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The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy is a theologically based covenant community, dedicated to "recovery of the soul" and promoting competency in the clinical pastoral field.

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May 29, 2006

Reflections on My First CPSP Plenary Meeting by Alexis Versalle


As a new member of CPSP, I attended the CPSP Plenary with anticipation, curiosity, and some apprehension. Anticipation because my association with CPSP through two Chapter meetings and a CPSP supervisor has been so positive. A fundamentally tender group of people, making a welcoming and safe place for each other, calling each other compassionately but firmly to account, strong of principle but gentle of application. Experienced but open to learning from me, a newcomer and a relative beginner.

I’d heard about some of the CPSP meetings, read various articles written by CPSP members, and listened to discussions about some of the current issues. One comment that stood out was, “Holding a meeting of CPSP is like trying to herd cats!” So I was curious.

I admit to some apprehension because I hate all the small talk that goes with meeting new people. I can feel easily overwhelmed in a crowd and I have a certain dread of the vulnerability of small groups. I also wondered what I, as a mere “member” with 3 units of CPE might have to offer.

Like a kid at the fair, however, I wanted to see everything. I went to the first meeting I could, an evening business meeting. I watched bemused as there seemed to be little or no order in the proceedings. Troubling to me was the fact that at least one student group’s fate appeared to hang in the balance while people debated the procedure by which the group had arrived there. I wasn’t terribly reassured, having already experienced other groups where the rules of the game were changed at the last minute.

The reactions of those participating were interesting: some sat in the back and made comments to each other, some made vain attempts to call the group to a more formal procedural order, others called out comments or questions, some stood and waited to be recognized. It was difficult to know if or how an issue would be acted on further, as things seemed to simply trail off with an ill-defined consensus. In light of this, it was not surprising to me that communication might be a problem.

At the same time, I could appreciate what is probably a very healthy and necessary tension: providing enough structure to be reasonably efficient while maintaining decentralized control as far as possible. Tension, in my experience, is always uncomfortable, as it was for me in that meeting. It can also be very creative, and I felt real creativity in that room alongside the chaos: people trying to develop new ways of providing supervision while still remaining accountable, for example.

The less a system relies on a central authority, it seems to me, the more it depends on the will of each participant to take responsibility to maintain the threads to the whole. There may be room for better and more consistent structures of communication among Chapters, between Chapters and committees, and so on. As a newcomer who hopes one day to be in the place of the group discussed at the meeting, however, I would ask that we choose, out of deference to those we serve, to keep each other informed all along the way.

An aspect of the plenary that I found especially satisfying was the representation from all over the world. As someone else said, people from various cultures were “not only welcomed, but celebrated.” I belong to few other organizations where I could, as I did at the plenary, sit down with a brother from Tanzania and learn as honestly and openly about one another.

The small group I participated in included a goodly number of first-timers like myself. The experience was collegial and mutually beneficial as we imparted our stories and reflected on case presentations. We took a pass, though, on the final session just to have time to walk the beach or do some shopping. I understand now why the plenary was billed as a working gathering: those books I brought with me for spare time? Untouched.

Did I mention the sacred moments of reading of the covenant together?

Finally, the Tavistock experience (another first) touched me deeply. The introvert in me especially appreciated a time and place where us quieter but no less committed ones could be heard alongside the louder voices and more dynamic personalities. For us all, beginner and veteran alike, to join to reflect respectfully on the shape and future of CPSP was such a welcome change. The passion for our shared was energizing.

As I said then, each person is responsible for following their own particular call to service, and each call demands a unique courage. No one call or courage is superior to another. The courage to face a tyrant is no less or more than the courage to face ones own self. The arena of political change is no less or more worthy than the arena of institutional systems, group work, or one-on-one transformation. Rather than focus as an organization on any one area of service or mission, I hope CPSP will remain a group where each person’s call to serve, no matter what the arena, can be respected and supported by the whole.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 4:37 PM

May 15, 2006

Reflections On John Edgerton’s National Clinical Training Seminar Presentation by Linda Walsh

<imgI was grateful to be at the NCTS. John Edgarton is a master storyteller - using visions of scary woods, dogs and loving relatives to lure us into the experiential and effective lesson of the Narrative as a vehicle for transformation and liberation. Each patient's story unlocks a subversive message of hope...a liberation process to transcend the sorrow.

He urged his audience to search the patient's biography to discover the "Holy", like a muse, to reflect that God has been there all along. John's compelling personal disclosure woven through contextual references personalized, for me, the responsibility we carry in this spiritual role. In therapy we expose our own story and awareness - but in clinical practice we take that same story objectively and use it to assist and build strength in others.

The good news is that each CPSP meeting is experiencing larger multi-cultural attendance. This enriches my small group experience by weaving wisdom with dynamic reflection. Although I was unable to attend Tavistock, the reverberations were intense. I am reminded that I am personally in control of my own education. Who decides if I am educable or engaged if it is not my choice to be the instigator?
John Edgarton followed up on Friday by engaging our place as the Prophet - not as rebels against the law - but as "Outlaws"; agreeing to evolve with and empower the community to transcend the law.

