By Liz Andrasi Deere
In the early 1500s Michelangelo painted Adam and God reaching out to one another, hands almost touching, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. To Rev. Dr. Ronald Oliver, this image of The Creation of Adam captures life’s foundational questions: How do we connect with God? How is God trying to connect with us?
Early in life Oliver felt that he would be a minister. His father was a pastor, as was his father’s father. While at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—where he earned Master of Theology and Master of Divinity degrees as well as a Doctor of Philosophy—he completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. During this unit of CPE, he discovered a passion for serving people in moments of crisis when, in his words, “big questions aren’t asked but imposed.” His doctoral dissertation is titled, Effects of an Acute Traumatic Crisis on Faith.
Oliver found a home in chaplaincy and he found a home in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where he was endorsed. He began working at Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky, as a chaplain resident in 1989 and currently serves as System Vice President, Mission and Outreach.
As he reflected on his time as chaplain to families in the pediatric ICU of Norton Children’s Hospital, he stated, “I hate that this is happening to them, and I wish it wasn’t, but if it is happening, I am honored to be the person they let try to help them with it. I find that space to be extremely challenging and rewarding and it feels to me to be the centerpiece of my call.”
He believes, “people can’t move through the emotional until they tend to the spiritual.” It is the responsibility of a professional chaplain to stay engaged as people ask hard questions and grapple with the spiritual, and eventually the emotional, turmoil they face.
One striking element of Oliver’s character is his commitment to gratitude. He speaks graciously of the people throughout his life who invested in and blessed him as he followed his call. Oliver declares, “we all depend on somebody.”
So often, people depend on chaplains during life’s deepest, most painful moments; chaplains need someone to depend upon, too.
In November 2018 Oliver became President of the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) whose stated mission is “to promote quality chaplaincy care through advocacy, education, professional standards and services to our members.” He is the first CBF-endorsed chaplain, and the second person from Norton Healthcare, to serve in this position.
When someone becomes board certified as a professional chaplain, he or she is committing to integrate themselves and their skill; in Oliver’s words, “to be formed and informed.” Professional chaplains undergo ongoing training “in order to be effective and do no harm.” Oliver explained, “A well-trained, well-formed chaplain should be able to walk into a room with someone of any background and connect at the level of their shared humanity.”
The field of chaplaincy is growing, and there are a multitude of settings where a chaplain might integrate into an organization and serve—the United States Armed Forces, medical centers, correctional institutions, hospice organizations, police, fire and rescue departments, colleges and universities, businesses and industries, to name a few. The APC extends a wide embrace to professional chaplains from all fields and is improving the level of competency and care given by both professional and para-professional chaplains.
As President, Oliver is committed to maintaining a strategic focus on the service of the profession of chaplaincy. He plans to draw upon and strengthen relationships with the APC’s historical strategic partners—the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, the ACPE, the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care/Association Canadienne de soins spirituels, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, and the Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains.
When he assumed the role of President, Oliver promised never to ask a question to which he already had an answer. This posture encourages innovation as he and his colleagues work together to adapt to meet the needs of the people to whom they minister. People will continue to confront the difficult questions that life imposes, thankfully there are faithful chaplains who will reach out with them to discover: How do we connect with God? How does God connect with us?
The APC annual conference will take place June 20-23; there will be a CBF breakfast. The APC is interested in hearing from members and people in the field about strengths and opportunities for improvement. To contact Rev. Ron Oliver about this or anything else, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about the APC visit www.professionalchaplains.org. To learn more about CBF-endorsed chaplaincy visit www.cbf.net/chaplaincy.