Supervision Helps

She needed to turn aside and name what was unexamined and unfinished in her own life story as she continued in ministry to this woman. Were she simply to react to her as she had to her mother, she would have seen clearly neither her own story nor that of the patient, who was different from her mother in important ways. These parallels can be named and examined or referred for therapeutic work. Particular themes of grief or abandonment or abuse may provoke anxiety in the minister who has these themes as parts of his or her own history. Supervision helps the minister to learn to walk between the perils of overidentification and detached aloofness. Ministry in depth will always raise themes for the sensitive and reflective minister that are in need of attention in his or her own story. Recognizing these themes and remaining responsible in pastoral relationship are the goals of supervision that looks at life stories of parishioner and pastor.

(From Steere’s The Supervision of Pastoral Care, pg. 122)

History of Pastoral Care in America

Thanks to Patrick Fore

Thanks to Patrick Fore

I finished E. Brooks Holifield’s A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization. The book has been a grounding or a re-grounding for me since my seminary days. As the title tells, it is a history of pastoral care and pastoral theology in the United States of America.

Holifield walks through several Christian theological lanes, surveying and summarizing some of the major figures in pastoral theology broadly and pastoral care more specifically. He intends the book to be narrow in the sense of covering Protestant pastoral counseling and ministry.

I found it broad in how it went about telling that history. The author named several primary voices in pastoral work, drawing out the thoughts and conceptions of thinkers and preachers and teachers who shaped the practical ministry of pastors and the academic institutions who trained ministers. Holifield wanted to show specifically how the “self” was revealed in history, how attitudes about the self developed in American religion, and wrote in that direction.

Any history that covers centuries has to be clear in its scope and intention. Holifield told of theological traditions and how they dealt with (i.e., defined, taught, and constructed meanings for) sin and spiritual development, two primary foci of pastoral care and those seeking such care throughout history. How a church defines sin directly relates to how a person in that church develops him/herself, whether they develop at all.

I appreciate learning names and dates that I was not thoughtful of. Holifield named preachers and leaders who framed debates that I know of but didn’t know the progenitors. One criticism is that the historical debates were framed around churches and communities which regularly disallowed the names and thoughts of non-white people.

That lack of voice is loud in Holifield, and I found myself wondering why he wrote about the influence of Jonathan Edwards but didn’t discuss with equal precision the thoughts and impact of Richard Allen or Alexander Crummell, the Episcopal priest who started what was essentially a society for African American intellectual and theoretical development. The omission is both honest from the historical perspective–since Allen wasn’t “invited to the debate” in his time–and discouraging because I don’t note Holifield walking through his work with the sense of loss with which I read him.

He presented a lot of philosophical material that made me feel informed, and he made the connections to keep me interested because he used several local church pastors to offer what could have been, simply, heady stuff. A central event in American history of the Protestantism Holifield writes about is the Great Awakening. He writes of the psychology of the Awakening and how with the best of intentions, leaders disagreed (meaning argued) about conversion and cure.

He notes the remark of one historian who says that the central conflict of the time was not theological but psychological, about opposing views of human psychology. Holifield points to how misleading that comment was, but it as helpful as it is misleading. As he says, “the theological context of any clerical assertion about psychology profoundly affected the interpretation of the psychological claims” and “the antagonists had far more in common than any such dichotomy might suggest.” Both are true then and seem true still.

The book covers material that can’t, or shouldn’t be covered in a review. There’s stuff about will and affections, comfort, cure, accountability, capitalism, and urban culture which I hardly would relay as urban in contemporary sense. He develops in solid detail the early therapeutic movements which we see but don’t see in pastoral counseling and therapy offices. He documents the beginnings of the Emmanuel Movement, explains less popular figures like Harry Stack Sullivan (whose work I appreciate), and points to how clinical focus moved from adjustment to insight.

He opened up for me a connection between mainstream culture in the US post-Civil War and the accompanying shifts of emphases in counseling and ministry and which established the primary contexts for the 20th century pastoral care movement. The same was true after World War 2. National violence, world violence directly impacted the needs for, methods of, and providers for pastoral care and mental health. Power and achievement and success were foci. Warlike metaphors abound from that time in clinical history, and the residuals of that period are still with us.

