As many of you know, I do my best to keep track of and post information about and changes in the process of becoming an Episcopal Chaplains. Indeed, my post To Become an Episcopal Chaplain, now all of eight years old, is still the most read post on the site. (Actually, if you’ve found this post because you’re interested in becoming an Episcopal Chaplain, you might want to read it first.)
One of the ways that I learn about changes is my own process. As a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), I am required to undergo a peer review process every five years. It’s part of maintaining my certification. I know that other professional organizations for healthcare ministries have similar requirements. As a part of that process, I apply to renew my Ecclesiastical Endorsement. Ecclesiastical Endorsement is required by APC and by other professional organizations; and while periodic renewal isn’t, it is a best practice that the Office of Mission at the Episcopal Church Center, which is where we connect for endorsement, has come to strongly encourage. (I have also written specifically about Ecclesiastical Endorsement. You can read those posts here. Be sure to sort by date to see the posts in order.)
Renewal of certification is not the only time when one might want to renew Endorsement. If an Episcopalian with Endorsement changes positions and moves from one diocese to another, we would recommend renewing endorsement even if not changing canonical residence. This would be true whether the chaplain is ordained or lay.
Let me give some explanation of that and remind us all of how endorsement works in the Episcopal Church. I usually say that endorsement is a joint action of the Episcopal Church Center and the diocesan bishop. That’s true of the process. You complete the application and it goes to the Office of Mission. When that is received electronically, either the Rev. Margaret Rose or Terry Foster will reach out to the diocesan bishop for confirmation that the individual applying is known (both person and ministry) and has a vocation for healthcare ministry. When confirmation is received, the Rev. Margaret Rose will send a letter to the individual and to the professional organization confirming Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church. (There may be some interested in Endorsement who are not seeking to gain or maintain certification. More about that below.)
If you think that through, the most important contact that happens in that process isn’t the application or the phone call from New York to a bishop. The most important contact is the meeting and conversation with the diocesan bishop (or bishops, if you live in one diocese and work in another) so that the chaplain and ministry and vocation are known to said bishop(s). We are, after all, an episcopal church; and so nothing of this nature will happen without a bishop’s consent.
That’s more than just a procedural concern. In my earlier post, I quoted from “A Covenant Between Religious Endorsing Bodies And Pastoral Care Certifying Bodies.” That covenant also includes this:
Endorsement is an exclusive covenant relationship between the faith community/tradition and endorsee. The faith community pledges to provide support and discernment to those seeking to enter pastoral care ministry and guidance, support and oversight to those who serve in these ministries. The endorsee agrees to ongoing participation in the life of his/her faith community as well as maintaining communication and accountability to the endorsing agent.
Endorsement addresses the following core standards through a process of written papers, interviews and mutual discernment:
• Ministerial and theological competence• Good standing and accountability within that faith community• Ability to work collegially in diverse and pluralistic environments• Willingness to adhere to the codes of ethics prescribed by the faith groups, institutions served and the agencies providing certification• Continuing spiritual formation and review• Academic and clinical educationEndorsement is not a legalistic ritual; rather it is a mutual covenant and relationship between the endorsee, the endorsing faith group and the certifying body. Each and all are to benefit.
Accountability is important for the chaplain serving, for the person served, for the employing institution, and for the faith community providing endorsement. The certifying bodies aren’t in a position to determine whether someone has “good standing and accountability within [a] faith community,” or “continuing spiritual formation and review.” For us as Episcopalians, our accountability within our faith community is expressed in accountability to a bishop, and without the awareness and acceptance of the appropriate bishop(s), endorsement will not happen.
In that instance, the Office of Mission serves as a single contact for most of us involved. It’s where the certifying bodies look for confirmation of endorsement. It is where bishops connect to give imprimatur. It is where we send our applications. However, in that process, while we might talk of the Office of Mission as the Endorsing Office, it is more accurately an “office of record,” where our application and the bishop’s response is recorded for the benefit of all three parties.
So, does every Episcopalian engaged in healthcare ministry need to request Endorsement? At this date, the application is focused on those who are seeking certification. Are there other circumstances? Yes, there are. There are employers who are not committed to certification but who request Endorsement to demonstrate accountability. There are colleagues who are engaged in institutional healthcare ministries on a regular basis because there's an institution associated with the parish; or because a local institution knows the minister and feels the minister suits the needs of those served. For those persons, it would still be important to be in contact with the bishop. Because ultimately it is the word of the bishop that endorses, those individuals can request the bishop to endorse individually. Moses said, "Would that all God's people were prophets;" and I have sake, "would that all God's bishops required endorsement in some form of all the healthcare ministers in their dioceses." Once again, what makes for functional accountability and functional endorsement is the knowledge of the bishop about the healthcare minister and her or his ministry.
So, central to the process of Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church is the connection between applicant and bishop, which begins directly and is may be recorded by the Office of Mission. To better reflect that connection and accountability, there have been changes to the application form for endorsement. Specifically, there are three questions you might not have seen if it’s been a while since you renewed endorsement.
The first is a request to give the specific date when the applicant informed the bishop of the intent to apply for endorsement. If you are in reasonably regular contact with your bishop, that may take no more than an email. If you’re applying for the first time, or you’ve recently changed dioceses, a meeting is in order.
The third question (yes, I’m coming back to the second) is for those who are canonically resident in one diocese but working in another. It asks who that second bishop is. It’s a clear reminder that it would be important to be in contact with that bishop.
The second question is the one that will take a little more effort. The applicant is asked when he or she completed the sexual misconduct training required in the Episcopal Church and provided in every diocese. The Office of Mission is now asking that the training (or renewal of training) has happened within the last five years. Indeed, you can’t choose a date more than five years ago.
That was one that applied to me. I’ve been trained and retrained several times, what with job and diocese changes and all. However, I’ve been in the same diocese and the same system for 21 years now. My last renewal was about eight years ago. Now, there are behaviors for which I am accountable to my health system, and to which I recommit each year with my annual goals (and the behaviors our misconduct prevention training teach are covered, generally if not specifically). I certainly have the date when last I renewed my accountability to my employer. However, I thought it worthwhile to contact the diocesan office and learn what renewal education might be available. That protects me, the Office of Mission, and the bishop from questions later about my accountability. A renewal module was available on line from the Church Pension Group. It took me about an hour to complete. Now I have a record that I’m up to date, and so does my diocese. It was a change I hadn’t originally expected, but well worth the small amount of time required.
Note that I had originally been trained and retrained because of my ordination. However, any of us active in ministry in a parish (lay or ordained) probably know by now the expectations of the Episcopal Church (through the Episcopal Insurance Corporation, and so the Church Pension Group) that all in significant ministries have the sexual misconduct training. It is just a basic component of how we make our churches safe places for all, and especially for children and youth. If you’re endorsed and you haven’t run across this, I’m very surprised. If lay and applying for the first time, when you meet with the bishop be prepared to talk about this. It is an important measure in our accountability as ministers who function in healthcare, and who reflect the ministries of the Episcopal Church.
So, that’s what’s newest about Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Get endorsed. Get endorsement renewed. These are simply opportunities for us to claim both our ministries and our accountability as chaplains serving as ministers of the Episcopal Church.