The prophet holds a dream. In CPSP and clinically, we instill a vision that is attainable together. He suggested that empathy requires that we do not revel in the same depression as the patient/community and strive to find that intuitive place of hope. By reviewing President Lincoln's Gettysburg address, John explained how to define a transforming vision that people can get into their speaking simply and clearly.

It is no wonder that a totalitarian regime is afraid of the artist, the visionary and the creative thinker. The outlaw Prophet has an imagination that is contagious; as is our vision at CPSP.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 11:19 PM

May 7, 2006

Presidential Address by James Gebhart, CPSP President


Virginia Beach, Va.
March 31, 2006

James E. Gebhart

    In the church of my youth, the preacher always started his sermon this way:  “Everyone open your Bibles now to this book, this chapter, this verse.”  And all across the congregations Bibles would be lifted up and quickly opened to the correct place.  And what I could not help but notice, even from my earliest years, is that everyone was looking at verses they had seen many times before.  There was nothing new here, only still another look at that particular scripture.  My mother would always write in the margins of her Bible, carrying on a literal dialogue with the Word of God.  The idea was to return again and again, each time searching for something that might not have been appreciated in previous times.

    And so it is I am asking you now.  Will you all open . . . , well not your Bibles exactly, but any of the CPSP literature in your hands.  In fact look at your name badge and there are the words for the day: The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.  I want to call attention to our name, to look at it still another time for perhaps a deeper meaning.  This is a question of our identity.  One of the earliest challenges you had in your clinical training was in response to that question “Who are you?”  It became a maddening question asked by that supervisor, that committee, that fellow student.  But we had to return to it again and again.  And so I ask you still again.  Our name:  The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.  Much is imbedded in those words. 

    Today there is only time to focus on the first two words:  College and Pastoral.  Perhaps next year we might address the last two words regarding the science and art of pastoral practice.  We will see.

    But first, this word College.  Our founders were very wise to have chosen this name.  Or perhaps divinely inspired, which is a bit of a stretch knowing them as we do today.  Perhaps both.  But is the right name at the right time and the right place.  The College. 

    You might pause and notice that no other pastoral organization embraces this term, much less begins with it.  Others feature a national or geographic focus of activity:  The American Association of Pastoral Counselors;  The Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education;  The National Association of Jewish Chaplains;  The National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains;  The National Association of Catholic Chaplains.  Still other groups define themselves by administrative function:  The Association of Clinical Pastoral Education;  The Association of Professional Chaplains.  Now these titles are all appropriate, all well and good and honorable.  They accurately identify a focus.  But it is no accident that we, in our life together, began from an entirely different point of view.  It was never envisioned that we would be limited by the boundaries of this continent. That is very obvious as you simply look around you at this international audience.   And likewise our identity was never framed in terms of political or administrative function as these were the bane of the founders and the point of the original reformation. 

    And so another name was chosen.  The College.    There had been another College once, the College of Chaplains, of which I was a Fellow for twenty-five years.  I was at first astonished that the old College would give up this name.  But then it made sense.  Their primary new identity was to be an association to certify chaplains and not a company of persons intent on living together.

    We are The College.  The Latin origin is both collegium from which come our words colleague or collegiality, and collegia referring to a corporate partnership.  Once in a while someone objects to this name thinking it refers to a school of higher education that grants a degree.  But this is only a more recent definition; its historic definitions are much more clear.  They include:  “a self governing society of scholars for study and instruction” (e.g., the College of Surgeons); “a company or assemblage of persons with a common purpose;”  “a gathering of clergy living together” (e.g. the College of Cardinals); and “an association of churches or religious leaders each equally empowered.” 

    So seize this first word of our name, College, and work with it.  Our identity begins here:  in the interface of each of us with one another.  It is the language which pervades our inspired Covenant:


      We see ourselves as spiritual pilgrims seeking a truly
        collegial professional community . . . We covenant to
        address one another and to be addressed by one another
        in a profound theological sense. . . Our governance will
        be dealt with primarily in Chapters . . . We place a premium
        on the significance of the relationships among ourselves . . .
        We believe we should make a space for one another and
        stand ready to midwife one another in our respective
        spiritual journeys. . . We believe that persons are always
        more important than institutions.

    These are astonishing words.  They always bring us to a pause, to a hush, when we recite them together.  We are transported by their challenge.  And then, at least most of us, stir uneasily, a little small cloud of skepticism appearing on the horizon, as we wonder if this can really work.

    It happens every year when we assemble as a community.  People find themselves “assigned” to a group where they will spend many hours during the conference.  There are to be no exceptions; all of us are to be engaged.  (With the exception, of course, of the President who is granted a two-year amnesty from any negative challenges.)  And there is usually ambivalence about this.  We prize our time together and want to seek out old and trusted friends.  Yet here we are committing ourselves to a time with some new faces, with strangers, a time when we are expected to be forthcoming with our more naked souls.  And we ask:  can this really work?

    Yet this is precisely what attracted me to CPSP:  the sharp focus it was giving to  candor, disclosure, intense interaction, and a high commitment to work through painful changes.  I had spent a decade of my life running encounter groups in the 1970’s, and I had known the transformation that comes when persons take the risk of truly knowing and being known.  Carl Rogers, the patron saint of pastoral care, had called the encounter group the most encouraging and promising development in the history of psychotherapy.  But, sadly, that interest subsided, due partly from the doubts about the lasting efficacy of primal experience, but also to the movement away from intimacy.  Experiential psychotherapy and existential engagement became slowly replaced by the new emphasis on cognitive focus and behavioral modification.

