One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, speaks of “the conversational nature of reality.” “Every creature,” he says, “has to find the edge between its own particular genius and what it is being called into by the world around it.” This image rings true theologically, psychologically, and—as we’re learning in AAPC—organizationally. We are becoming a more aware and responsive conversation partner with the world around us. AAPC was born of a conversation--between ministry and psychotherapy. We grew by conversation--as persons of religious heritage and pastoral identity conversed with psychology, medicine, and various disciplines of cultural analysis. We thrived as a conversation--with communities of faith who needed a trusted partner to train and certify professionals who could care for their parishioners. For 52 years, AAPC has held space for a rich, mutually transforming conversation between spirituality, religion, theology, psychology, and other disciplines.
Midway through that 52 years, unexpected voices entered the conversation:
the voice of the state, which claimed the right to say who is and who is not qualified to provide mental health services;
the voice of researchers, who asserted that some treatment modalities “work” and others don’t;
the voice of insurance companies, which said what they’ll pay for and what they won’t;
the voice of a less religious culture, which tells us it does not understand the word pastoral.
Many of us in AAPC, me included, treated these new voices as unwelcome guests. But welcome or not, they were part of the world around us, and they changed reality for us. Individually, most of us eventually heard these new voices and learned to converse with them. We got ourselves licensed and joined insurance panels. We learned some evidence-based treatment models and integrated them into our way of working. We learned to speak one language when we talk with churches, another when we talk with physicians and other health care providers. But collectively, as a tribe, we did not hear and converse so well. We watched our membership numbers decline, the average age of the association rise, and the entryway to our community grow increasingly unused. Many faithful, smart, generous people tried to help us understand the new voices and converse with them, but collectively we limited the amount we would hear and the change we would allow. We had a quality product--a tried-and-true process for developing and certifying personally-integrated, spiritually-aware, theologically-grounded therapists--and we kept packaging that product the same way even though people stopped buying it. That product worked for us and meant something to us. Eventually, we believed, the world around us will recognize the value of what we offer and will return to us. That did not happen, of course, and last year our national Board of Directors wisely and courageously helped us hear and accept this reality. They challenged us to expand our imagination for how we bring our unique genius into conversation with the world around us. They invited us to think less about who’s on the inside of our organization and more about who’s on the outside. They gave us freedom and responsibility to develop new paradigms for how we do our work. They invited us to be as adaptive and brave collectively as we have been individually. During the past year, our Executive Committee has welcomed this challenge. We have been listening to the world around us and listening to you. We have been asking, and will continue to ask: “What does the world need that we have the resources to provide?” The answers to this guiding question are forever coming into clarity—that’s what the conversational nature of reality means--but we are already clear about three things: • There are many psychotherapists and other professional care-givers who want help in providing theologically-informed, spiritually-integrated care. • We have resources to help equip them for that work. • We will need to change the paradigm for how we offer our resources if we want to be in that conversation. Over the next two months and at Kanuga, we will be inviting you to keep shaping a new paradigm for our community. We will invite you to exercise your faith muscles and help us become new wineskin. You will decide, collectively, whether we do this. You will decide whether we open ourselves to reality or whether we limit ourselves. You will choose whether to bring your gifts into service through one of our workgroups. You will fashion how AAPC brings its unique genius into conversation with the world. This is a sacred season in the life of our community. We are privileged to be here together and to have this opportunity.