For some years now, I've been assuming that someday I would enroll in a Clinical Pastoral Education course. That timeline has been shortened from "someday" to "soon" because I've been asked to stretch myself and pinch-hit in a major way when my rabbi goes on sabbatical next year. Leading services, teaching Torah, and doing lifecycle events are within my current comfort zone; counseling people in an official capacity isn't. Yet.
So this afternoon I drove down to the Berkshire Religious Resource Center and met with the minister who runs the local CPE program. I liked him immediately: he has a clear voice, a strong grip, and that air of presence that one sometimes encounters in longtime clergy. He told me about the history of CPE and how it arose out of the Reverend Anton T. Boisen's convictions that we can interact with each other as "living human documents" and that religion can be brought to bear on medicine.
He also told me about the program, which takes 400 hours (of which 100 are structured group and individual education, and the other 300 are spent serving in a pastoral care setting, hospital or hospice.) There are two program options (a summer intensive, five days a week; or a September-May program that meets one day a week). Along the way he talked about personal and theological reflection, ways of listening, what we can learn from M*A*S*H, and why this work is so important and so fun.
Jeff said last week that his unit of CPE was one of the most useful parts of his seminary experience, as valuable and meaningful as it was difficult. Karen posted extensively last summer about her CPE rotations, and in the end gave me the impression that it was incredibly difficult and valuable for her, too.
On the one hand, this sounds pretty scary. What will it feel like the first time I sit down with someone who is terminally ill, or someone in chronic suffering, and seek to listen to them or pray with them? Who am I to offer these things? Then again, I know that even (or especially) the sickest and frailest among us are reflections of God; and who would I be if I let this calling pass me by? That Marianne Williamson passage is right-on, I think, even if Nelson Mandela didn't use it in his inaugural address. (Anybody out there know the source of that misapprehension?)
As much as the summer intensive appeals to me (I know it's what a lot of seminarians do; I can see the value in deep immersion, and I can imagine that a tight group bond forms between participants over the course of the three months) I don't know that I can commit to it. My summer calendar already involves a family vacation and a possible retreat, plus there's this small matter of my arts nonprofit to consider. So I think I'm likelier to apply for the fall, and do the one-day-a-week program through next fall and winter and spring.
The application looks like fun, too. The essay questions are nice simple ones, like "a reasonably full account of your life, including important events, relationships with people who have been significant to you, and the impact these events and relationships have had on your development." And "a description of the development of your religious life, including events and relationships that affected your faith and currently inform your belief systems." Maybe it's a good thing I'm leaning towards fall; this could take a while...