And so I came over to look into this thing called CPSP.   I have written about that, stirred by the word that persons were seeking to live out their professional lives in chapters where they vowed to address one another “in a profound theological sense”, to “midwife one another” in a personal and communal search for “the recovery of soul.” When I attended my first plenary as a visitor I was astonished that the Tavistock experience was featured, something which I thought had faded from history.  And in the candid engagement of one person with another I saw the actual manifestation of these lofty visions.  Here were persons seeking to be the new wineskin, the corrective which places leadership back in the hands of Chapters while preserving the essence of the great traditions of pastoral care and education.

    A number of responses to my article in The Journal last year have been the same:  in this proposal of an Order of pastoral care, are you offering a metaphor or do you present this as a realistic possibility?  And my answer is yes and yes.  It is a metaphor, like the “Kingdom of God” is a metaphor, or “the recovery of soul” is a metaphor.  But it is also a literal possibility that persons who deeply prize their autonomy can preserve it at the same time they direct it to the common good of the community, to fidelity to an Order, to a College.

    And how are we doing in this pursuit?  We are still trying to gauge that.  Our Chapter Life Committee’s report is very promising:  stories of high commitment, authentic engagement, open accountability, creative work and self-scrutiny.  Yet we don’t know enough  yet about those chapters which are said to not be doing very well, or those which seem not to be really open to new members, or those that are too big but reluctant to divide.  I have a particular concern that some chapters are unable (or unwilling) to pay the costs of sending their delegates to the mid-year meeting of the Governing Council and thus lose their connection to our self-governance.  And I have a concern that some chapters are said to be giving only token recognition to the central authority of CPSP, resisting the necessity of imposing upon themselves the common standards of CPSP. 

    And so a clear word about this.  Standards are the public description of our actual process and product.  And it is therefore imperative that we function just as we describe ourselves.  Anything less is not only anarchy, organizational chaos, but it is a profound threat to our public integrity.  And in those instances where our process and process is anything other than what we say it must be, it can become a serious liability in courts of law.

    Our General Secretary yesterday found the relationship between chapters and the structures of centralized governance to be analogous to a marriage, a work in progress.  He is absolutely right.  I would only add that, until now, the darling of this marriage has been the chapter.  It has received the bulk of attention because of our historic aversion to heavy centralized governance.  But a healthy marriage is a dynamic dialectic and this requires that the all the structures of centralized governance  receive attention equal to that of the chapters, that full accountability must flow both ways:  from chapters to the Governing Council and back again.  The most specific instance where this must occur is in the certification and the accreditation processes.  The locus of responsibility for both of these functions is the chapter, yet this activity must be fully scrutinized by  some agent of our central governance. This is quite simply required to assure ourselves that we are all in compliance with our standards.  It is essential if we are to be a College.

    To this end I bring two matters to your attention.  First, there is an action before the Governing Council to call every chapter into a relationships with two or more other chapters, presumably those which are geographically adjacent.  The reasons for this recommendation are that chapters can expand their range of experience, coming to know others of our College in greater intimacy, and to learn from other chapters as to what is helpful and what is an impediment to our continued growth and function.   Second, I will ask the Governing Council to find the ways and means to enable the Chapter Life Committee to designate a delegation of leaders so that every chapter is visited at least once over the next two years.  The purpose of this visitation is not to criticize but to consult and to study our chapter life.  What is flowering and what is not?  And why?  Too much of our information is anecdotal; what is needed is to study the situation and report back to us on how this marriage of chapters and central governance is working.  To have a report on the status of our College. 

    And now for the second word, Pastoral.  And again, as we re-look at this word some old defenses kick in because of all those times we had to define our pastoral identity.  And the task is always to claim the richness of this treasure, of  the  blessing with which we have been endowed.  The pastoral office exists within the deepest structures of the secular world, yet is also dramatically juxtaposed and set apart from the secular.

    I want to point to these with two personal vignettes which speak more clearly to this matter than any discussion I could offer.  The first is those unforgettable days following 9-11.  Picture (and remember) the fireman who quietly walks over.  He has seen the “Chaplain” vest and has been watching.  His face is forever tired and sad, his eyes seem empty, his voice flat.  But now he wants to say something.  And what he says is this:  “I want to tell you how much your chaplains have meant to us.”  He paused, then continued:  “The mental health workers mean well, but the chaplains let the men tell their stories.”

And then he continued, telling his story once again.  Was it the third time?  The 20th time?  It had a confessional dynamic, the need to keep telling it until he was finished.  He told of how he was off duty that morning over in the Queens, stopped to get a bagle, then was driving home when the call came.  He returned to the station as the first engine pulled away.  He quickly donned his equipment, then followed in the second engine.   Over to the river, then down through the tunnel, then up and over toward the Trade Center.  And then, in front of him, the engine manned by his buddies suddenly disappeared in a cascade of stone and smoke and hell.  He was still working through that, and probably is doing so still.

