By Sr. Barbara Brumleve
How do we do CPE for today’s world? I come to CPE supervision as a systems thinker with a belief that “everything is curriculum.” Early on, I ask all interns and residents to consider the basics of system-thinking: that every system or theory is based in human experience; foregrounds some concepts, backgrounds other, and ignores still others; and develops by re-framing or re-arranging what had been foregrounded, backgrounded, ignored.
Here my focus is the CPE residency, and specifically the theological development and pastoral formation of the residency. At St. Vincent the residency is a twelve-month, four-unit program with a prior unit of CPE as a prerequisite. We have five stipended positions but we started the 2014-15 program with seven persons, the two additional being a military chaplain and a lay woman who needed their third and fourth units for certification. (They finished in February, but in summer another person joined to get his fourth unit.) These eight people were diverse: two women, five men; some recent theology graduates, others further from their formal graduate education. They were from eight Christian backgrounds: Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God (Anderson), Disciples of Christ, non-denominational, Presbyterian USA, Roman Catholic, and Seventh-day Adventist. They were millenials and baby boomers, military and civilian, born in three different countries.
From the beginning of the residency, the group did diversity work by reporting on major holy days of various faith traditions as they occurred. After each report the residents discussed the implications for pastoral care and the underlying theology. The residents also had copies, distributed at orientation, of Handbook: Patients’ Spiritual and Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals, edited by Susan K. Wintz and George Handzo. This outstanding resource, available from HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, addresses 20 religious and 23 cultural traditions, listing basic beliefs and practices — particularly around birth and death — as well as communication, decision-making, family structure, and time orientation.
Intentional theological/pastoral development occurred in a variety of ways. In the fall, Carrie Doehring’s “The Practice of Pastoral Care: a Postmodern Approach” gave the group a common language and broadened their horizons, while at the same time becoming part of the “storming” phase of their group development. In December, each one wrote and presented a two- to three-page paper to explain their understanding and practice of spiritual assessment, and their peers provided feedback after the presentation. The residents also wrote and presented their theory of pastoral care as it applied to their current clinical context and as it would probably be modified in their second clinical placement. One resident, who was in her fourth unit, chose to present the competency essay that she intended to present for NACC certification. Seeing the distance they had to go was a challenge for her peers, but it motivated them.
Having completed these papers, the residents were better able to articulate and integrate their personal theology and pastoral practice when they met a committee in February to move to Level II CPE. After that transition, they were ready to broaden their theological and pastoral perspectives further. “Theological Reflection: Methods” by Elaine Graham, Heather Walton, and Frances Ward provided seven perspectives from which to “do” theology, although all from a Christian foundation. For each, the authors provided an overview, examples, evaluation (strengths, weaknesses), and questions. (Interestingly, the first of the seven perspectives, “Theology by Heart,” included Anton Boisen as one of the examples.)
During the summer the residents expanded their theological thought and pastoral practice still more. Several publications from Hartford Institute for Religion provided key learning materials. A six-page Congregational Observational Guide assessed theology’s expression in congregational ecology, culture, resources, and dynamics of authority. This document helped all the residents think systemically about their own churches and community, but it was particularly helpful to four who planned to return to, or move into, congregational ministry after the residency. Research studies on independent and nondenominational churches and on “nones” further broadened pastoral perspectives. In a complementary way, it was helpful and challenging to reflect on questions of religious, gender, racial, and LGBT diversity as well as white privilege.
Discussions, sometimes heated but always respectful, continued into the next phase of the residents’ theological development and pastoral formation when the curriculum broadened to other faith traditions. “Spiritus Loci: A Theological Method for Contemporary Church Architecture” by Bert Daelmans, SJ, provided a theoretical base for this exploration. Daelmans presents sacred space not as a container but as a relational event which is perceived, conceived, and lived in. Sacred space provides an atmosphere, a signpost, and a stage for the human-divine (or in the case of Buddhism human-enlightened) encounter in the spirit. With those underlying concepts, the residents visited an Islamic center and an Orthodox church, Hindu and Buddhist temples, a Conservative Reconstructionist Jewish congregation, and the Menno-Hof to learn about the Anabaptist tradition (Mennonite and Amish) and the newly built Latter-day Saints temple. At each site, a representative explained the belief and practice of the group and implications for pastoral care.
Do I take this same approach to theological development in every residency? No, but with this group of residents, I found this was the best way to focus on theological development in the context of ACPE standards and the residents’ future ministry goals. At the end of the CPE residency, along with pastoral competence, a credential file, a resume, interview skills, and knowledge of today’s healthcare world, these residents took with them a deep affirmation of their own theological tradition coupled with a pastoral agility in caring for persons of diverse traditions. They are ministers for today.
Sr. Barbara Brumleve, SSND, Ph.D., BCC-S, is an NACC and ACPE-accredited supervisor at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana