This morning I drove an hour-and-change for an
interview. The local
Clinical Pastoral Education program that
blogged about last spring has since closed up shop; the minister
who ran it has moved to Kansas, and there's no longer a CPE program
in Berkshire County. The nearest one now is at
Albany Medical Center.
The drive was mostly familiar: route 43 all the way to the interstate, a solid forty-five minutes of curving country road, at this time of year lined with trees and brush, cornflowers and Queen Anne's Lace, through half a dozen tiny New York towns. Then a quick stint on two separate highways, a cruise through Albany on a pair of busy roads lined with beautiful old brownstones, and Albany Medical Center loomed before me. It's an imposing set of buildings, spanning a teaching hospital and a medical college -- a little bit intimidating at first glance.
As I walked across the pedestrian bridge from the parking garage to the hospital, down the long halls to the Pastoral Care office, I passed an elderly couple walking, the woman leaning on the man heavily. I passed a man and a little girl holding hands, the girl practically skipping. I passed a white-coated doctor, intent in conversation with someone wearing green scrubs and carrying a clipboard. I passed a woman in purple scrubs, sitting on a bench, talking on her cellphone. I passed a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair, oxygen tubes running into his nose; he repeated "too many people" tremulously as they wheeled by me. I wondered what all of their stories were, and whether these spaces, these scenes, would come to be familiar.
My interview was with a hospital chaplain and a member of the hospital's bioethics department. We talked about my calling, about what I want to do, about my background, about the lay leadership work I do now at CBI, about how I would handle being called-upon to pray with, for instance, a fundamentalist Christian whose views on theology and salvation differ radically from my own. At the end of the interview they shook my hands and welcomed me to the Albany Medical Center clinical pastoral education program. I should get my official letter within a week or so; I'll start on September 12th.
In the coming nine months I'll spend every Monday at AMC, from 8:30am until about 4:00pm. Once or twice a month I'll spend a night at the hospital, on call. From all accounts, CPE will give me the tools I need to be a good listener and counselor, and will train me to do this work wisely and well...then again, from all accounts, at least some part of the CPE experience is being dropped into the ocean of human suffering and figuring out how to swim.
I'm excited and terrified in roughly equal measure. The prospect of being called-upon to listen to and to comfort people who are in pain or in shock or in grief is overwhelming. I don't know what I would say, what I will say, how I will step up to this particular plate. But despite my fears of my own inadequacies, it's clear that this is important work for me to do. How better to make manifest God's presence in the world than to comfort people in need?
I expect this will be harder than I think, and that I will learn more than I can imagine. Many of you have told me that CPE was one of the most valuable components of your seminary training. I look forward to finding out what it's like for me, and to sharing my experiences with you -- without breaching the confidentiality of the people to whom I will tend -- as the year unfolds.