    When I returned to Columbus I recounted that story to our Red Cross mental health team. Some of them resented the story and the implication that mental health workers would not be able to perform as well as chaplains.  My response was this:  “Hold it!    Take a deep breath!  Now, obviously, any good psychotherapist will know how to ‘let the men tell their stories.’  But what is important here is the perception, a perception which originated somewhere.  That perception is that the mental health workers are going to be quick to teach:  teach the seven things that you need to know about post-traumatic stress,  or the ten steps of addressing anger appropriately, or the principles of grief, or the importance of sleep, and the rest.  Let us hear that social perception.”

    Our fireman had observed that the chaplains did not engage in this.  Possibly it was because they did not know what on earth they could possibly say in that horrific situation!  This is an experience we learned in CPE 101, and I have told psychology classes about it again and again, how it was seminal to my training as a psychotherapist.  We all remember:  how you stand in the hospital corridor before going in to see that patient, in that God-awful crisis, and you think “I do not know what to say or do in this next moment!”  And in that honest claiming of inadequacy you enter the room, but, now, paradoxically, you bring that which is essential to the possibility of a genuine meeting of souls. “When I am weak then I am strong.”   Sheldon Kopp wrote about this in his words:  “We must learn the power of our helplessness.”  We who are pastors know about that as well as anyone.  It led us to a high commitment to being present in our daily work without trying to “fix” someone, without being one more mental health mechanic.  This art of listening without premature interpretation is the signature of pastoral care.  The fireman saw that. 

    The second vignette speaks to how we sometimes lose sight of the central authority of our pastoral office.  This story is even more personal and I feel a bit vulnerable in telling it.  But here goes.

    The scene was a continuing education seminar for psychologists.  In my slight resentment of the required nature of these events, I usually sit toward the back trying to keep busy with some reading.  On this day a discussion had developed over the issue of the necessity of psychologists to speak the truth about their science, to inform the public and counter the myths and misunderstandings that are abroad.  My ears perked up when one speaker continued to reference the church.  The church, he kept saying,  is damaging our society, telling people that psychotropic medication is a crutch and a crime if given to children, that homosexuality is a perversion, that stem cell research is murder, and the like.   And the more he kept talking about the church, or religion in general, the more intently I listened.  And then, to my surprise, I found myself on my feet with the microphone in my hand.  I found myself very interested to hear what I was going to say.

    And the following is a rough verbatim of what I did say on that occasion.
    “I’m Jim Gebhart.  Many of you know me since I have been in practice forever over near Riverside Hospital. But what many of you may not know is that I am first and last a minister.  And so when I hear references to the church I listen carefully.”

    At this juncture there seemed to be a sigh of discomfort.  What is this?

    I continued.  “I would inform the colleague who has these concerns that I generally agree with all he has said, and that most all of the clinically trained ministers I know would say the same.  And I would go further.  I am not just alarmed by some of the foolishness coming out of the churches, but I am actually jaundiced regarding the near future of the church.  It is a grim picture with the growing majority of fundamentalists, persons motivated by fear, by insecurity, who cannot tolerate ambiguity, who require black-white thinking.  They are quite vocal, they polarize our society, and they cause people of reason to turn away.

    “This has happened before.  Arnold Toynbee wrote that about every five hundred years in Christendom the faith becomes increasingly irrelevant to the masses, spinning off a variety of weird cults before it transforms itself.  Well, it has been five hundred years since Luther.”

    This reference prompted a number of smiles and side comments.  The audience seemed to be warming to the to this critique of the church.  And this fueled me.

    “But let’s imagine for minute that this disillusionment of the church continues and reasonable people turn away for the foreseeable future.  Gone, now, is the pastor, the village philosopher, the spiritual leader of the community.  But who will replace this pastor?  Will this person appear out of the discipline of medicine, reclaiming the ancient shamanic tradition?  Or perhaps this person will appear from the camps of education which has always had as its focus the question “What is true?”  Or, possibly could this person appear out of psychology which claims to have one foot in both medicine and education.  What if it is you who replaces the pastor?”

    The smiles and rapt attention had increased.  I was fascinated with what was evolving.  I was on a roll.

“But if it is you psychologists who fill this role, who become the new village philosophers, then it will be necessary always to inform the world what is true.  But that is only a part of the goal of the philosopher whose pursuit is of the true, the beautiful and the good.  And are you prepared to address both what is true in contrast to what is fiction, what is beautiful in contrast to that which is ugly and hideous, what is good in contrast to what is evil?  These are cosmic categories, and you can’t just be thinking off the top of your heads.  The study of the true, the beautiful and the good will take you beyond psychology to the study of history, archeology, culture, theology.  To do that you might even have to go to seminary.”

    Now the interaction was lively, psychologists finding some delight at the image of their going off to seminary to qualify for this new role.  Theological education, previously short on legitimacy, seemed suddenly to be revisited with new eyes now open to its rich possibilities. 

    But then came the moment that humbled me.  Over to my left a woman stood, composed her thoughts, and remarked:  “I think I would qualify to assume some of this new role.  I had an undergraduate major in philosophy, have always been interested in the science of Biblical study, and would welcome the seminary and the study of theology.  But that would not do it. That is not enough. I do not feel equipped to bring people before the face of God.  To teach them to pray.  To pronounce the absolution of their sin.  To have the audacity to proclaim the very Word of God.”

