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Spring 2003 Newsletter

On-Line Newsletter Volume 1, Number 3
Published April 22, 2003

Edited by Chaplain John Ehman, Network Convener

Editor's Note: Network members are encouraged to submit articles for upcoming issues of the Newsletter, which is published three times a year: Fall, Winter, and Spring (but may be published more frequently in the future). The Fall 2003 issue is scheduled to be posted on the site in September.

Table of Contents

  1. Final Call for Research Award Applications
  2. Thoughts on the Identification of Pastoral Care Interventions for Research
  3. Web Finds: Conference Presentations On Line
  4. Review: Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology
  5. Convener's Report


1.     Final Call for Research Award Applications

The Network instituted awards for researcher and research center of the year, presented at the annual ACPE national conference, to acknowledge and promote original research within our organization, and the application deadline for this year is August 30, 2003 (for the presentation at the Lake Geneva, WI conference on November 12-15, 2003). All supervisors should encourage CPE students and supervisory candidates who are completing research projects this year to apply for the researcher award, and supervisors themselves should consider submitting an application for the center award. The awards page of this web site offers guidelines for the applications, but please note that the application itself can be quite simple, such as submitting a primary document (e.g., a write-up of a research project) with a cover letter.

CPE students should realize that even a small project may be noteworthy for its creativity, for its application of pastoral care concepts, for its methodology, and for how it plays into individual learning goals within their overall curriculum. Supervisory candidates and supervisors should also keep in mind that CPE program evaluation is an important area for research activity, and a center's educational evaluation process may well be developed as a research project (--research concerning the CPE educational processes may be especially valuable for our organization).



2.     Thoughts on the Identification of Pastoral Care Interventions for Research

One of the pressing issues today in pastoral care research is the specification of what chaplains do when they intervene in patient situations. If an intervention is poorly defined in research, the assessment of its effect must be at best tentative. Yet, the complex and subtle nature of pastoral care visitation does not lend itself to simple description, much less to rigid circumscription. Every pastoral care researcher faces a tough question on this score, whether the project at hand is to assess pastoral care itself or to include a chaplain as a methodological component in data collection: How might it be possible to "pin down" the variables of a chaplain's actions without constraining the very dynamic by which chaplains work in relationship with patients?

Valuable research can well be done with interventions identified as broadly as "visit by a chaplain," but the demand for greater specificity is growing. There is an understandable desire among researchers to refine data collection, control for more variables, discover confounding variables, develop and validate specific measures, and lay the groundwork for reproducible results. This may be in part a function of a general drive in the field of spirituality and health toward quantitative, empirical, interventional studies; but it is also merely a function of the drive of the research enterprise for ever-increasing clarity.

Perhaps the most ambitious descriptive research to date in this area has been an extensive Australian study by Gibbons, G., Retsas. A. and Pinikahana, J.: "Describing what chaplains do in hospitals" [The Journal of Pastoral Care 53, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 201-6], but the conclusions of that study are highly thematic in nature (e.g., "promoting spiritual transcending," "promoting spiritual intactness," and "enacting ministry") and as such have not easily been applicable for subsequent interventional research.

Last year, a very practical list of pastoral care interventions was published in a somewhat surprising source: The Journal of Nursing Administration 32, no. 1 (January 2002): 20-4. In "The spiritual dimension of holistic care," Bonnie W. Duldt, a nurse with three years of experience as a volunteer lay chaplain in a Virginia hospital, enumerates 27 services and activities of pastoral care departments. Among those she identifies are: conduct formal services, pray with patients and families, [conduct] blessing and naming ceremonies for stillborns, conduct support groups, remain with critically ill patients/families, take family [members] to the morgue, visit patients hospitalized for over five days, and listen to patient/family concerns. While such a list may seem unremarkable to chaplains, it hints at the sort of mid-range level of specificity of interventions that can be practical foci for research--these are widely practiced actions that begin to locate points of pastoral impact.

