For the first time in our OCA seminaries, an accredited unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) was conducted that was based at the seminary itself! Seven current students elected to pursue a unit of CPE as an enhancement of their field education, and one STS graduate entering military chaplaincy requested to participate in this inaugural unit. Archpriest Steven Voytovich, who served as dean for the past five years at St. Tikhon’s, served as the certified educator, facilitating the program development and serving as the certified educator for this unit that ran from January through the end of August of this year.
Drawing upon existing strong relationships with an area hospital, nursing home, and correctional facility, respectively, a satellite agreement was established with Virginia Commonwealth University, with provisional accreditation from the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) given in January. Students visited patients, residents and incarcerated patients during the school year, and then participated in parish internships during the summer, during the unit running from January through August.
The eight participants were divided into two small groups. The core of the clinical training process (clinical here literally meaning “at the bedside”) is that actual encounters are written up by the chaplain, and presented to their peer group. Peers learn from each encounter as well as the chaplain, and the certified educator facilitates the reflection on each case that focuses both on what was happening for the “patient” and for the chaplain offering pastoral care. This process assists in building pastoral skills, but also aids the students in knowing more about themselves through the context of ministry encounters. With this unit occurring at the seminary itself, participants and their supervisor took meals together and attended services at the monastery church together.
In addition, since our faith was shared among the participants, no discussion was needed to define, for example, hesychasm as a dimension of pastoral visits. Instead we could move directly toward how it was present or was utilized. Students saw much of their coursework come alive in these visits. Students also gained much from interactions with facility staff members, and those serving as chaplains from a variety of faith traditions.
Here are some comments directly from participants: “Doctors have stethoscopes and plumbers have flashlights. Pastoral caregivers (chaplains) have CPE. The tools of the trade helped me see what can't be seen and hear what can't be heard.” “CPE showed me how to navigate being uncompromisingly Orthodox in a pluralistic context.” “I thank God for the opportunity to participate in the CPE program while completing my studies at St. Tikhon's. The intensive nature of the training has already yielded fruit both personally and professionally. I can say without reservation that I am in a better position to serve Christ's flock because of this experience.” All eight completed the program, seven completing a full unit of CPE
Many of the elements of clinical training were previously incorporated into the seminary internship program, one of two OCA church-wide initiatives begun in 1999. With the subsequent advent of accessible video conferencing, the sub-groups met in person during the school year, and then continued via video conferencing throughout the summer from various parishes and ministry contexts. The relationships already being formed facilitated continued meaningful dialogue across the miles.
This initiative received funding from a donor supporting ministry in the greater community that was used to implement the satellite agreement, and has previously received funding from the Ganister Foundation. A St. Tikhon's Board Member graciously offered financial assistance in order that the unit could reach its conclusion after Fr. Steven's term as dean ended. Unfortunately, due to seminary financial constraints, the program is not being continued at the present time. Those completing a unit of CPE will, however, be able to either continue training elsewhere, or apply for chaplaincy positions requiring a unit of CPE.
Fr. Steven said about the program: “It was wonderful to see this initiative come into being after envisioning the possibility for over twenty years. It was especially meaningful to see how the students’ experience of CPE contributed to their overall pastoral formation. Thanks be to God for this wonderful opportunity!”
Fr. Steven continues to serve as the Director of the Office of Institutional Chaplains, assisting chaplains in obtaining endorsement for a variety of ministry settings since 2003.