Institutional Chaplaincy
Orthodox Church in America
Recent Developments in the Chaplaincy Community

Chaplaincy in the US is continuing to change, mainly through developments occurring in many credentialing bodies. These are the bodies our Orthodox Christian candidates seek certification as chaplains, CPE Supervisors/Certified Educators. This brief article will offer a bit of background again regarding the development of endorsement for institutional chaplaincy, share some recent developments among the credentialing bodies, and point toward possible directions for our Endorsing Office to continue to interact with these bodies. Please forgive the ensuing alphabet soup reflecting the many bodies identified below, also a reality for those in the chaplaincy community.

The process for recognition of a “faith group” by the Commission of Ministry in Specialized Settings (COMISS) included Department of Defense recognition, non-profit religious organization status confirmation, and the completion of an application. The whole application package is then brought before the gathered COMISS body for a vote. Our Orthodox Church in America’s Office of Institutional Chaplains (OCA OIC) has been in existence since 2003, providing formal endorsement for Orthodox clergy and qualified laypersons to be endorsed for chaplaincy in institutional settings.  The OCA was received into COMISS in 2005. 

Upon recognition by COMISS in 2005, our OCA OIC joined a body of endorsers within COMISS that were now coming together to share concerns related to endorsement with credentialing bodies and more broadly through COMISS. Some of the credentialing bodies were also coming together to share common statements related to chaplaincy. This body of endorsers is called the Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies or AREB. We (OCA) have been a member of AREB almost since the time this body was formed, and our GOA endorsing group has recently joined both COMISS and AREB. COMISS and AREB have annual meetings both for presentations on timely topics and the opportunity to discuss some of the changes occurring in the greater chaplaincy community. The reader is encouraged to look elsewhere on our OIC website to see some of the actions AREB has taken over these past years in response to actions taken by credentialing bodies.

Below are some examples of the changing face of chaplaincy, glimpsed through credentialing body actions. These changes are being shared here without any attempt to offer critique or assessment. The goal here is for our Church, those considering chaplaincy, as well as those currently involved, to be apprised of these changes in the chaplaincy landscape.

Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE): (certifies Certified Educators, and accredits training centers) The OCA is a Faith Tradition member of ACPE. After a great deal of effort and discussion for well over a year, some very significant changes are about to occur within ACPE. Regions, (like our dioceses) will dissolve by the end of this year. This is significant since accreditation and certification was largely conducted by regions with some national involvement. Now these actions will be more centralized. Also “CPE Supervisor” title has changed to “Certified Educator”, signaling a further push toward the educational focus on clinical training this organization supports.

Regions are to be replaced by Communities of Practice that are self-defined by participants, in terms of centers having common areas of focus or vision. Without regional parameters, such relationships can now develop more organically. You can see an update about Communities of Practice here, and a brief background story on Communities of Practice here. Regions are planning their final meetings before the coming years of transition unfold toward the new model.

Before moving to the next credentialing body’s recent developments, a comment is in order.   Among the more significant changes in general, many credentialing bodies are considering what educational degree should be a standard of practice, since many are backing away from the Master of Divinity Degree that was the gold standard for quite a long time. While several examples will appear below, it is important to note that all these bodies are grappling with this question at some level. The other related question that continues to percolate among them is the perceived significance of endorsement.

Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) (certifies chaplains and chaplain associates) A number of years ago several credentialing bodies introduced 5-year reviews for ongoing service as certified pastoral care givers and educators.   These 5-year reviews usually required an updated letter of endorsement. This offered a timely opportunity for the Office of Institutional Chaplains to be in dialogue with each endorsed chaplain/educator.

APC has now done away with renewed endorsement requests for 5-year reviews (that are still required), even though candidates must attest to continued involvement in his/her religious tradition. So from this credentialing body’s standpoint, unless the candidate indicates having changed faith traditions, an assumption is now in place that all is well from the chaplain’s religious endorsing body.

College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP) (certifies chaplains, CPE Supervisors, pastoral counselors, and pastoral psychotherapists) An article was recently posted to the greater CPSP community about its efforts to develop guidelines for assessment of equivalency to the M.Div. Degree. You can see this article here. A former COMISS and AREB leader is part of CPSP leadership at present, and will no doubt offer guidance as CPSP continues to grapple with their position regarding endorsing bodies.


Healthcare Chaplaincy Network & Spiritual Care Association (SCA). This is a new credentialing body that has come into play over the last several years. They have taken a different approach to credentialing chaplains that focuses more on completion of clinical training than either education or religious endorsement as qualifiers. Their attention and focus in the chaplaincy arena, however, is worth also noting.

Chaplaincy programs and even many hospitals were built on medicare ancillary funds that at one time were quite plentiful. This financial resource has dwindled over time, causing many pastoral care departments and chaplaincy training programs to cease functioning. A bright spot here a few years ago related to chaplains being hired for specific areas of the hospital, such as cardiac care, when evidenced could be produced that those receiving pastoral/spiritual care (another change among the credentialing bodies, preferring “spiritual” care now over “pastoral” care, with the reasoning being greater inclusivity of faith traditions) recovered more quickly and fully than those not receiving such care.

Most recently, hospitals treating patients receive a “bundled payment” that is keyed on the patient’s diagnosis. Pastoral Care, historically not a reimbursable discipline, and is not part of the bundle of reimbursed care. SCA has taken up the effort to seek quantifiable evidence related to pastoral care, with the hope of our being one day included in this bundle. Research has not historically been a strong suit for chaplaincy, so work is underway to start building up such evidence to help in making the case for chaplaincy to eventually be included in bundled reimbursement.

These are but a few examples of the significant changes continuing to unfold in the institutional chaplaincy arena. Together, however, they point toward the need for us as an endorsing body to become more focused in our relationships with endorsees, as credentialing bodies in general are less concerned with this relationship.

Endorsement brings together four distinct parties: the candidate for endorsement, his or her faith tradition, the context of ministry (hospital, correctional facility, nursing home, etc.), and credentialing bodies (identified above) where certification is concerned. With credentialing bodies paying less attention to a specific candidate’s faith tradition involvement, it is important that we step forward to ensure that Orthodox Christians serving as chaplains and educators endorsed for specific ministry contexts outside the parish setting reflect well our Orthodox Christian Faith.

A primary focus of endorsement is that endorsement is site specific. No one is endorsed for “chaplaincy at large”. By credentialing bodies being less concerned about endorsement, it is possible for chaplains to move between facilities, and their respective faith traditions not hearing about this. Therefore, while on paper a chaplain is indicated as endorsed at one time, at the functional level there may be no endorsement for the chaplain’s specific setting. This chaplain is no longer endorsed, and most facilities requiring endorsement would not be excited to learn about such changes.

A second, just–as-important dimension of chaplaincy, from our Orthodox perspective, is that ministry in specialized settings in meant to be an extension of being engaged in parish life.   No clergy are able to minister “at large”. They are attached or assigned to a specific parish. Laypersons are commissioned in their parish communities to minister in specific ministry contexts. This “setting apart” is similar to being set apart as a reader or chanter. This step in part ensures that the candidate is know in this parish setting, and continues to avail his or herself of the sacramental life of the parish, that is at the core of our identity and ministry. As credentialing bodies are less concerned with the quality or terms of the endorsement relationship, our OCA will need to be more specific in terms of qualifications for those seeking endorsement.

Finally, having some regular interaction with endorsed chaplains is important. In several cases, visitations have occurred at specific ministry sites, and are still the most direct means of interaction between chaplain and endorser. Such opportunities are most welcome by the Office, and examples can be found elsewhere on our website. The five-year window of time, outside of other changes, remains a meaningful interval for check-in and update, related to the ongoing endorsement relationship. Again, as credentialing bodies are less concerned about the ongoing endorsement relationship, we as the OCA need to become more proactive in following up with endorsed chaplains and educators.

Over the coming months, efforts will be underway to review OCA endorsement practices in place for over ten years. From this review, updated processes will be developed and approved in order to continue providing the best support possible for endorsed chaplains and educators serving in institutional settings, and to demonstrate sufficient accountability by those serving in remaining strong witnesses of our Orthodox Faith in the greater caregiving community.

Respectfully submitted,

V. Rev. Steven Voytovich, D.Min., Director

Office of Institutional Chaplains


Share This:

< PreviousNext >
Theophany Feast
You might also like: