Reaching Those In Crisis: Improved Training For Ministry

SVOTS – 1/8/19

It takes more than intellectual ability and scholarship to make an effective priest or chaplain—especially because this broken world needs more servants equipped to minister to those who suffer those who find themselves in crisis, and all who desperately need the healing that only Christ can provide.

Honing pastoral skills requires practice outside the library, classroom, or chapel. In addition to reading theology, writing papers, and participating in liturgical training, seminarians also need:

  • Self-awareness
  • Active listening skills
  • Practice speaking the gospel

A balanced mix of all these ingredients helps to create a well-rounded priest or chaplain—someone who can listen carefully, be empathetic, and effectively speak the truth in love.

That’s what professional education for ministry—known formally as Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE for short—is all about.

This essential, hands-on professional training is available through the Seminary for both seminarians and non-seminarians alike. And it’s now getting even better.

In this first part of a short series, we will be sharing how our students receive this fundamental preparation.

The Roots of CPE

For seven years, St. Vladimir’s Seminary has offered course credit for participation in CPE. While CPE is relatively new to us, it’s not a new approach to educating seminarians.

In fact, it was in 1925 that a call for “A Clinical Year for Theological Students” from a Harvard Divinity School lecturer and doctor—an internship similar to the practical experience medical schools provide their students—spurred CPE into being.

The “clinical” part of this education is supervised encounters with people in need or crisis often in clinical settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, or nursing homes.

What exactly is CPE?

St. Vladimir’s uses an intensive 10- to 12-week unit typically in hospitals between seminarians’ first and second year of study. Recently, the Seminary has also used the CPE model for supervised prison ministry with first-year students.

The model is one of the “Action-Reflection” modes of learning. CPE students typically compose “verbatims” of their pastoral care encounters in which they are invited to reflect upon what occurred and draw insight from these reflections in a closed group of peers led by a trained supervisor. The lessons learned can then be implemented in future pastoral care settings.

Out of intense involvement with persons in need, and the feedback from peers and teachers, students develop a new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minister. From theological reflection on specific human situations, they gain a new understanding of ministry.

CPE has helped equip a generation of Seminary alumni in their service. It has increased the speed at which earlier generations learned the lessons of doing ministry.

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