My year of CPE is over and done. I walked out of the hospital last Friday a very different person, a different (better!) minister than I walked into it one year ago. I’m reflecting, processing, praying about this past year and how it will carry on into my future ministry.
What is CPE?
CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. There are two components – 32 hours/week of ministry, in my case, at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt (MCJCHV), and 8 hours/week of group educational time. In that group time we wrote and reflected on our ministry and patient encounters, read and discussed books, had didactic sessions on specialized topics, presented projects, and explored our group dynamics and relationships. All things considered, it’s an intense year, not only for the types of situations I encountered in the hospital but also the amount and kind of personal growth that takes place.
Lately, I’ve been reading through Proverbs with the She Reads Truth group, and if there’s a book in the Bible that could sum up CPE, I think that’s it. Wisdom and how to develop it, heeding correction, all of that is what I’ve learned through CPE. My three years of Divinity School were primarily about building up knowledge – theology, church history, Bible, etc. But my year of CPE was about wisdom. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting a tomato in a fruit salad.” Gaining wisdom has helped me be an effective minister with the knowledge that I learned in Divinity School.
Admittedly, I went into my CPE residency as kind of a last ditch option. Not currently living in the diocese where I’m canonically resident and there not being any other options for full-time, compensated ministry, I contacted the CPE center which just happened to have any empty spot. And at the end of the year, I would whole-heartedly recommend a residency year to anyone interested in ministry, not just chaplaincy. I learned more about myself, ministry, God, and love than I ever imagined, and I got to do it in a safe and educational environment with people supporting, listening, and challenging me.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year. And now, I’m ready. To use a wine metaphor, I came out of seminary unoaked: definitely drinkable but lacking some mellowing, depth, and structure. CPE Residency was 12 months in an oak barrel. As someone put it at the church where I did my field education and recently supplied, "you’ve really come into your own.” Alright, God, let’s do this thing.