Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Spotlight: John Betz

One of the best ways for Transforming Chaplaincy to help foster research literacy is to help chaplains become acquainted with one another and leaders in their fields. With that in mind, the Spotlight feature interviews one or more chaplains, educators, administrators / healthcare professionals, or researchers. These leaders are putting Transforming Chaplaincy to work in the world, and we hope their experience offers valuable insights for the entire Transforming Chaplaincy community. In this issue, we’re spotlighting the Rev. John Betz from the first cohort of the original Transforming Chaplaincy program. John is a chaplain in the US Army Reserve, currently on leave to pursue advanced education in chaplaincy.


Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what education or training do you have, and how did you end up in chaplaincy?

The Rev. John Betz

I was born and raised in Kansas City and went to college for singing opera and classical music in St. Louis and Bloomington, Illinois. As I completed my BA, I had become quite involved in a local campus ministry. My passion for music gave way to passion for transformational change through messy spirituality, and I started working in local church ministries. I completed a Master of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois and had joined the Army Reserve Chaplain Candidate Program to pay for school. However, this program also gave me the opportunity to do Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and Airborne Jump School, and I quickly learned how much I wanted to serve in healthcare and military settings. I continued my chaplaincy education with a CPE residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and was quickly hired out of that as a hospice chaplain in northern Kentucky/southern Ohio. I served as a hospice chaplain for five years before taking a leave for my fellowship with Transforming Chaplaincy and education for a Master of Public Health in Biostatistics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.


Why did you decide to pursue research literacy, and what do you think is the primary benefit that research literacy confers on chaplaincy?

I had learned of many opportunities for research in the field of chaplaincy through my time at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; as a hospice chaplain, I quickly became curious about the coping, resiliency, and burnout among people who deal with high amounts of death, dying, and bereavement. My current projects include studying these in the military and civilian healthcare settings. I believe that research tied to a specific purpose and group of people – and not merely published and forgotten – can transform local populations. Chaplaincy has the opportunity in the next few years to either adapt or wither amidst the many and complex changes in the socio-political landscape of the United States and the global health setting. Developing research literacy is a speech act by chaplains which inherently changes spiritual and pastoral care professionals who seek to refine their support of patients, families, and staff.


What are, in your opinion, the primary challenges to integrating research literacy into chaplaincy practice?

The major challenge is the vision and identity of what a chaplain does and is; chaplains must address this, because it affects our own self-identity as well as how other professionals see us. I believe chaplains need to develop their training and practice so that we can continually improve both education and service using field-tested and evidence-based methods. This happens at an individual but also a structural level, where students in theological institutions as well as established chaplains with years of experience will develop their curiosity and adapt their skills as research-clinicians. Chaplaincy, like religion itself, either looks outward to the world and grows, or it dies. This outward focus should include partnering with other healthcare professionals at an interdisciplinary level and shattering preconceived misconceptions of the role of chaplains. Healthcare chaplains could learn much from the dual role that military chaplains have as both staff officers and ordained clergy.


How do you integrate research literacy into your own practice?

I continually work with men and women from many fields, learning from their specialties and providing education in the various lanes where I find myself. This included choosing my MPH specialty as biostatistics, as this would involve a chaplain at an integral level on various kinds of research studies, whether or not they were directly about chaplaincy. Furthermore, I make it a point to read peer-reviewed journals as a professional discipline to increase my knowledge and to fuel my passion for service. In the Army Reserves, I work with my units to ensure they have the most relevant information on how religion affects their areas of operation through Religious Leader Engagement and Religious Area Analysis. Finally, I have found it crucial to remain connected with my faith community as a means to ground myself with the local religious leaders; as I continue to develop as a clergyperson and engage with people of other faiths, I am continually reminded of the transcendent dimension to the work that we provide as chaplains.


Take us 10 years into the future. What’s different about chaplaincy then as a result of research literacy becoming a standard competency?

The future of chaplaincy includes the development of research chaplains in healthcare and military organizations, in addition to an increased emphasis on chaplain growth through reading and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Together, these elements will develop the way we see ourselves as having a valid and relevant voice in an era of tensions, especially between tribalism and globalization. Chaplains will work as agents of peace by engaging key religious leaders within the military setting and developing life-transforming interventions in the healthcare arena.


We’re grateful to John for helping continue our spotlight series.

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