When it was first organized into the Canadian Council for Supervised Pastoral Education (CCSPE) in 1965 our professional association was involved in a collective “experiential learning” process. There were no standards, steps, papers, verifiers, mentors or reviewers. Everything structural was embryonic.

Fast forward to the present!

The Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC/ACSS) has accrued over fifty years of history. Over the course of these years “certification” has been an important and also evolving concept. At the Association’s inception in 1965 there was one Chairperson for both Accreditation and Certification (later know as “the A&C Committee”). The earliest method of becoming certified was primarily through apprenticeship and collegial recognition. In 1973 national CCSPE Standards were approved for Pastoral Counsellors, Clinically Trained Pastors, and Institutional Chaplains. In 1974 the first Specialist was certified, and it was not until 1989 that a separate Committee was formed solely for Certification. With the addition of defined standards and processes, becoming certified as a Supervisor or Specialist within our Association was often spoken about as “planning to make an appearance” and/or “meeting a Committee”. The evolving process included writing papers, having them assessed by a “presenter” and “reader”, receiving a “presenter’s report’ within twenty-four hours of meeting a Committee, and then being assessed by means of a face-to-face interview.

Between 1999 and 2002 members of the Certification Committee observed that candidates were sometimes denied admission to certification because their papers were not of a professional quality. Finding this out from a Presenter’s Report twenty-four hours in advance of an intended face-to-face interview meant that some candidates spent significant money travelling to the interview location only to be told their written work needed further development.

This is when the “three step” Certification Process was envisioned and first implemented. It was believed that a person who had accomplished all formal requirements (Step One) and written professionally reviewed/approved papers with the help of mentoring support from an already Certified member (Step Two) would find the face-to-face interview (Step Three) less about scrutiny and/or “passing” and more about having a collegial conversation with professional colleagues who shared the same passion and expertise as the candidate.

The “three step” Certification process has now evolved over the course of a decade. Its original vision of having a small group of specially trained Association members within each Region do all of the Step Two scoring of professional papers and Step Three face-to-face interviews did not materialize as originally intended due to a number of both internal and external reasons. Thus, application for certification required the Certification Committee to recruit certified Members in each Region who volunteered their time in support of potential new members. Saying “yes” to serve in the certification process usually involved three-to-five days of volunteer hours. In an organizational environment of downsizing and the streamlining of professional services, our Association’s certification process was recognizably “labour intensive”. Further, certified members faced increasing pressure on their work time and found it more and more difficult to volunteer as frequently as they would like.

Between 2005 and 2010 methods for assessing the (Step One) accomplishment of formal requirements and the (Step Two) scoring of professional papers were streamlined. In 2009 the Certification Committee became a network of national representation using “virtual” technology to support their collaboration (rather than retaining the previous tradition of holding committee meetings in a designated Region of the Association). At present, Step One assessment is done within the Certification Committee. Those who are recruited for the Step Two scoring of papers – including one person chosen by the candidate and a second person recruited by the Certification Chairperson – go on to form the Step Three group of colleagues with whom the candidate meets face-to-face (or, when geographically necessary, via video-conferencing or Skype technology). The timeline for completing one’s certification process has shortened and there are increased numbers of CASC/ACSS members being professionally certified each year. Certification remains an experiential learning endeavour that will very likely continue to involve changes and updates. The hope, however, is that this evolving process will contribute to high quality professional practice in Spiritual Care and Pastoral Counselling and strengthen our solidarity through collegial identification.