An extensive listing of chaplains' functions and activities was also part of the 2001 White Paper published by the ACPE and other organizations, "Professional chaplaincy: its role and importance in healthcare" [ed. by VandeCreek, L. and Burton, L., Journal of Pastoral Care 55, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 81-97; available on-line]. That list is ordered according to ten headings, highlighting such functions as: [providing] a powerful reminder of the healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling power of religious faith; providing supportive spiritual care through empathic listening, demonstrating an understanding of persons in distress; designing and leading religious ceremonies of worship and ritual, and acting as a mediator and reconciler for those who need a voice in the healthcare system. The listing is very descriptive and indicates the wide spectrum of chaplains' functions, but with regard to an identification of interventions for research, it accomplishes only a preliminary step.

Duldt is primarily interested in identifying pastoral care actions and services that can be incorporated into the practices of other health care professionals, and the White Paper is intent upon interpreting the importance of chaplains for health care. However, what of actions and services which chaplains may offer either uniquely or especially well? Might we be able to identify a reasonably specific list of those actions/functions, to the end of identifying interventions for use in research? This could help to further, among other things, research that explores the unique value of pastoral interventions [possibly along the lines of such studies as VandeCreek, L., Pargament, K., Belavich, T. Cowell, B. and Friedel, L., "The unique benefits of religious support during cardiac bypass surgery," Journal of Pastoral Care 53, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 19-29]. For the purpose of encouraging dialogue on this matter, a short listing is submitted below for discussion by members of the Network. There are at least two operative questions here: How can we begin to focus in on the activities of chaplains so that there is both a reasonable specificity about interventions and a reasonable latitude for a chaplain's spontaneity in interaction with patients? Also, what interventions may help us to explore the contributions to health care that chaplains may provide either uniquely or especially well?

  • special capacity--both traditional and legal--for hearing patients' confidential information
  • discussion of theological concerns in light of theological education
  • worship leadership in light of special training and practice
  • leadership in situations of religious diversity, in light of special training and experience
  • response to persons in spiritual crisis, in light of special training
  • spiritual assessment, drawing on intensive professional experience with spiritual issues
  • special vantage for networking with religious communities in support of patients
  • interaction with implicit valuing of spirituality (as a function of the chaplain's very profession)
  • representation of a "pastoral ethic" (which may engender a unique sense of safety on the part of the patient), involving: respect and understanding, supportiveness, moral sensibility, fairness and justice-mindedness, concern for relationships, and integrity based upon devotion to ideals and a "higher power"
  • interaction based on "pastoral authority" often allowed or imputed to clergy as "representatives of God" or as "holy or pious people," with special implications for: issues of forgiveness and issues of guilt/shame, provision of rituals (e.g., sacraments or end-of-life rituals), prayer leadership, issues of death/dying/loss and transcendent meaning, prophetic capacity (including moral advice), and discussion of spiritual experiences (personal experience and appropriate language)

Responses on this matter will be printed in a future edition of the Newsletter, including thoughts by supervisors about how they help CPE students understand what they do in terms of the language of "interventions" and comments by researchers on the relationship of intervention specificity to methodological usefulness. Send comments to


3.     Web Finds: Conference Presentations On Line

A major research conference was held at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD on April 1-3, 2003: Integrating Research on Spirituality and Health and Well-Being into Service Delivery, sponsored by the International Center for the Integration of Health and Spirituality (ICIHS) and the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (CRRUCS). The complete transcripts from the more than 40 presentations are scheduled to be posted soon on the ICIHS web site at [NOTE, posted 8/26/03, revised 4/8/04: The ICIHS ceased operations in August 2003, following the death of its founding director, David B. Larson, MD. However, before it closed, an ICIHS staff representative informed the Research Network that the site would be maintained until at least the summer of 2004.] Among the many presenters were George Fitchett, Ken Pargament, Harold Koenig, Herbert Benson, Peter Hill, Ellen Idler and Andrew Weaver, each giving succinct overviews of particular areas of research. The conference was itself a major event in the evolution of research in the field of religion/spirituality and health, and the various presentations offer a wealth of information for pastoral care researchers and providers. [Note that the ICIHS web site was also featured in the Winter 2002 Newsletter under its former name of the National Institute for Healthcare Research.]

