Five Student Testimonials about their recent CPE Experiences
I was a CPE student in the spring of 2014 and had the opportunity to split my clinical hours between hospital settings and my parish. The supervisor and unit were especially helpful in raising probing questions that helped me examine my reasons for being in ministry where I am and consider possibilities I had not considered before.
I needed to be involved in a CPE Program at this stage in my ministry. Ironically, the difficulties I had with several members of my congregation forced my to consider involvement in CPE, mainly to help me reset my priorities in ministry, but also to give me some breathing space away from the church. My CPE supervisor and my clinical coordinator at the hospital site assisted me in sharpening my skills of observation when in conversation with others, and to overcome my discomfort with asking pointed, pertinent questions when necessary. This has made ministry much more meaningful for me and helpful to the members of my congregation.
The lessons I learned in CPE have made me a better and more careful listener, and the techniques of observing the nonverbal cues given by persons during conversation have been invaluable to me. I am constantly reminded of the lessons I learned while involved in CPE. It truly was a life-changing experience.
As a young pastor dealing with the newness of both my position and location, I was often overwhelmed by the emotional aspects of my vocation. My father died unexpectedly just a few months after I became a pastor, and I had found that processing my grief was complicated by the responsibility to offer pastoral care to so many others. I also was unsure of myself regarding what made a pastoral visit helpful, especially when I would drive long distances to make those visits. I would wonder if I was overcompensating for the time spent driving by extending my visits. Even worse, I felt sometimes that I was not the primary driving force in my visits. Instead, I was just along for the ride. All of these growing edges led me to CPE.
My CPE experience surpassed all expectations. Through it I gained experience as a hospital chaplain, was able to process my grief, and learned helpful best practices in pastoral care. The model of learning alongside peers under a supervisor led to self-discovery, like no other learning experience had before. Along with it I discovered how I respond to the emotional systems in my life, including my family and my church.
As my life changes in the future, I look forward to taking another unit of CPE to help me process my own emotions and the care I give others as a pastor.
I am grateful for my seminary training. It gave me a solid theological foundation upon which I could build my parish ministry. But I soon discovered that ministry is more about people and less about the ability to decline a Greek noun or conjugate a verb. I realized that the ministry of people required more than my seminary training provided. This is where CPE filled the gap.
To put it plainly my CPE training changed my life. On the professional level, my training enabled me to have a greater degree of self-awareness which in turn enables me to better manage anxiety during pastoral visits. Instead of getting in the way, I am able to be fully present and really listen to those I am serving. On the personal level, my CPE training has helped me to be a more understanding and accepting person.
Through CPE I met fellow ministers from various faith traditions. This exposure broadened my ecclesiastical worldview and challenged me to new ways of thinking and doing ministry. Through my training, I feel I am better able to connect with people in my relationships on both the personal and professional level.
I am grateful to my supervisors for providing a safe learning environment where intimate thoughts, concerns, failures and dreams were shared. They introduced me to the world of systems theory for the first time. Having a working knowledge of social systems has proven invaluable as I serve hospice patients and their families. Through their unique ability to both challenge and coach I discovered alternative strategies of pastoral care that I would not have been aware of prior to CPE. I feel I am a more competent minister as a result of their influence. I am also grateful to my peers as we shared in growing through our CPE experiences together. They sharpened me as “iron sharpens iron.”
Completing four units of CPE was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken. But it was also one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life. Whether the focus is parish ministry, institutional chaplaincy, or other ministry, I wholeheartedly recommend Clinical Pastoral Education.
I’m no longer the wet-behind-the-ears kid I was when I first took CPE in seminary 25 years ago. I now have nearly a quarter century of experience as a priest. So when I signed up to take another half unit of CPE last winter, I expected that the experience would be much different. I didn’t realize how right I would be! In my first unit all those years ago I was there because it was required for me to graduate from seminary. This time I was taking it because I believed it would make me a better priest. That change of intention forced me to go beyond doing “enough” and dig deeply into the opportunities the program provided. This would not have been possible without the support of both my clinical preceptor and my supervisor.
My clinical preceptor on the Behavioral Health Unit where I was assigned to do my clinical work took the time to get to know me right off the bat. He quickly assessed my skill level and gave me the opportunity to take charge of my own experience. I had the freedom to make brief pastoral visits or take time–some times as much as an hour or two–to listen and reflect with a fellow child of God on his or her situation and how God might be active in it.
One particular example of this freedom and the opportunity it provided me concerned the 7 by 7 pastoral assessment tool that we were given in group. The next shift I had at Behavioral Health I asked the preceptor and he gave me the go ahead to run this out fully on a patient. I reviewed the process before meeting with the patient, then spent about 90 minutes talking with her. (It was a patient I had previous pastoral contact with a couple times, so I expected that she would want to talk at some length.) After that I spent the better part of two hours working through the assessment tool carefully and in great detail. This experience allowed me to explore the inner workings of the model and consider how it might be useful in different settings. Not that I anticipate taking over three hours with every pastoral visit I make, but exploring the model this deeply allowed me to better understand the key points it was after.
I built a very strong trust with my supervisor. This allowed me to be very open and at times even painfully honest about myself and my ministry in our supervisory meetings. His feedback and probing questions were always clear and spot on. This began when I presented the first draft of my personal goals. Because we had worked together in another context previously, he already knew me fairly well. We passed through my first two goals smoothly. I had struggled to articulate my third goal and mentioned that to him. He suggested that I needed to explore vulnerability in my ministry. This one sentence instantly crystallized my thinking in a direction that I hadn’t anticipated, and through the remainder of my half unit became the key focal point of my growth. As the weeks passed, he continued to provide me with clear feedback and challenging insight. He gently pushed me to achieve more then I hoped or even thought possible.
With more then two decades under my belt and less then two decades remaining in my active ordained ministry, this was a wonderful time to return to the roots of my pastoral ministry. If my first unit of CPE was about learning all the techniques of the pastoral encounter, how to play the notes and play the tune, then this half unit of CPE was about making music.
Clinical Pastoral Education provided me with new growth and experiences that I am confident no other educational environment could replicate. Immediate experience with patients provides the bedrock for all Clinical Pastoral Education. Group education, designed to provide in depth reflection on the patient encounter, allowed me to look at my assumptions and behaviors with a fresh perspective. My identity as a pastor, my skills in patient interaction, integration of theology with pastoral practice, and my ideas of leadership were expanded and strengthened.
One of my most inspirational moments of CPE was long term relationship I developed with a family who was in the hospital because their infant was having heart surgery. Their infant would need another heart surgery during the year and in between visits to the hospital I received a letter. The mother of the child indicated that my consistent visits and kind presence had not only helped them through a difficult time but also renewed her faith in God which had waned in recent years. She asked me to perform a baptism ceremony for her child and her relatives in the chapel.
This care I provided for this family helped me appreciate how the small and faithful actions of a pastoral minister can have deep and lasting positive consequences in the lives of others. This event and others were uniquely sacred moments in my life. These types of experiences cannot find an equivalent in a book or a classroom. Hospital ministry placed me within the rich diversity of human life and provided an educational framework to support time for deep reflection on my experiences.