    Now there was a very long silence.  During this silence I found myself remembering words I had so often said to students:  “Be aware of your reluctance to claim your pastoral identity.  Your pastoral  authority.”

    I do not believe I was in any way ashamed of the gospel that day.  I guess I just found it easier to talk about disciplines and pedagogy than vocation.  Our vocation, ordained or not.   This claiming of our vocation  is the most intimate and vulnerable disclosure we can make to the world.  To have the audacity to present ourselves as persons who have been called by God to do God’s work!  To claim the blessings promised by God!  To actually call people to transcendence and to transcendent commitments!

    This was my learning and I share it with you.  We may not always be comfortable in being called pastor but that has a profound meaning to much of the world.  We are proud of our title as clinically trained ministers, but never forget that it is the latter half of that title that makes us unique to the world.  Our pastoral identity, our pastoral authority.  This man, this woman stands in the order of Melchizedek with all the resources of that tradition.  To offer the sacraments.  To hear confession.  To make the bold proclamation of salvation and new life.


Pastors in the eyes of the world!  May we remain as humbled and as empowered by that astonishing identity as the day we took our vows.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:35 PM

May 3, 2006

Reports to the Community by Raymond Lawrence, General Secretary


The General Secretary’s Report to the Community
2006 Plenary Meeting
The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy
Virginia Beach, Virginia
March 30, 2006

The reason we are doing so well as community is that a great number of persons have taken on leadership roles.

I want to say how proud I am of the quality of our leadership over the past sixteen years. We have a long line of dedicated and committed persons who have taken various leadership roles in our community. No one has ever been on payroll. No officer has ever been reimbursed for travel expenses related to meetings of the Governing Council, Executive Committee or any working committee. These persons travel, sometimes across the country. Some get no support from their employers to participate in our meetings. Some are in private practice and actually lose income for such service to us.

Without such dedication there would be no CPSP. I think we should be proud of the kind of leadership that has stepped up to the plate in our sixteen-year history to ensure that the CPSP community flourishes. I think they deserve a rousing thanks, one and all.

Accountability, Quality Control, Maintenance of Standards

Most organizations function on a negative-based accountability. The principal is: “We leave you alone unless a complaint is filed against you. If a complaint is filed, we’ll appoint a group of relative strangers to decide your professional future.”

I’ve been an Episcopal cleric for 45 years. No bishop or church committee has ever inquired about progress or regress in my thinking or behavior. Not once.

I could be a practicing Hindu for all my bishop knows. But I’m still in good standing as an Episcopal priest. If I applied for a parish job, the bishop might cast about and find out what the word on the street was about me. Then he might see that I did not get the job, of course. But I would remain a priest in good standing.

Now if the newspapers report me charged with extortion, robbery, or murder, or something even more scandalous, say, like a boorish sexual gesture, then the bishop would commission an investigation. I would be examined by a committee of strangers who would decide on my worthiness to be a cleric, and I could be unfrocked. Negative-based accountability, ineluctably blown by the winds of the latest frenzied moral crusade, postulates that you’re ok unless somebody complains about you. This explains why the churches have such consistently poor leadership, persons who know how to work the system, or cowardly persons who are always looking over their shoulders, following the axiom: lie low, keep your nose clean, and your credentials will remain intact.

Most organizations, including those in our clinical pastoral field function similarly. Once credentialed, one never again submits to any serious or regular peer review, unless a complaint arises. CPSP takes a radically new approach to professional accountability. We have turned negative accountability on its head. We have positive accountability. Every certified person is subject to continuing peer review and annual recertification. Every Chapter meeting is tantamount to a review of credentials. And the work is done by persons who know each other’s history and idiosyncrasies, and most important of all, are willing to risk their own credentials by being identified with one another in the same Chapter. Gross misbehavior by one member of a Chapter that is unaddressed reflects upon and even jeopardizes the credentials of all others, even the viability of the Chapter itself. For example, an active alcoholic in your Chapter who is left unconfronted by such behavior endangers the credentials of every member of your Chapter.

Even with what I am here identifying as ‘positive accountability,’ we should not inflate our capacity to maintain quality control. We know how difficult quality control is. It is difficult enough for each of us to keep professionally current, and to monitor our own unconscious. It is more difficult to assess others. When attempts to control quality become rigorous they tend to expel only the weird and peculiar among us, not necessarily the incompetent. Often the genius of tomorrow is the weirdo today. We know how uneven quality control is in all the clinical pastoral organizations. We know who the people are. Politics drives most of it. Those who work at pulling up all the weeds often kill the fruitful plants as well, as Jesus said.

Actually, I feel rather warmly toward my bishop that he would not care if I were a practicing Hindu. The Episcopal Church could learn something from Hinduism. There is a certain graciousness in leaving me alone, even if it also happens to be a poor way to maintain even the most minimal accountability. It would be useful if the bishop and my fellow clerics were just ‘interested’ in me, but I can’t say that has ever been so.

