Ivan H. Omaña, DMin, BCC, BCPC, is director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

In the summer of 2000, I completed my first unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE). That experience left an indelible impression. It began a journey that proved both exciting and painful, and it brought to life the words, “The truth will set you free.” But first, it will make you mad.1 I often would arrive home and wonder aloud: “Why on earth did I join this crazy thing?” The safety that I had built into my world was rocked by strangers who seemed to be projecting their own “stuff” onto me.

However, when resistance gave way to vulnera­bility, the question changed to: “Why did I not do this before?” That question stemmed from a deep desire to share experiences that confirmed the call to be a supervisor—notwithstanding that the journey would take some painful detours.

Learning process

With the phrase clinical pastoral education, various ideas come to mind, though CPE has slowly been growing in denominational mainstreams.2 Long gone are the days when Adventist chaplaincy was considered the cemetery of failed pastors. Nowadays, I find myself at the tip of a movement that is revolutionizing the way ministry—especially the ministry of chaplains—is seen in church.

CPE is not simply “chaplaincy education.” As the name clearly states, it is pastoral education. Its main goal is not to make you a chaplain, although you need to stay the course in CPE if you want to be one. Instead, CPE is about helping you become the best pastor you can be, whatever your ministry. But CPE may take you to painful places, making the journey difficult.

In CPE, when learning occurs, it is transformative and reshapes the person and the minister. Thus, theological reflection, or theology in the context of CPE, emerges from life encounters or, as pioneering chaplain Anton Boisen boldly claims, from the “living human document.”3 In this context, the usual hermeneutical tools prove inept. The direct human experience is where learning opportunities begin.

This learning process—where reflection plays an important role—invites participation in ongoing revelations. As a CPE unit continues to grow, communal andragogical moments occur. Trainees bring to CPE what they want to find and address: personal fragmentations stemming from their encounters with similarly fragmented people. However, in a miraculous mirroring expe­rience, the trainees discover the gaps between who they are and what they do. Healing and learning in CPE involve helping the trainee find the critical bridges while simultaneously widening the gaps.

Who are we

Carl Jung states that personality is the out-come of a conscious and unconscious collision with which we develop shapers that teach us what we should be (persona) and should not be (shadow).4 I agree with Jung. Maturation involves the process of removing our masks. It includes separation and connection, leading to a more comprehensive knowledge of who we are.

Growth consists of becoming transparent, authentic, and being honest with oneself. This invites the creative tension of being unique as an individual while, at the same time, conforming to group norms and humanity in general. The process of growth and maturation happens most effectively face-to-face and heart-to-heart. It requires individual and group experiences.

Teaching from the heart in a trainee-centered way is ideal in CPE. Educationally, learning is enhanced by intentionally fostering an environment where the trainee is free to discover and learn from direct experiences. Education in CPE is an artful implementation of teaching from within.

Diversity

Diversity in CPE is evidenced in at least two ways. First, in learning. David Kolb provides a segue for teaching from the heart by acknowledging the diverse ways people learn. Learning sets bearings and allows for change to take place. It remains relevant by being malleable enough to adapt to new circumstances and by integrating evaluation and assessment at every possible point in the process.5

Second, in supervising. The supervisor must recognize that trainees have diverse hands-on ways to achieve valuable learning in the education for their ministry. Supervisors revere trainees who are aware of their gifts, abilities, motivations, and educational needs while at the same time allowing space for trainees who are still struggling with their need to learn.

I want to share two principles with anyone contemplating CPE.

1. CPE is education by involvement. It is adult, person-, student-, and trainee-centered learning. You will find yourself uncomfortable with the fact that you set yourown learning goals and enter a learning covenant with your supervisor and peers. Realizing this early in the process will go a long way in helping you take advantage of CPE.

2. Learning in CPE requires vulnerability. Vulnerability requires trusting that your peers and supervisor have a covenant of confidentiality upon which it is understood that everything that happens in CPE stays in CPE. While every experience will afford a learning opportunity, we need to remember those learning opportunities are confidential and sacred.

Are you overwhelmed yet? If so, welcome to the world of CPE. But when you come out at the other end, you will be the best version of the pastor God wants you to be. Of course, there will be some bruises, but they are the evidence that something worthwhile has happened.

  1. Gloria Steinem and Samantha Dion Baker, The Truth Will Set You Free, but First It Will Piss You Off: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Rebellion (New York: Random House, 2019).
  2. A version of this article appeared in The Adventist Chaplain, issue 2, 2022.
  3. Glenn H. Asquith and Anton T. Boisen, Vision From a Little Known Country: A Boisen Reader (Washington, DC: Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, 1992).
  4. Gerald Corey, Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (Boston, MA: Cengage, 2021).
  5. David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2014).

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Ivan H. Omaña, DMin, BCC, BCPC, is director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

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