The last half of the book was much more relatable. He employed names and methods I have been introduced to, and the book did a good job unearthing the nuanced theories from which today’s approaches in pastoral theology stem. He dealt with the ever popular client-centered therapy and its large reception among pastors, as well as the derivative therapies thereafter. He mentioned early to mid-twentieth century pastoral heavy weights like Hiltner and Boisen and Oates and Wise.

I remember thinking about something one of my Bible professors said. Perhaps they are words I put in a professor’s mouth: the people who write our texts are the people whose stories stuck. Their stories endured. In other words, those we quote continue to be those we hear.

I felt Holifield reminding us of good historical stuff while also, in my view, choosing certain voices and neglecting others relative to a history of United States of American pastoral care. I certainly am developing a personal project to augment Holifield’s good work, thinking through whose voices are missing but shouldn’t be.

In summary, as good as this history is, it is short-sighted in the direction of white, male perspectives which is nothing surprising. Most of theological scholarship bends in that direction. Certainly most recognized histories bend there too. I could see more complementary texts coming alongside this book in order to illuminate the less-told stories of women and people of color. Indeed, I know the work of folks like Carroll Watkins-Ali and Archie Smith should be read with Holifield’s book.

Now, I’m on the hunt for another pastoral theological history that captures and enriches the story by adding the voices that Holifield didn’t include. That said, this quote, pages from the end, summarize well the good ground the author did cover and offers a kind of vista into the next places historically minded theological scholars may next dig:

Pastoral conversation–whether understood as counsel or as counseling–has never been a disembodied activity, isolated from social and cultural expectations and ideals. The strategies of pastoral discourse, the tone and vocabulary of private communication between the minister and the person in distress, always have borne the dim reflection of a public order. One begins to understand something about pastoral counseling by looking closely not only at prevailing conceptions of theology and psychology but at popular culture, class structure, the national economy, the organization of the parishes, and the patterns of theological education. And one must also look at the past.

 

Why Pastors Should Take CPE (1 of 2)

I’ve been writing this post in my head for more than a year. That doesn’t mean it’s good as much as it’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while.  I’m taking a series of units of clinical pastoral education (CPE) at a Chicago hospital.  I took a unit last year at a different site, Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly. And my thoughts are coming out of those experiences as well as loving theft of smarter people who’ve said things about the same.

Here are some random thoughts about the early reasons to take a unit in CPE. My next post will comment on the content and group work in ways that keep the right confidences:

The requirements are minimal. You do need a theological background, so you have to be friends with graduate theological education. But if you’re in the work of that or if it’s behind or under you, the steps to enrolling in CPE are doable. Getting in tends to be an extremely hospitable process, one where you are lovingly and graciously asked significant questions that will in themselves be an education.

The requirements aren’t minimal. In a sense, just by going through the application process, you know that people around the table, in your peer group, have taken the decision to attend very seriously. It takes recommendations and essays and answers to fairly deep questions to get an interview for a site. But you know that everyone has answered, or been pushed to answer, the same strong questions.  Once you start serving in your site and doing group work, you’ve joined a group of people who are generally good at making and staying with commitments.

CPE is a continuing education. Most people are familiar with CPE as part of a seminary education, but because I was working at a church during seminary, I didn’t take a unit in CPE. I didn’t have the time. The beauty of CPE is that you can take it at any point. And pastors need structured continuing education in theological reflection, in pastoral arts, and in group dynamics. The education provides for those.

Choosing gets easier. You have to choose your site, where you want to “do your unit,” where you want to learn. Part of that choice is in your experience of the interview with the potential group leader/clinical supervisor. This person will become either a very poor influence in your life over the months you’re learning or someone you “esteem among rubies.” In my case, my clinical supervisor was a critical reason I kept going forward to get more units. Her way and expertise with teaching us and me were outstanding. You should pray to have a supervisor like Sister Barbara at Urban CPE.

