Mennonite Health Journal

Articles on the intersection of faith and health








President’s Column: Mennonite Chaplains Association

Kenton Derstine

from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 16, No. 3 – August 2014

I have noted before in this column the shared interest and concerns that I as one with a background in chaplaincy have found among the many professions within Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF). Yet, I observe that chaplains may be among the most cautious to recognize this shared concern and identify with this relatively new entity– MHF. There are reasons for this, some historical and others, theological. First, MHF is a direct descendent of Mennonite Medical Association and Mennonite Nurses Association. Furthermore, it may be uncomfortable for many of us to consider ministry as a profession and ourselves as “professionals.”

However, I have embraced the challenge as President of Mennonite Chaplains Association (MCA) and a board member of MHF to encourage chaplains to recognize the welcome and the common concerns that we as chaplains share with all healthcare professionals. For a chaplain to join with other healthcare professionals in this way is very appropriate. It expresses the perspective that as those created in God’s image we flourish as human beings and followers of Jesus Christ when all aspects of the human person–body, mind and spirit–are healthy and working well together.

To identify as a “professional” is most basically to claim that what we do—if we do it well—requires the discipline of study and practice according to common standards of practice authenticated by one’s peers. Ministry credentials reflect this process. Furthermore, a chaplain colleague of mine once said to a chaplaincy student resisting the idea of identifying as a professional, “A professional is one who is able to effectively do what they profess.”

Having enjoyed attending two stimulating MHF Annual Gatherings, I sense that much is to be gained by chaplains as well as the other healthcare workers in MHF as increasing numbers of chaplains within our denomination join the conversations around the concerns that energize this Fellowship.

Integrating the expertise and wisdom of each healthcare profession is particularly important in the latter years of the persons that we serve. When aging persons receive holistic integrated care, it contributes mightily to their quality of life as well as to their families and communities.

In recent years, we have been blessed to have a wealth of resources from a variety of professional perspectives emerging from within our ranks. These resources equip us to more effectively serve those transitioning to retirement and beyond. Not only are these resources useful for enriching the practice of professionals for the individual aging person, but they are applicable as well as healthcare professionals care for their own extended family members in this phase of their loved one’s life. Furthermore, these resources are guides for our own living, regardless of our age. Let me identify a few resources that have emerged in recent years.

A book that was released last year is Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well: A Doctor Explains How to Make Death a Natural Part of Life by Glen E. Miller, MD, MATS. Miller shares out of his own personal insider experience as a survivor of two heart attacks, a cardiac arrest, and bypass surgery. He also writes out of his searching personal faith as well as his study of theology, having earned a Masters in Theological Studies. This book was reviewed in the May issue of Mennonite Health Journal by Mark Derstine, M.Div., a chaplain at Souderton Mennonite Homes in Pennsylvania. You can find it on the MHF website.

Not content to simply share his vision and wisdom in print, Glen is teaming with Jep Hostetler, PhD. to offer workshops on the various themes in his book. This fall, Glen and Jep have accepted the invitation of MHF regional planning groups to offer workshops in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Harrisonburg, Virginia. (Check the MHF website for further information.)

Another resource on the theme of faithful and fruitful aging is Gerald and Marlene Kaufman’s book, Necessary Conversations: Between Adult Children and Their Aging Parents. Amazon’s description of this book reads, “In this timely book, family counselors Gerald and Marlene Kaufman urge adult children and their parents to have direct conversations about the decisions that lie ahead as parents age. A thoughtful and useful guide to a life stage that’s often dreaded and muddled through.” Necessary Conversations is filled with stories and examples from many families who, while dealing with different life circumstances, all face some of the same issues. Gerald and Marlene are also available to offer presentations on the themes in their book and Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship is eager to support their effort.

Emerging from within our Mennonite circles are also resources for the grieving. Rebecca Hauder is the author and creator of Resources for Grief™ products. Rebecca is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She worked for many years in the hospice setting, both as a nurse and a bereavement coordinator. She also designed and facilitated grief support groups in hospices, hospitals, and funeral homes.

While Rebecca has developed materials intended to be used by individuals, they are best utilized as congregations and institutions shape a comprehensive grief support ministry. Several retirement communities in our denomination are currently utilizing her materials. Her workshop entitled “Mending the Body, Mind and Spirit: A Wholistic Approach to Grief and Loss” conducted at the March 2014 Mennonite Health Assembly was filled to capacity and much appreciated. More information is at the Resources for Grief website.

These are just a few of the persons offering themselves and their work as resources for these concerns. What strikes me about each of these resources is their holistic nature, how they reach for the integration of faith, community, and care of the whole person (physical, mental, and spiritual). Such integration is essential for the flourishing of persons at any stage of life.

The insights that these resources offer can enrich the practice of a broad range of healthcare professionals. They also guide our efforts toward supportive participation as these issues emerge in our families. Yet, perhaps most importantly, these resources are filled with wisdom for the conduct of our own aging process, no matter at what stage our lives might be.

Perhaps at no other stage of the life-cycle is it more critical that care and conversation be informed by the many disciplines that the MHF embraces. Doctors, nurses, therapists, pastors, and chaplains—these are just a few of the professions that make up MHF, all of them needed to serve the whole person in context of community.

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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