CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. 12 weeks of CPE equals One Unit. One Unit was a requirement for all Masters of Divinity students while I was at Trinity Lutheran Seminary.
If you ask anyone who has done CPE, the most common adjective they will use to describe it is probably Intense. You spend your days (and many nights) sitting with people who are dying or who wish they were, given their level of pain or grimness of prognosis. You sit with their families. You learn how to give people the news they plead with you not to give. You analyze the stages of shock and grief and learn why even non-CPE grads learn to deliver bad news by first saying “are you sitting down?”
CPE is intense for at least two reasons: one is the contact with patients and families who are suffering; the other is the group process by which you routinely explore how you responded to those people — why you did what you did and whether what you did was appropriate. It’s serving others in pain and then processing how their pain triggered your own psyche. It’s…a bitch.
Still…I’m thinking it may be time for me to do a one-year CPE residency. It’s been a slowly forming idea and I only now think I might have the intestinal fortitude and be emotionally prepared to do it.
A one-year residency includes 1 24-hour on-call and 3-12 hour on calls every 2 weeks. When you’re on call you stay at the hospital and have sleepsnacks in the designated sleep room. When you’re not on call the hours are typically 8 – 5, 5 days a week. The program I’m looking at is at the Ohio State University Medical Center, a state of the art hospital that includes a Level 1 Trauma Center; a transplant center; and a (I hate to even type this) burn unit. Residents take shifts in every possible area of the hospital.
So what’s the appeal? I seem to be drawn into ministering to people who are suffering with or without a formal call from a church. I’m to the point where I know I need more skills to cope with the way I internalize some of this pain if I’m going to remain healthy body, mind, and soul. SOMEONE needs to stand with folks in these times and not everyone is ABLE to do it.
OSU gets about 20 – 25 applications and will choose 4 people to be residents. The residency begins and ends in August which would leave me free(er) to bask in the joy of Chase & Adam’s senior years at high school & college. I will surely come out with life changing experiences and more credentials to seek employment. And they will pay me enough to survive, plus a few choice benefits such as health insurance, OSU pension for the time I’m in the program, and two weeks paid vacation so I can still possibly go to Italy in November.
Once finished, I will be qualified to become a supervisor of such a program, or a chaplain for a wide variety of organizations; or simply a more effective pastor. I recently found out that major corporations such as Procter & Gamble employ their own chaplain to help employees manage the stress in their daily lives…who knew?
I continue to explore other opportunities for employment, but this seems to be the idea around which the Spirit is giving me the full-court press.
Yesterday when I called OSU to inquire about the program it turned out they are accepting applications this month; they interview in January; and my supervisor for my first unit of CPE 10 years ago had just been appointed the new director of the entire program at OSU. She answered the phone on the first ring and remembered me instantly. We talked for a long time and after we hung up I began remembering situations I encountered the first time around: the woman whose dementia would not allow her to process the words “your husband is dead” so that I had to repeat it over and over for a half hour until she finally laid beside him and understood. The disfigured woman who survived an accident that had taken the love of her life two years prior, whose family wanted her to leave this earth hearing her favorite hymn…which I led in its entirety…and have never been able to remember since. The first man I visited on CPE, who scared me by putting the move on me right before he went into surgery — and died on the table. And the mistress and wife, both grief-stricken, who showed up to say their goodbyes and whom the nurses and I had to team tag to keep a brawl from breaking out in front of the nurses station.
I also remembered the depth of the friendships I established with my colleagues who went through CPE with me and how deeply attached I remain to them today even though we never see one another face to face.
I have a friend and colleague who likes to say that clergy are called to storm the gates of hell trusting that the gates of hell will not prevail (Matt 16: 13-28). If I get through the daunting application, the subsequent interview, and get accepted into the program, then I guess I’ll be storming the gates for a year. Hopefully I’ll come out of it not just scarred but refined, as fire has the capacity to do to all who enter into its mesmerizing rage.
Lord have mercy…let us pray.