. They said that the experience of Clinical Pastoral Education is like nothing else. Yup, they were right.

Finding the Right CPE Site

Way back in early winter of last year, the search for a CPE Site began. Our Contextual Education Professor advised that we identify several sites – up to five – to consider. Fewer CPE Supervisors are out there than, say, a decade ago. I can’t tell you why, but there it is. And the pandemic threw a monkey wrench into roughly half of CPE assignments the year before me. So half of last year’s class were desperately trying to enroll in CPE to make up for their own cancelled experiences along with me and my classmates. No pressure there.

Search, Research, Study, Discern, Pray

It became apparent pretty quickly that a traditional CPE Summer Intensive was not going to be available in my own neighborhood. The hospice I volunteer at was eager to have me for the summer, but couldn’t come close to the 300 clinical hours I needed. Not unless we decided to call administrative support clinical hours.

So I broadened my search. I identified four programs that looked promising.

One was a hybrid program – I’d cobble together all my own clinical hours and the CPE Supervisor would lead the Pastoral Education Cohort via online meetings. That had potential, as I could be home for the summer, as long as I was able to come up with acceptable 30 hours/week for ten weeks of clinical time.

Another one was very close to where I stay at seminary, but there was uncertainty about who the supervisor was going to be and if the hospital would approve the presence of in-person volunteer chaplains. Pandemics change everything. In any case, it was a remarkable environment, a 100 or so bed hospital with a brand new cancer center.

My third option was in Ohio – at a Life Center facility. This one was unique in that it was an embedded program – the CPE Supervisor was an employee of the community, rather than an outside contractor. I’ve had so much experience in assisted living, that I knew I’d feel comfortable there. Plus, I’d get to connect with family and friends nearby.

TheĀ  fourth was at a large and very busy university hospital, working with a supervisor who lives in Chicago and would commute down to Iowa City for part of each week. I’d heard good things about the supervisor, and I was told I’d be well busy the entire summer.

I filled out applications and wrote essays and submitted. Then I waited.

Interviewing is Not Stressful. Nope, Not at All.

Emails and phone calls. Then formal interviews, across time zones and contexts. One offered me a position on the spot – flattering. For the rest, I had to wait. And then I found myself in the enviable position of having to make a choice. The pandemic wreaked havoc – many locations did not permit onsite volunteers. The large univerisity hospital, that felt like the least comfortable clinical environment. Since I never take the easy option, that’s where I ended up.

Like Nothing You’ve Ever Experienced…

… they’d said. Life-changing, I’d been told. You will be stretched and challenged, I heard.

Right on all counts. Physically and emotionally one of the most challenging three months of my life. And yes, was stretched and challenged, and I grew and learned. Boundaries and contexts and beauracracy and cutting-edge medical technology and all kinds of things entirely new to me. An amazing cohort and supervisor supported me as I explored and improved and also honed in on self-work targets.

And it turns out I’m good at chaplaincy!

(if you only knew how hard it is for me to say things like that!)

So, I will be a better rostered leader for my church, which is, of course, the primary goal. At the same time, I get to continue being a better human being.