Mennonite Health Journal

Articles on the intersection of faith and health








Mennonite Chaplains Association: President’s Reflections

Kenton Derstine

from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2 – May 2014

“Pioneers, Partners, and Pathways” was the theme of the recent Mennonite Health Assembly held on March 6-8, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. Within the larger Assembly and paralleling focused workshops for other professional disciplines were a series of workshops especially intended for chaplains. The gift of this Assembly for chaplains and especially these workshop settings was the opportunity to (1) become more acquainted with the pioneers in our field, (2) enrich existing partnerships and envision new ones, and (3) stimulate our imagination regarding future pathways in ministry.

Our series of workshops opened with a session designed as an “open space” for each chaplain to report on a “best practice” that had become an effective piece of his or her ministry. Emerging for particular discussion was the effort among the various retirement communities to provide ongoing grief support to families following the death of a loved one. The grief resources developed by Rebecca Hauder were highlighted and are being utilized by several communities. Chaplain Bob Keener reported on the “Celebration of Life” ritual practiced at Menno Haven immediately following the death of a resident that includes available staff and family. Variations on this practice were discussed and stories shared indicating the value of such a practice for all involved. Chet Yoder of Garden Spot Village reported on his offering a free and open forum called “Faith Crumbs and Coffee” for discussion of issues and questions related to faith.

This “Best Practices” session was roundly applauded not only as a time of cross-fertilization where the group could learn of the pioneering efforts of colleagues, but as a time to become more deeply acquainted and build partnerships as friends and colleagues.

Following this initial time was a session roughly billed as our Business Meeting for Mennonite Chaplains Association (MCA). It included various elements that highlighted our partnerships and explored future pathways for MCA. Those gathered were blessed to have Nancy Kauffmann, Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister as a special guest through these workshop times. Her presence signified her confident assurance of the awareness of and support by denominational leadership for chaplains. One practical aspect of her role is the call process for pastors. She inquired regarding the value of developing a Ministerial Leadership Information form designed especially for persons seeking positions as chaplains as well as institutional search committees.

Paul Leichty, Executive Director of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF) described the emergence and mission of this new organization intended for all healthcare professionals. A warm invitation was extended to all individual chaplains to consider joining MHF and to attend the Annual Gathering to be held at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in June on the theme, “Faith at Work: Practicing Our Profession.” Further discussion explored how membership in MHF is an opportunity for chaplains to more actively embrace their identities as healthcare professionals and to become partners with others around shared concerns arising from our common faith perspectives.

A highlight for many of us was Rebecca Hauder’s workshop, “Mending the Body, Mind and Spirit: A Wholistic Approach to Grief and Loss.” Rebecca can be considered a pioneer in the area of grief and loss as she has developed materials and a program for institutions and congregations to provide comprehensive and sustained support to the grieving. Attention was called to her website at to learn more.

Finally, chaplains gathered at Mennonite Health Assembly also gave time to explore the pathway ahead for Mennonite Chaplains Association as an organization. While there are over 200 names on MCA’s email list, there are fewer than 30 actual members and fewer still who attend the annual meeting at Mennonite Health Assembly. MCA’s purpose as an organization is to be “… a network of chaplains and pastoral caregivers called by God as followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the Anabaptist faith perspective, providing fellowship, support, collaboration, collegiality, educational opportunities, and resources for ministry.”

As the current President of Mennonite Chaplains Association, I believe this is lofty and worthy purpose, one that should not be abandoned. Yet the question remains as to how to fulfill this mission. Drawing upon the theme of the overall Mennonite Health Assembly in Kansas City, it is clear that MCA cannot develop this vision without “Pioneers, Partners and Pathways.” MCA will need hear and support the Pioneers among us, to grow our partnerships with chaplain colleagues and, as an organization, more actively build partnerships with others. The time in Kansas City accomplished each of these. Much more work lies ahead. I invite you to please contact me or anyone on the Executive Committee with your ideas about how Mennonite Chaplains Association might better fulfill its mission.

About the author

Kenton DerstineKenton T. Derstine, D.Min. is an ACPE Supervisor serving as Director of the Field Education and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) programs of Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  As an accredited CPE Center, EMS has chaplain interns serving retirement communities and hospital systems in both Virginia and Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to EMS in 2000, he had served three different hospital systems, first as Chaplain Resident, then as CPE Supervisor, for eleven years. Kenton is a past president of Mennonite Chaplains Association and is a member of the Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship Board of Directors.


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