What is CPE?

Written by Kevin Crowder

Kevin looking at camera and smilingCPE, Clinical Pastoral Education, . . . so the literature says, is professional education for ministry.  It is the clinical component of graduate theological education.  CPE provides the participant the opportunity to operationalize her/his/their personal and academic theological development in the art and science of ministry, sometimes for the first time.  That makes CPE sound like on-the-job training.  It is so much more.

CPE is the dawning realization that, “I am really going to do this!” And, “What have I gotten myself into?!”

CPE is the isolation and terror of pastoral responsibility for a first page, or first overnight shift in the hospital.

CPE is being present for your first death, and your second, and your third, and maybe your 100th.

CPE is about learning what to do when you don’t know what to do.

CPE is wading into the unknowing of the human condition.

CPE means looking into the face of a mother, father, child, or grandparent and bearing the imprint of their grief-laden gaze on your soul.

CPE is more than the experience.  CPE is about actively, intentionally learning from the tragedies and triumphs of human existence.

CPE includes learning about limits and boundaries, setting limits, often by bumping into them.

CPE is about facing the vast chasm that is the self, that place of knowing and not knowing self.

CPE is about building courage, hope, and resilience by thoroughly examining yourself.

CPE is about learning about one’s self, about one’s self-awareness, about one’s motivations.  CPE is about exploring one’s attitudes, biases, and assumptions.  CPE means discovering one’s blind spots

CPE is not about telling people how to fix, what to think, and how to feel.

CPE is not about preaching and teaching; it is about listening and learning.

CPE is about bearing witness to heartaches and suffering of other humans.

CPE is about finding the strength to go on and helping others do the same.

CPE is a time when seminary students and ministers engage in relationship building, in reflection, in supervision, in critique of stuff most of us would rather go unobserved.

CPE is about self-sacrifice in the service of something greater: sacrifice of time, of life, of family time, and of other pursuits in order to learn.

CPE means missing sleep, meals, family time, play time, nap time and rest time.

CPE is about reading and writing, when you would rather be cuddling, resting, traveling, or ANYTHING else!

CPE is about engaging God, the Holy Other, higher power, and for some, CPE is about the sacred that is not God.

CPE is about learning to COPE: learning theology, living theology, and finding the limits of one’s theology. 

CPE is about finding the flaws in my own theology and resisting the urge to impose my flawed theology on others.

If you are lucky (or fortunate, or diligent), you might find that CPE results in a deeper, richer, life of relationships and ministry. 

If you are like me, you might even say that CPE saved your ministry before it ever began.

ACPE Certified Educator Kevin Crowder, DMin, MDiv, MS, MM, BCC, is the Director of the Pastoral Care Department a Mary Washington Hospital in Virginia. He may be reached at  Kevin.crowder@mwhc.com