President Tim O’Dell’s Letter Number 1 – August 2017

“Times: they are a’ changing!”

The American Correctional Chaplain’s Association (ACCA) has a long and distinguished heritage. Chaplains played a major role in the establishment of the American Correctional Association (then the National Prison Association) and have long stood in support of the institutions and agencies we serve, and with compassionate pastoral care toward those in our charge–men and women who have come to a major crossroads in life.

Now we come to a new era where attendance at national conventions is waning (for a variety of reasons) and to a new sense of independence where membership and engagement is not seen as important as it once was. We are living in the age of social media and communication without personal engagement. In the past, networking meant going to regional and national conferences, developing face to face relationships, and building one’s network. Today, networking is tied to social media, Facebook, Linked-In, Tweeter, Instagram, and other means of getting connected. This reality presents us with a new challenge.

How do we connect with the next generation of correctional chaplains? How do we become relevant in an age of irrelevance? Clearly, we must communicate in their language. But how does this mandate to change the way we connect impact our mission?

From my perspective, engaging in the support of chaplains in the field, focusing on their needs, and utilizing social media and today’s networking methods will be necessary to maintain relevance–or regain it.

Once, an education could only be obtained by traveling to a central campus, attending classes, and staying the course over a period of years. Today, one can complete undergraduate and graduate programs without ever setting

foot on the campus. This trend is continuing and now involves secondary and primary education. On the horizon is the day where traditional schools may cease to exist in favor of the virtual classroom.

We have to make attendance (connectedness) via electronic means an acceptable standard, rather than the exception, if we are to engage younger chaplains. We have to offer workshops and other “professional enhancement” via the web – rather than only available at a conference.

The Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, Association of Professional Chaplains, Institute of Clinical Pastoral Training and others have established “distance learning” approaches for Clinical Pastoral Education much to the consternation of those holding fast to the old school way of doing things. The question is not so much the method but the outcomes. Are those trained in this fashion well equipped to do the work? Time will tell.

My opinion, and I state it as such, is that unless we change we will see the slow but certain demise of organizations such as ACCA. And that, my friends, would be a sad and tragic outcome.

My recommendation is that we work with all diligence to effect real and lasting change in our approaches, services, and means of engagement. Then ACCA will have the opportunity to continue our mission to promote, encourage, equip, and enhance correctional chaplaincy.