Chaplains Balance Heavy Topic and Light Moments at NCCA Conference

Blowing Rock, NC—About 50 chaplains and guests attended the North Carolina Chaplains’ Association Spring Conference April 25-27 at the Blowing Rock Conference Center in Blowing Rock, NC. The conference featured Rev. Dr. Vergel Lattimore III as its keynote speaker. The two days also included time for conducting NCCA business, enjoying fellowship events, discussing clinical case studies, attending a recognition banquet, practicing laughter yoga, and receiving a Blessing of the Hands for chaplains.

Cynthia Vaughan, CPE supervisor at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and current president for NCCA, welcomed chaplains to the NC Chaplains Association spring conference and introduced other members of the executive committee, all of whom played a role in assuring the meeting went smoothly.

Featured speaker Vergel Lattimore, president of Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, NC, is a published poet, an ordained Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the first African American to attain the rank of Brigadier General in the US Air Force and the Air National Guard. He led the chaplains through three sessions that focused on cultural sensitivity, radical empathy, and practicing peace in professional and personal relationships. Interspersing lecture with video clips, literary readings, and small group conversations, Lattimore challenged the group to recognize issues of race, discrimination, and white privilege among the gathered group and in their workplaces.

Lattimore read a passage from the autobiography of influential theologian Howard Thurman, showing the power of reframing events and empowering others to become their best selves and to rise above racism. Traveling through the South in the 1950’s, Thurman and his family stopped to rest for a few moments at a park near the highway. His daughters spotted a swing set on a playground in the park and couldn’t read the sign that warned that the playground was “for whites only by state law.” Thurman sat his little girls down and said this to them: ‘Listen to me, all of you, you are somebody. Every one of you beautiful girls is a somebody. In fact, you are so important and so valuable to God, and so powerful too, that it takes the governor of Louisiana, the lieutenant governor, and the whole state police force to keep you little girls off those swings.”

In Lattimore’s final session, he shared positive means for both white chaplains and chaplains of color to address racial conflict and to take steps toward change. For example, white people need to acknowledge their whiteness, their white privilege, and take notice of present day racism. They need to listen to people of color, educate themselves, broaden their experiences, and take action: “Consider racism your problem to solve,” Lattimore encouraged. “Confront ignorance and inappropriate behavior; help others to learn, not just react; be a visible person in the fight against racism.”  Alternatively, people of color need to love themselves, embrace positive self-images, challenge perceptions and language; educate themselves, build ties, and “Take care” of themselves: “Accept white allies; keep a positive attitude; walk away when you are too tired or too angry,” Lattimore cautioned.

As a counterpoint to the serious subject matter, chaplains also took time to play and laugh together. Those arriving on Wednesday evening were treated to a feast of desserts provided by chaplain Walt Windley. The spread included seven cakes and a variety of homemade cookies and breads. While they ate, chaplains got acquainted or reacquainted and played games or enjoyed conversation together. Maria Teresa Jones even taught Barry Morris the Merengue dance.

On Friday morning, Johnston Health chaplain and yoga instructor Saundra Casey led chaplains through a session of Laughter Yoga. The session included information about the proven health benefits of laughter, and instructions about creating and sustaining laughter in order to shift mood, increase life balance, strengthen the immune system, decrease pain, and lower stress. Then the group participated in several exercises of laughter yoga. Casey commented that the group was a bit more inhibited than others she had worked with, so chaplains may need to think about incorporating this practice on a regular basis.

Two retiring chaplains and others achieving recognition were honored at the Thursday evening banquet. Retired chaplain Robert Randolph served as the clinical chaplain at the NC Dept of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Dewey Smith, chaplain at Hospice of the Charlotte Region, is preparing to retire next year. Smith also currently chairs the education committee of the NCCA. Both of these chaplains shared wisdom and encouragement from their years of ministry. NCCA presented them with framed certificates thanking them for their service and involvement with NCCA.

Other chaplains also were acknowledged for reaching milestones or receiving awards. Kathy Turner and Jon Speed, both of whom work for Carolinas Healthcare System, successfully met with their certification committees in March and are awaiting official board certification from the Association of Professional Chaplains. Jane Mitchell, Hospice and Palliative Care of the Charlotte region, received her palliative care certification from APC. Shay Greene of UNC Hospitals received the emerging leader award from Mid-Atlantic ACPE. First-time attendees to an NCCA event included Beth Woodard of Trinity Elms; Maria Teresa Jones of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center; Bob Riley of Carteret Healthcare; Molly Garnett of Carolinas Healthcare System; and Sara Smith, also of Wake Forest Baptist.

All NC chaplains are encouraged to mark calendars now for the fall meeting of the NCCA, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 11, at Caraway Conference Center. The North Carolina Chaplains’ Association is dedicated to providing education, fellowship and advocacy for professional chaplains of all faiths in North Carolina. Membership is open to chaplains in any industry, as well as to students interested in chaplaincy. For more information, contact the association at or

To see pictures of all the learning and fun, click here.


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