After Joseph Fletcher of Situation Ethics fame wrote his paper late in life rejecting the Nicene Creed, the Trinity, and the Divinity of Jesus, he met his bishop at a social event and asked him if he wasn’t going to defrock him for his renunciation of basic Christian dogma. His bishop replied that it was best to leave the ember in the fire. I thought that kind of generosity of spirit spoke to what has been best in the Episcopal Church tradition.

We have some wayward members of CPSP who are embers better left in the fire. Sometimes persons are more important than dogmas or standards. If the bishop had defrocked Fletcher, as according to Episcopal standards, he certainly should have, the Episcopal Church would have hurt itself more than Fletcher.


When I first went into clinical training the Council for Clinical Training was still the principal authority in the field, followed by the Institute for Pastoral Care, both soon to give way to the merger that formed the present Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). In those days, in the 60s, the regions were very small and we all knew each other quite well in the region, but they followed the corporate model of power concentrated in the leadership, a key part of that leadership situated in the certification committee. The professional quality of supervisors was quite variable in spite of the fact that the certification was a very rigorous process, bordering on being abusive. Half those who presented themselves for certification were regularly rejected. In spite of this rigor of this all-powerful gate-keeper, the certification committee, it was common knowledge that some of those certified were at best marginally competent. And I noticed that those who kept returning seemed always to get certified eventually. But once certified, there was no further serious engagement or discussion with individual supervisors of what it meant to do the work we do. Quality control has always been a difficult task in any community.

The all-powerful corporate-style certification committee held absolute power over the right to work. That created considerable negative feelings in the community. I remember a certification chair in the 70s, Winton Gable, who was physically assaulted in a New Orleans hotel lobby by another supervisor because his trainee had been rejected by Gable’s committee.

Can we be serious about standards and adherence to the covenant, and also gracious and generous about our less-than-perfect colleagues? Now and again we might see a less-than-perfect certified person in the morning mirror.

Certification in CPSP, then, is rooted in an intimate community of trust and engagement which continues to be lived out through some way of being together as a Chapter community. We believe this has more promise than the old corporate model to better promote both professional quality and fair treatment to persons.

Communication vs. Hierarchy

The relationship between Council and Chapters will be one of trust, but trust built on communication. That is the CPSP way of accountability. It is a radically different way from all other communities of which I have knowledge. Chapters that do not communicate will be separated, just as individuals who do not communicate should be separated from Chapters.

This is not to say that communication solves all conflicting views as to what constitutes competency. It does not. We may have to fight over or struggle with some issues, as we have in the past. But we believe that open communication will go a very long way toward forming an accountability that is both serious and generous.

We have created a model different from any other accrediting body in the field. It is not easy for persons, even ourselves, to get their minds around the CPSP model. Even those of us in leadership positions have trouble with it. A pyramidal, corporate model, with power exercised downward is different from the conglomeration of loosely related circles. The Army, Catholic Church, General Motors, the Federal government, and most of the clinical pastoral organizations are built on a pyramidal, corporate model. CPSP, on the other hand, is a grass roots community of diverse sub-groups.

I am honestly astonished that Judaism has prospered for a couple of millennia as well as or better than Christianity without any central authority or corporate headquarters. Any handful of people anywhere can gather and call themselves Jews. Somehow this works. (Alcoholics Anonymous and Baptists with a more limited history have followed the same course, and also done quite well.) I don’t think we can be quite a liberated as Jews, because we need to vouch for those we certify. However, Jewish history calls into question the value of hierarchy, even the paltry hierarchy we have in CPSP. It certainly calls into question the vast hierarchy of some of our sister organizations where the price tag for maintaining the bureaucracy is something close to $2,000 a year for each certified person. The bureaucratic cost in CPSP is currently a little over $50 a year. In a world where most of its people subsist on about $2 a day, even our costs seem immoral. I do think that those of us in leadership on the Governing Council, our meager bureaucratic superstructure, should travel light.

The Department of Education (DOE)

In the past five years we have been engaged in discussions with the DOE and our pursuit of recognition by that agency. The major stumbling block is that DOE requires an Accreditation Commission that is independent, well-financed, and requires that some of its members are persons who are not members of the CPSP community.

The DOE would require that we delegate to an independent commission the authority to accredit and to remove accreditation of our training centers. The CPSP leadership pursued this at first thinking it could maintain the fiction of an independent Accreditation Commission, but has decided, at least for now, not to go down that road. It is contrary to our basic philosophy. We know of course that in practice the independence of accreditation commissions in other organizations is a kind of fiction. How can any commission be independent if its bills are paid by the community? And its bills would be great. Such a commission would recreate the bureaucratic monster which we escaped from when we left the other organizations.

DOE recognition is just that. It is not itself a certification. It has three benefits.
1. It permits an organization to sponsor J-1 visas for international students. But no one wants a J-1 visa, which requires massive continuing paperwork to be reviewed by the government and is very restrictive. Every international trainee I have had in 40 years has been on the much more user-friendly R-1 visa, acquired by way of ecclesiastical authorities, and which has no link to the DOE.
2. It permits GI benefits to trainees. In 40 years of supervising I never met a trainee with GI benefits.
3. And it has some amount of public relations benefit for those who are comforted by advertising stating that we are recognized by the Federal government, which means, currently, recognition by George Bush and his appointees.

