me with an urgent question -- how can I prove to the authorities in our field that I am endorsed? I felt a range of emotions at this question -- anger, guilt, anxiety -- how is it that yet another person, just as I had to only a couple of years ago, is again facing this strange question alone, as if it was the very first time anyone had dealt with it? Why was this person being forced to, in effect, reinvent the wheel?

But there was an even more important question here: why was a Jewish person being asked to do something (prove endorsement) that has no equivalent in the Jewish tradition (and that has its roots in the Christian world)? And that question raises another one -- one that seemed to be at the center of so much that was discussed at the recent National Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) conference in Boston earlier this month (where I presented a workshop): How can we make pastoral care Jewish?

You see, the question is no longer whether pastoral care is Jewish or not (although Mychal Springer of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a certified chaplaincy educator/supervisor who is continuing to blaze new trails in the field, shared that she continually has to work to convince some of her rabbinical students of that). This still-infant field has been around long enough that there is no longer any question that the Jewish people need to have their own professionally trained spiritual caregivers, just as the Christian people have long had theirs. But sorting out what exactly we can legitimately borrow from our Christian colleagues and what we need to create out of our own traditions -- and providing established, accepted structures for training and supporting our spiritual caregivers -- that work is only just beginning.

Take the example of endorsement. This is a concept born out of Christian, especially mainline Protestant, traditions about their clergy. You see, most of their clergy cannot take any position without getting permission -- getting endorsement -- from a bishop or other ecclesiastic authority. This fact is rooted in their theology and belief practices, where God's authority is mediated through some kind of structure and/or priesthood (the most salient example being the Pope's position as a kind of chief priest of the Catholic church). But we have no such structure or priesthood (at least not since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE!). So, as a proud Jew -- proud to be part of a faith tradition where any Jew, for example, could officiate Jewishly at a wedding -- it offends me to be asked to do a Christian thing like prove endorsement (and that's where the anger I mentioned above comes in).

But here's what makes it, and many of these other is-it-Jewish issues, more complicated: the chaplaincy education authorities have mixed the religious part of endorsement in with something that is not religious -- the need for me and other folks to prove that we are held ethically accountable (about things like, God forbid, sexual harassment) by some body. This requirement is perfectly legitimate, and I have no reason to feel angry about being asked to fulfill it.

So, why did I also feel guilty when I heard from my colleague? Because I could have been a part of preventing him from having to go through this. I could have been part of an effort, for example, to put together a pamphlet for Jewish folks called, for example, "Things You Need To Know If You Want To Become a Chaplaincy Educator/Supervisor," and that could have had clear answers for my colleague about endorsement.

Although, of course, I shouldn't really feel guilty about this -- it's not my job to fix all things for all Jewish people interested in chaplaincy, pastoral care and Clinical Pastoral Education. I can't hold all the responsibility for that. But, we -- we meaning all of us who are the Jewish leaders in this field -- bear a communal responsibility to do the work to build foundations for those who are following behind us. The days of the pioneers -- the days of our Avot and Imahot -- have to come to an end in our field and the days of the nation builders have to begin. That is why the NAJC conference -- and the work wrestling with important questions that was done there -- is so important. I was so pleased to see important pioneers/nation_builders like Rabbi Springer taking leadership roles there and was cheered to see my fellow chaplaincy supervisor -- and doctoral classmate -- Rabbi Naomi Kalish elevated to president-elect during the conference.

Rabbis Springer and Kalish -- as well as myself -- are all supervisors certified by the Association of the Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), the leading US group for certifying and training chaplaincy education supervisors. While I have at times been critical of aspects of the ACPE (note my words about its endorsement requirements, above), I am extremely proud to be associated with this organization and consider it to be an amazing force in the worlds of pastoral care in general and of Jewish pastoral care in particular.

But the NAJC conference raised my awareness that much work in Jewish pastoral education is being done in other ways. I was excited, for example, to hear about work Rabbi Fred Klein, the Director of Community Chaplaincy at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, is doing to train lay people to visit patients. Rabbi Klein says he is borrowing techniques from Clinical Pastoral Education in that effort. There are also pioneering efforts to bring Clinical Pastoral Education and other forms of pastoral training to Israel (there will be another chaplaincy conference in Israel -- only the 6th (I was at the 5th last, year, where I gave a workshop) -- this coming May 4-5; more info in the December NAJC newsletter). Another example of alternative means of educating people about Jewish pastoral care is the kind of conference Hiddur put on back in November on the spiritual journey of Jews after midlife. [I was sad, however, to hear Hiddur is scaling back its activities -- another "ripple" from the national financial crisis that has hit the Jewish service world so hard, I assume. I heard that Hebrew Union College's Kalsman institute has also scaled back dramatically as well.]

It's an exciting time!


PJ said...

abbaye -- Thank you for this post. I am a first-generation Jew with a MDiv from a Christian seminary who is doing a CPE residency and trying to figure out how to get "endorsed" within Judaism without smicha. There is a great deal about this entire CPE/APC/BCC world that seems inapposite at best to this Jewish boy's experience. Thanks for being there and for giving voice to these concerns.
Patrick GR
Twin Cities, MN
(home of the Frozen Chosen)

Kara said...

abbaye - thanks for this post. i am soon to be (may 2010) a jts ordained conservative rabbi and have completed three units of cpe. now i am stuggling with my commitment to academic cpe vs needing to be employed. i havn't been offered any residency positions yet, which seemed like the most obvious option. i have my sights set on becoming a supervisor someday like my terrific teachers, mychal and naomi. any advice?

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