Sunday, October 06, 2019

Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church, 2019

As I have of late, this is also posted at Chaplair, the blog of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains.

I’ve written before about ecclesiastical endorsement in the Episcopal Church. I have been through our process, and I have been watching the process now for going on 40 years. Over that time, some things have changed; and some things haven’t; and AEHC has been in the midst of it for almost all our 70 years.

In my last post I recalled how endorsement had gone from the individual bishop to AEHC, then the Office of the Bishop of Federal Chaplaincies. After that it went to the office of Mission. With that history in mind, let me clarify how the process works now. (And attached I have provided a flowchart.)

Once upon a time, it was individual bishops who endorsed for healthcare ministry. Now, it continues to be individual bishops who endorse for healthcare ministry. Yes, there is a process, but if an Episcopalian feels called specifically to healthcare ministry the first step is to be sure to have met with the bishop. This is true whether or not the prospective chaplain feels called to ordination or is pursuing certification. Healthcare chaplaincy is recognized as a specialized ministry and the Episcopal Church can endorse persons in any of the four orders for ministry. So, first be sure to connect to the bishop.

As referenced, for many of us the interest in ecclesiastical endorsement began in the pursuit of board certification. It is still required for the largest chaplain organizations (and I would encourage it for whether seeking certification or not). If you are pursuing certification, the next step is completing the form on line here. At this time this will be received by the Rev. Margaret Rose, Ecumenical and Interreligious Deputy to the Presiding Bishop, and our Endorsing Officer; and processed by Ann Hercules, Associate for Ministry Beyond the Episcopal Church. Note that the persons have changed at times, but the process has actually been stable for some time.

Note, too, when you look at the form, there is a requirement to affirm that you are up to date with the Church’s education on preventing and recognizing sexual abuse and ministry misconduct. This is normative for many ministries in the Episcopal Church, ordained and lay, paid and volunteer. Your diocesan office can help you get what you need.

Once the form is received, the Endorsing Office will reach out to the relevant bishop, asking if the bishop can endorse this applicant specifically for healthcare ministry (remember what I said to do first?). She or he will send the endorsement to the Office. Once received Margaret will send letters of endorsement to the endorsed chaplain and to the certifying body, with a copy to the bishop and a copy for the records.

Some have looked at the application and noted that it asks about certifying bodies. There has been concern that a person can only be endorsed if pursuing certification. Others have wondered whether chaplains not seeking certification are required to pursue endorsement. In fact, while many chaplaincy positions require certification, that’s not universal. However, I strongly believe every Episcopalian providing professional healthcare ministry should seek endorsement. For the reasons I have written before, I believe endorsement serves the Church, serves the chaplain, and serves the persons to whom the chaplain ministers. A person not seeking certification can be endorsed. Endorsement in that case, though, need not involve the form or the Endorsing Office. The chaplain can simply request and receive that directly from the bishop.

There is one further consideration. As noted the Episcopal Church will endorse persons in all four orders of ministry. However, if a lay person is endorsed, it is required that the endorsed chaplain arrange for a public service of commissioning. This both publically acknowledges the chaplain’s specialized ministry, and also the chaplain’s recognition of the authority of the Episcopal Church for that person’s ministry. Certifying bodies used to require this of all endorsed and certified lay chaplains. Because of the breadth of faith communities now involved in chaplaincy, the certifying bodies no longer require it. However, the Episcopal Church expects it, whether the endorsement is processed through the Endorsing Office or directly with the bishop.

Now, once endorsed, do you ever need to do it again? Really, that depends. Are you in a certifying body that requires periodic peer review or a similar significant review of the ministry? For example, APC requires that every five years. The Endorsing Office would like you to renew your endorsement at that point, including the Church’s abuse prevention training. 

It would also be appropriate to renew endorsement if a job change takes you to a new diocese. You would in any case want to meet with the new bishop, and would likely need to meet the expectations of that diocese for abuse prevention training. It would be appropriate at that point to renew endorsement. The process would be the same: either to resubmit the application through the Endorsing Office or to work directly with the bishop.

So, that is the process. Again, check the flowchart below. I have tried in it to concisely describe the steps of the process. Margaret Rose has also reviewed it, and approved it. We hope, then, that this description and the attached flowchart make the endorsement process clear. And, always feel free to reach out to AEHC colleagues for help.

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