Excerpted from a commencement address
Fairview's Clinical Pastoral Education program
The end of this unit marks the completion of my 15th unit of CPE. I don’t say that to show off, as I think it could raise some questions about my sanity.
So today, I’d like to address a question that one of our interns, Betsy, asked near the beginning of CPE, and a question that many others of you may have asked at one time or another. Why do we do this? Why have I done this? Clearly I am past the point of saying that it is required of my denomination.
My own spiritual growth
What I found in my supervisory training was my own spiritual growth and a much fuller way of understanding my own theology and why I feel called to this particular ministry. A part of the process of becoming a CPE supervisor includes writing theory papers. One of those papers is our theology of supervision, and, because I am a Christian, I have found it meaningful to look at the central event in the Christian story.
My theology of supervision is based on the three days of Easter, which is a little out of season right now, but—I think—relevant all the time, as far as I understand my life, and our lives together. I have seen Good Friday happen many times in CPE and in chaplaincy. The disorientation of new diagnoses, and the hard truths that we learn in CPE often lead us to that sense of groundlessness that I believe the disciples of Jesus experienced on Good Friday. It is that sense of "Who am I," "What has happened" and "What comes next." While our culture teaches us well to overcome and to keep moving, my faith teaches me something different which I hope to pass on in CPE.
I think that in waiting and listening for the spirit of God we learn much more than we do trudging forward. And I am a good trudger. CPE has taught me more fully what it means to wait for God in that Saturday space: both for how God will show up in my life, and for where God might appear in the lives of my students. Learning powerlessness, surrender, lack of control is never pleasant and can feel like a crucifixion. Over these past four years, I have had many of these moments.
We are never alone
But I don’t think that we undergo disorientation, groundlessness, or crucifixion alone, and I think that is the point—the point of CPE and of ministry. As I have gone through these years, of being a CPE resident and supervisory student, I have sometimes felt alone and disoriented. But the truth is that I have never been alone—CPE, in some ways, does not allow for that.
We have all had supervisors and mentors and peers who have accompanied us through disorientation and given us hope when it has felt like crucifixion is just too real. And I believe that is what we are learning how to do in CPE—how to be with one another, how to witness to the reality that none of us is ever truly alone, and how to wake up to the reality of being accompanied and cared for. Thank God there is Easter. Thank God there is new birth, or transformation, or whatever word our spiritual traditions attach to the reality of hope and newness and positive change. This day, at the end of my formal CPE education (and some of yours), is a piece of that hope—that some promise has been fulfilled…. And at the very least that we have done enough.
The word “commencement” has the connotation, not that something is ending, but that something is beginning. And today is its own kind of Sunday or Easter, or whatever we choose to call this piece of the journey. With new skills, new awareness of God and yourself, you are sent out into the world and into other ministry settings to be a blessing to others because of what you have learned.