Reflections on a New Season

Written by Shawn Mai, ACPE Certified Educator and Board Chair

Filed under: News

William Bridges, in his book Managing Transitions, notes the difference between change and transitions.   Internal change in ACPE over the past decade has included a new governance structure, the dissolution of the regions, a new certification process, and a new accreditation process. Externally change in the world that ACPE exists in has included a pandemic (I won’t even begin to try and name the changes COVID has brought to our world), a dramatically different landscape in spiritual care and education (competition in the marketplace), a shifting political landscape that impacts two big entities we interact with, the US Department of Education and Medicare pass through, and on and on.  What I appreciate about Bridges' work on organizational change is his considering the human experience of change.  This is transition.   Transition requires letting go of the old identity, going through an in-between time (neutral zone), and coming out of the transition into a new beginning.  

The Executive Committee, the Board, and our Interim Executive Director Robin Brown Haithco have had the transitions we’ve gone through over the past decade in mind as we’ve received feedback from the strategic planning process.   We’re always reflecting on how much we have attended to transition.

As spiritual care practitioners and educators, we deal with transitions on a constant basis.   Psychotherapists and chaplains accompany people through the transitions in their lives.  Educators provide space for the comings and goings of student groups.  

In anticipation of the ACPE conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, we will create space to attend to our transitions.   What do we need to say goodbye to?  What needs attending as we create the future?  How do we welcome new beginnings?  The Curriculum Committee and the Board are shaping the conference around gathering times for this type of work.

The strategy statement that the Board will be voting on this week, in anticipation of our Board meeting in mid-April, keeps us attentive to the dynamics inside and outside the organization.  That statement reads:

ACPE will strengthen its network of spiritual care professionals in the near-term with a longer-term strategy to engage the network of members in increasing the value of professional spiritual care and education to individuals and families in need of support, institutions providing support, and potential spiritual care professionals.

What that says is that a strong association with an engaged membership has an impact on shaping the larger ecosystem of spiritual care and education.  As the board moves into Phase 3 of the strategic planning process, the larger question remains: How do we relationally connect as an organization and create systems that support our work, all the while being good stewards of our resources?  

It has been an engaged membership that has carried us into the 56th year of ACPE.  Once a month, leadership from all commissions and committees meet to update the rest of the leaders on the focus of their work.  The anti-bias work, ACPE outcomes, addressing DoE requirements, ongoing integration within the organization, how we conduct ourselves, and continuing a robust certification process are woven together in a more cohesive way.  I am reminded in those meetings of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of members who volunteer to keep our good work moving.   These members do this work while balancing day jobs and daily life.  

Along with these volunteers, we have a gifted national staff that supports the work.  The strategic planning process will address the staff needed to support our work.   Currently, we are down key positions in the national office; however, we are staffed with overachievers covering several jobs as we hire into those vacant positions.   Thank you in advance for your patience if an email or phone call goes unanswered in this interim time.

I do a great deal of reflecting on leadership through times such as this.  That has included a question I’ve asked myself, “have I provided leadership through change or transition?”   Many change management resources focus on leading through change instead of leading transition.   Bridges' work has had me thinking about times when I’ve led through change with little focus on the transition.  Age, experience, and enough painful feedback have created some new pathways in my brain.  Some of that has been going back and working on the Level 1 outcome,L1.5.   It's kind of like grief; we are never really done with our Level 1 work. I still get some negative feedback from my spouse related to L1.4

Spiritually, I am reminded that the source of creativity, beauty, inspiration, and the energy that moves us forward is doing their work. We had another foot of snow at the lake this weekend (western Wisconsin).  I’m looking out and wondering if spring will ever come.   I can barely see over the drift in front of my office window.  Through a couple of phone calls with Robin Brown-Haithco in Atlanta this week (the 80-degree weather was feeling a bit too warm), I was reminded that spring will come.  It always does.   

Rev. Shawn Mai, ACPE Certified Educator at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, MN, serves as Chair of the Board of Directors. He may be contacted at