Praying gets harder. If you’re lucky, you’ll sit in a group with people as different from you as a new morning. That alone might shock you into transformation, growth, and learning. All of you being ministers, all of you won’t come from the same ministerial background. Welcome that for what it’ll do to how you approach God. You should find yourself using a broader range of words for God, expanding beyond your well-crafted experience of God, and, thereby, deepening in the way you’ve created that range and that craft. But praying may take longer. You’ll integrate yourself in prayer, listen to feelings and how they make their own prayers, and you’ll be heard differently as you pray for others in the intimate homes of people unfamiliar with your way of doing ministry. You may become a bit more humble.

We need feedback. As a pastor, I spend time telling people what I think, and I spend time helping people reflect on what they think. I needed an education that would come alongside me post-seminary which would enable me to regularly reflect on my practice of ministry and, as importantly, give me feedback. My experience of the pastoral care part of leadership is that you don’t get feedback normally.  Building a vehicle for it was important. Once you go through a group or two, you expect feedback, learn how to hear people, and learn what it feels like to be heard.

Supervision is a gift. Clinical supervision is a weekly meeting with your supervisor, a pastoral educator who has had–by the time they sit with you–years of post-seminary training in listening, group work, paper writing, grief, chaplaincy, and teaching. She’s been to therapy in order to sit with you. He’s been through what you’ve been through at least half a dozen times. So, when you close the door of your meeting room and talk about what you’re learning as you serve in your clinical area, you’re receiving something precious.

The education is somewhat tailored. You develop your goals for CPE. There are common outcomes because the education is accredited through the ACPE. There are standards to meet, but you determine how and whether you meet them. The grading is first very interior because the focus, from application to post-unit evaluation, is on you and what you need. My interview at Northwestern was an inviting time of discernment last summer. The first question they asked me was, “What do you need from us today?” Blew me away.

Pastors doing process notes change. Ministers do a lot and we could even do more than we think. In other words, we could do what we do and not think. Process notes are an essential part of CPE where you write weekly reflections to 5-6 questions. You write out of your experience at your site, thinking through what you’re doing, interrogating your experience. Over time, you read your notes, see your growth, and you change. You add the language of the noted question to yourself and begin to monitor whether an interaction is illuminating. If your supervisor comments on your notes, it’s increases the amount of wisdom you’re gaining.

We start asking better questions. On my current process notes template, our supervisor has this question, “Where did you meet God this week?” Can you imagine answering that weekly for yourself? Before you lead a meeting or close the study door or leave for your Sabbath or give a benediction or counsel someone, knowing that that question is waiting for you is framing and powerful and internally shaping. When we asked good questions, it turns us into good questioners.

Clinical Pastoral Education

The room of you, a small circle of goodness, lights in your faces that remind me of grace waiting, tentative scenes from your lives turning into a dozen gifts wrapped for us all.

The table cloaked with comfortable chairs, the package of cookies made by our leader’s friend and the ones Keebler made with dotted pecans, eaten and enjoyed.

The framed pictures of godly people, people who hopefully lived well, people who hopefully called upon others to do justice, love, and mercy, people whose ecclesiastical garments hopefully never blocked them from service.

The lightning, the thunder, the darkness from Ogden Avenue spilling over to us, framing our voices and reflections in the tones of divinity.  These were the images and sounds of our first meeting.  What a wonderful unit this will be!

When I Stepped Away

Last week, Monday, you came to my neighborhood, took me to eat, and to do whatever I thought was nourishing to my soul, which happened to be seeing Man of Steel.  That was your recommendation and I’m grateful you made it.  The meal and the movie, the conversation, and the entire gesture you made, was, together, a fitting day off for me, a wonderful way to feel, through you, that the church I serve cares that I (and certainly not I alone) recuperate after the pile of offerings I give.  When I stepped away from serving for a Day, I felt like I was served.  Thank you, Tim, and thanks to the church that you represent in your acts of care to me.  You join a gracious circle of others who love well, care well, and give well.  I’m glad to be one of your pastors.