DOE recognition is not required for Medicare reimbursement funds to hospitals, in spite of claims to the contrary by the ACPE for more than a decade.

The leadership has decided that the price is too high and the benefits are too few to request DOE recognition at this time.

So we are taking a new tack into the wind. We are reverting to our original philosophy whereby Chapters are fully accountable for their own training centers and the Accreditation decisions regarding them. Thus Chapters will live and die, prosper or fail, according to the kind of competence they support. If a Chapter sponsors poor quality, Chapter standing will be on the line. Our fail-safe position is that each March everyone’s credentials are on the line, as well as each Chapter’s right to exist as a CPSP Chapter. If a Chapter fails, no member of that Chapter has a claim on any other Chapter for credentials. The annual re-certification is the place we set our teeth in regard to discipline and quality control. Thus, as we stand now, the Accreditation Committee is an advisory committee to the Governing Council, and to any Chapter seeking advice, but with no authority to rule on accreditation of centers. It is a parallel committee to the Council’s Review Committee on Certification (CRCC).

The Environment We Contend With

The times we live in are especially daunting, and effect the way we are able to work:

-The escalating discrepancies between the few rich and the many poor both here in this country, and even more seriously abroad

-The moral collapse of the U.S., where its highest leaders have become war criminals, authorizing abductions, torture, indeterminate imprisonment---‘extraordinary rendition’, they call it---overturning widely respected agreements on due process such as the Geneva conventions on warfare. As the German people found out in the middle of the last century, the deeds of a nation infect everyone, even those who presume only to observe from the bleachers.

-The incipient religious war playing out on the international scene, especially focused on Muslims.

-The irrelevance and political pandering of so much of the religious and clinical pastoral leadership that follows every passing fad.

-Not least, the continuing warfare among clinical pastoral organizations jockeying for position in the most irreligious of undertakings, self-promotion.

It is a difficult time to work for justice and compassion among all people. We are losing ground in that calling. The comfort we find in our CPSP community cannot assuage the sense that entering a darker age than the one in which we were born.

I regret to report to you that a number of our colleagues in the field are still engaged in a concerted effort to discredit CPSP. It’s not that they hate us. They simply want to franchise themselves as the only acronym to authorize clinical chaplains, or the only acronym qualified to certify clinical pastoral training, or CPE.

The power center of this self-franchising effort is the so-called Council on Collaboration Group, a group that we several times asked to be included in during its formation. We were told there was no room for us. We would be invited in later, the organizers said, several years ago. Their apparent agenda is to franchise the Association of Professional Chaplains as the exclusive chaplaincy certifying body and the ACPE as the exclusive body for clinical pastoral training. The intent is also to outflank and supplant the COMISS network, the only existing roundtable of clinical pastoral organizations and denominational representatives. The goal is to lock up the clinical field so that no one will be allowed to work as a chaplain without APC credentials, and no one will do any clinical training or CPE without ACPE credentials. They are nowhere near such an objective, but they are determined and well-financed.

The So-called ‘Common Standards’

A part of the schtick of the Council on Collaboration is their subscription to a document they call ‘Common Standards.’ They are common indeed---without substance. The Common Standards are both a stalking horse and a show dog. The Common Standards do not establish a substantive foundation for a true profession, but are for public relations purposes. Their code of ethics is so general that with a few changes in verbiage could be read as well as a code of ethics for hairdressers, janitors, or subway station attendants. When you read the fine print you will see that none of the member organizations that tout the ‘Common Standards’ has yet adopted them. They commit only to ‘working toward adopting them someday.’

Take for example the matter of peer review which in the Common Standards is called for every five years. The largest of the Collaboration Groups, the APC, has not instituted any peer review. The ACPE has. It goes like this. Every five years one must meet with three friends, presumably professionals, and ask for a consultation on one’s professional work. The results of the consultation never see the light of day, and no mandated consequences are specified. This is certainly not a bad thing to do. In fact it is a good thing to do, but it won’t cut the mustard in terms of getting to any substantive accountability issues. Even the devil himself could collect three friends every five years to give him a consultation, the results of which have no consequences.

We all need to be vigilant about this. We know from the world of politics that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth for many people. The big lie that affects us is that CPSP does not exist, or if it exists it is not legitimate.

When allegedly religious people fight over turf and money they are more vicious than the most aggressive of the Wall Street crowd. We should not minimize the threat that this cabal is to us. Nor should we fear them. Their objective is to make everyone in this room unemployable in the clinical chaplaincy and training field, but they will not succeed.

It grieves me to make such a report. There is more work to be done in our field than all the organizations together can possibly do. The human needs are so great. To have to fight colleagues for a right to exist professionally is a melancholy fact. Yet religious people seem to spend most of their capital fighting each other for dominance. Protestants against Catholic in Ireland. Muslim against Hindu in India and Pakistan and elsewhere. Episcopalians clawing at each other over whether homosexuals are by definition sinners unworthy of ordination.

I ask you to be alert, and to report to the CPSP leadership any misrepresentations you become privy to. We collect data. I also ask you to treat individuals in these competing communities as colleagues, with respect and with truthfulness. In spite of the official position, not everyone in these organizations favors the current tide. Many are embarrassed by it. We have many friends in both the ACPE and the APC.

