Clinical Pastoral Education could expand horizons

Shirley Rollinson, a chaplain, talks about the Clinical Pastoral Education program at the nurses station at the medical unit Thursday at Plains Regional Medical Center. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer

Plains Regional Medical Center is offering an intensive training program to assist local pastors in doing hospital ministry.
Chaplain Susan Thornton, pastoral community education coordinator at PRMC’s parent corporation, Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, said she’s been assigned to help strengthen pastoral care at the outlying hospitals of the corporation, including PRMC. At Clovis, where 16 pastors from the community already volunteer as chaplains, Thornton said her efforts will focus on bringing a formal program known as Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, to the community.
Thornton said she plans to hold an informational session in Clovis on June 24 and 25 for interested pastors and lay leaders.
Although the program is on the graduate level and can be taken in conjunction with seminary study for credit toward a graduate degree, Thornton said CPE is designed not only for theologically trained ministers but also for lay leaders in local churches and ordained pastors who haven’t been to seminary.
“What this basic unit of Clinical Pastoral Education will signal to hospital administrators, for example, is people have learned to better listen, to work in a hospital environment that is high-tech and hopefully high-touch, and it certainly enhances any pastor’s or minister’s work in their parish or in specialized ministry,” Thornton said. “A part of this training is to help people who are not medically trained in a hospital environment understand the high-paced struggles and ethical dilemmas staff and physicians face in a hospital environment.”
“Confidentiality and masking the identities of those served is of the highest value in CPE,” Thornton said. “Mrs. Jones who is a member of X church will not be talked about in the community so everyone knows.”
Local church leaders who’ve participated in past CPE programs include Shirley Rollinson, an Eastern New Mexico University professor who also serves as lay leader of Trinity Episcopal Church in Portales and volunteer chaplain at both PRMC and Roosevelt General Hospital. Rollinson completed several previous CPE units while her husband pastored an Episcopal church in Texas, and Thornton said at least two other Clovis pastors completed CPE while in seminary.
“It would be a good thing for the community to get this here,” Rollinson said.
Rollinson said local pastors have been encouraging the Presbyterian Healthcare Services staff for a number of years to offer CPE. A previous attempt nine years ago was canceled, and Rollinson said she hopes the new CPE program succeeds. However, Rollinson said some pastors from smaller churches are concerned about the $300 cost for the sessions and nonrefundable $25 application fee.
Thornton said the program requires an investment of energy, time, and financial commitment by the participants, PRMC and Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
If enough people enroll to fill a five-member class, CPE sessions will begin Oct. 5 and conclude April 26 of next year. The sessions include formal training with 400 hours of education and supervised ministry in a hospital setting.
“Since Clovis will continue with a volunteer program over time, and the size of hospital is different, there will be numerous alterations to tailor the program to Clovis,” Thornton said. “Another point is the CPE program is stand-alone from the current volunteer chaplains, though we will coordinate hours with them. Some may choose to participate, but they have their own history and expectations for service.”
As one of the volunteer chaplains who’s also gone through the CPE program, Rollinson said an intensive program can be valuable in developing ministry skills.
“It makes you look at yourself in critical reflection on crises in your own life like fear of death, fear of pain, that only emerge if you see them in someone else,” Rollinson said. “You may think you’ve dealt with them, but you may not have until you see yourself ministering to others.”