Thursday, December 16, 2010


I recently had a flashback.

Almost immediately upon my arrival at St. Paul Seminary, I began to hear talk of a program called Clinical Pastoral Education, otherwise known as CPE. From all accounts, CPE would be one of the most torturous processes I would be required to undergo in my theological career. CPE, in a nutshell, was the program in which we would spend an entire summer functioning as hospital chaplains. As part of this process, we would gather regularly with other Christian seminarians also operating as chaplains, and we would share our feelings about our experiences, whereupon we would be viciously attacked by angry, man-hating, militant, feminist, lesbians (this is not an exaggeration).

Needless to say, I was less than interested in attending any such program. As I would often find over the course of the years, however, my desire to avoid such a thing only reemphasized my need to do so in the eyes of my formators. So it was that beginning on Memorial Day, I took up residence at Christ the King Parish in Sioux Falls to begin my ten week stint as a hospital chaplain.

As I expected, I hated the experience and I believe that those who perpetuate this program should be tried for War Crimes violations. Nevertheless, the time spent in the hospital was actually pretty helpful. I got used to the sounds and smells of the sick and dying, and I developed a certain familiarity with some of the medical lingo. The dreadful part, however, was to be experienced three or four days each week when my CPE classmates and I gathered for didactics (I still don't know what this word means). The group was comprised of four men and two women, among whom were three Catholic and three Lutheran seminarians. At each gathering, one of us would be required to present a type-written verbatim interaction with one of the patients we had recently encountered. From these, apparently, we were supposed to be able to discern all of the horrible fears and character flaws of one another. Luckily, we didn't have any angry, man-hating, militant, feminist lesbians in my group. From the reports of my classmates, however, I ascertained that it would have been during these verbatim reports that, in any other group, we would have been attacked.

All in all, I found these events to be a superb waste of my time. Once in a while, we would learn a technique that would help us minister more effectively to other people. Mostly, however, we spent several hours a day emoting. I found it excruciating.

Even more tedious was the weekly meeting with Peter. Peter was (is, I assume) a British expatriate who was also apparently an ordained minister for the United Church of Christ. Over the course of the summer, I would come to discover that the UCC does not necessarily believe anything, and they seem to be comfortable with that. Peter looks uncannily like a monkey with rounded ears protruding from the side of his head, and tufts of whiskers on his cheek bones from where he forgets to shave. I actually witnessed him place an entire handful of dried fruit in his mouth once, only to spit it back into his hand after nearly choking. From week to week, we were required to visit him individually in his office and present to him a "significant incident report," wherein we would describe something that had happened in the past week and why it was significant to us. He would then lecture to us for the better part of an hour leaving us utterly baffled because he made no sense. God forbid, if in the course of a week, nothing especially significant had happened. We were in a hospital after all, with tragedy all around us. How could something significant not have happened. So, as with my peers, I found myself exaggerating some rather mundane hospital interaction in order to make it seem significant while meeting with Peter. I was not disappointed when my ten weeks had expired, and even as I write, I find that I harbor certain vestiges of resentment for having been forced to participate in so ridiculous a program.
But, CPE is not the point here.

Last week, I was standing in the hospital waiting for the elevator and thinking about this blog and what I would write, when suddenly I realized that I was looking for a significant incident. I chuckled to myself, but not in the, "Oh What a Happy Memory" way. It was more in the "Hell Has a Special Place for Those Who Perpetuate CPE" way. That thought makes me smile even now.


  1. That there is funny. I don't care who you are!

  2. I'm laughing too hard to comment well...good job!


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