The Muslim Situation

We are daily immersed in news of the militancy and terrorism of Islamists. It is easy to fall into believing that they are violent, and we are not, or Islam is violent and Christianity is not. It is not, and has never been, that simple. Historians would be hard-pressed to settle the question of whether Christianity or Islam has promoted more violence in history.

We may be teetering on an international religious war. Such warfare will make it difficult for us to pursue our calling as religious clinicians. The Boisen tradition both values religion and approaches all manifestations of religion clinically, which means critically. In the incipient war between Christianity and Islam, exacerbated by the escapade in Iraq, we will forfeit the possibility of clinically critiquing any manifestation of Islam. Such is the evil character of war. It is having tragic consequences for our dialogue with Islam. We cannot treat Islam with kid gloves while taking a critical posture, as we must, toward aspects of Christian practice. But to make a critical comment about any manifestation of Islam will play into the hands of those making war. All religions are a mixture of noble and ignoble. If we were to treat beliefs and practices of any religion with kid gloves, the clinical process would be aborted.

And let us not be too pious about terrorism. I doubt there are many among us, a few Gandhians perhaps, who, if pushed to the limit, would not resort to violence to defend themselves and their families against what they perceive as lethal threats.

Part of our difficulty today is that we do not know enough history. I want to relate a piece of history that many Muslims know, but which I doubt anyone in this audience has heard. In the 7th century Muslim armies conquered Jerusalem in their march through the Middle East and Africa, supplanting Christian culture as they went. After conquering Jerusalem the Muslims allowed Jews, Christians and Muslims to live together in that city, cheek by jowl, in relative peace for five hundred years. In 1099 the Crusaders from the West took Jerusalem back. When they occupied the city they killed every Muslim, and they herded every Jew in the city into their synagogue and burned them to death. Eighty-eight years later the great Saladin proclaimed a jihad and succeeded in reconquering the city for the Muslims. When Jerusalem fell, Saladin decreed that there be no reprisals; no murder, no rioting, no looting. Jerusalem became once again a city of Christians, Jews, and Muslims living together in relative peace. Muslims know this history. Christian do not.

The Black Hole of ‘Spirituality’

In common discourse in the wider culture ‘spirituality’ has largely supplanted such words as religious, pastoral, theological. It is not a step forward.

Religion and theology generally have hard edges. There is a ‘there’ there. If you have a theology, you are a Barthian, or Tillichian, Satanist, Waldensian, Buddhist, Thomist, Christian Scientist, a fundamentalist, or something else. Your theology may be ready for the dustbin of history, but a theology at least has definition.

Spirituality in its current and increasingly popular usage is a rebellion against religion. A new sort of religiosity is claimed, one bereft of form or definition. It has no hard edges because it has no definition, unless it is defined as a vague feeling of well-being in the universe. Religion and theology are multiform, and often contradictory, but they are not as vaporous as spirituality.

Religion, and with it theology, has fallen into disfavor in popular speech in part because religion includes such a grab bag of assorted beliefs and practices. ‘She’s religious’ deserves the response, ‘What religion?’ She’s a devout Hindu, or whatever. The claim that ‘she’s spiritual’ on the contrary does not lead to inquiry of what spirituality. No one would know what to do with the question.

The Pittsburg Steelers have a football player who crosses himself before and after every play, or so I heard. The sportscaster proclaimed to the world on TV that he was a very spiritual fellow. Who knows what that might mean? Maybe he’s an animist who practices magical acts to gain his objectives. Many baseball players are like that. Notice that the sportscaster did not characterize him as very religious, following which one might ask ‘what religion?’ If he is Catholic (Catholics do cross themselves) the ground is prepared for inquiring what part of his millions of dollars in income goes to assist the poor of the world. The hard edges of Catholic theology require such questions. Spirituality has no such hard edges. It requires nothing but feeling good. Therein lies a problem for us.

We as religious professionals need to know that this black hole of spirituality has continuing pernicious effects on our work. We cannot stop people from using language we object to, but personally I avoid the word spiritual whenever I can.

CPSP will live or die by the life lived out in Chapters. Your Chapter. Chapters are the locus where things will happen or not happen. Do not look to the corporate office.

We must conspire to do the hard work of being a faithful professional community. Conspiring is noble. The root meaning comes from breathing together. Any social venture worth undertaking must be conspiratorial. Breathing together and in private.

We should conspire to surmount the emptiness in the organized religions, and the sickness in the pastoral care and counseling movement. We should conspire to promote serious clinical practice. We should conspire to expose the current love of war that threatens everything dear to us. We must conspire to get the economic share more evenly divided among people.

Anyone who thinks these are benign tasks that will be welcomed in the public at large is too much of an idealist. The world is not one great big tea party, except for the super rich. We are immersed in a culture war with so much at stake. Any religious people worthy of respect will join in such efforts.

I urge our forty-four Chapters to think new thoughts, to try new practices toward the furtherance of love and justice, and to create a more faithful social order. I urge you all to make a difference.

Let our forty-four Chapters dispute; let them take different paths. But let forty-four Chapters flower. Let a hundred flowers bloom!

Raymond J. Lawrence

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:35 PM