The web site of the conference's co-sponsor, the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania ( may also be of interest. [NOTE, posted 4/8/04: In October 2003, CRRUCS ceased to function as a center and became a program within the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences: the Program for Research on Religion in Urban Civil Society (PRRUCS). The original CRRUCS web site is no longer maintained.]

As readers discover other important and useful resources on the web for research, please bring them to the attention of our Network.


4.     Review: Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology --[NOTE (posted 12/26/06): The name changed to Science and Theology News (ISSN: 1530-6410) in 2003, and publication ceased in the fall of 2006.]

The publication follows a newspaper format of 10 1/2 x 13 inches and typically 36-40 pages, with numerous graphics and color photos, published eleven times a year. The annual subscription cost is ten dollars (the cost of printing apparently offset by numerous advertisements). It is self-described as "an independent periodical covering the field of science and religion," and its mission statement indicates its scope as "coverage of any and all activities in the field of sciense-and-religion, without regard for the associated religious tradition or lack thereof." The mission statement further notes that the paper "does not endorse any particular religious perspective other than the importance of an open and humble approach to the complexity and diversity of human experience."

The Editor-in-Chief is Dr. Harold G. Koenig, so well known as a leading researcher in spirituality and health, but the publication's perspective is broadly that of spirituality and science, not just health; and it pursues a global sensibility with news stories from around the world representing a range of views. Nevertheless, there is clear sensitivity to spirituality and health per se, and a regular section is headed: "Focus on Health and Religion" There are typically a number of reports of research, but these are interspersed with general news stories and commentaries from diverse individuals. This makes for an interesting mix of material that is for the most part both intellectual and popular in nature.

Sections on the activities of various "institutes, associations and centers," a calendar of events, and notices of conferences and grant/fellowship opportunities are of very practical value, and throughout there are web and e-mail addresses to facilitate professional networking and quick follow-up for further information. Book publications seem to be featured as least much as scholarly articles, and there are many good suggestions for library additions (though many seem to tend toward consideration of grand issues of theology and science). Some of the material is available on the newspaper's web site, but the print publication is probably worth investigating, especially through the six-month-free trial subscription. [Note: The present reader experienced a two month lag between subscribing on-line and receiving the first issue.] Members of the Network are invited to offer on our web site their own opinions of this publication as well as suggestions of other publications.


5.     Convener's Report

I continue to be encouraged by the steady increase in the use of our web site. I mark this not only by the counter of visits (which at the time of this writing has exceeded 3000 since last September) but by e-mails and comments from people both in and out of the Network, in the US and abroad. A case in point: recently attending the conference noted above in section 3 (Integrating Research on Spirituality and Health and Well-Being into Service Delivery) I discovered that quite a few researchers who had no connection to the ACPE were regular readers of our Article-of-the-Month pages, and many who were not familiar with the site were interested upon hearing about it. Without an extensive (and expensive) advertising campaign, we have depended largely on word-of-mouth, based upon the sheer usefulness of the site's information, so the growth in the site's popularity seems to me an ongoing affirmation of our web venture.

I do, however, continue to feel a need for involvement by more members of the Network. While a number of people have generously provided content for the site over these first eight months, I am aware that I am providing a good deal of the site's content. For this web project to offer the most balanced and creative perspectives, we need wider input. I would like to dispel a myth that contributors need to be seasoned researchers. While part of our mission is to encourage original research, our broader mission is to raise awareness of the value of research within in the ACPE--research not only about clinical matters but educational ones.

It is my hope to establish links (and I use the term colloquially as well as technically) with other organizations involved in research, and any Network member having suggestions in this area should contact me. We may even set up a "Links" page on our site. The Web Finds section of the Newsletter indicates how the web may expand our networking.

I will soon be e-mailing members about renewal of annual "dues" for those who paid last in the spring of 2002. I also want to continue to approach clinical members, and their future involvement may well further diversify the content of our site. I am particularly interested in suggestions about how we may promote the Network and the web site at the fall ACPE conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. E-mail me your suggestions. Peace, --J.E.

If you have suggestions about the form and/or content of the site, e-mail Chaplain John Ehman (Network Convener) at .
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The ACPE Research Network. All rights reserved.