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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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June 19, 2009

Believe Together: Health Care for All


The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy is a member of Believe Together: Health Care for All. This is a coalition dedicated to health care reform. It is comprised of many different faith groups and religious organizations, united by a concern about the failure of the health care system in the United States. This coalition seeks to promote reform in the health care system of the U.S. in order to establish a more equitable access to health care.

We in the CPSP are pleased to join forces with our colleagues in ministry to work for justice and reform in the delivery of health care in America.

Please go to the Believe Together website to become informed and to join the work.

-Raymond Lawrence

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 2:15 PM

June 17, 2009

PASTOR, WHERE IS YOUR CHURCH? By Belen Gonzalez y Perez


What does it say about the chaplain?

While providing pastoral care at the Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, New York the question is inevitably asked: “Pastor, where is your church?” I must admit that the question makes for an awkward moment.

Though not surprised, I genuinely understand that for most people pastoral ministry is associated with congregational ministry. It is common to think of most clergy serving as leaders in their faith groups and congregation.

The simple answer to the question is that the hospital is my parish and that ministry as director of pastoral care is my church-approved work. Although the hospital is not a congregation, nor am I the pastor of choice for each member of the hospital’s patient community and staff, it is my parish.

Comfortable with ambiguity

Pastoral care ministry beyond the congregation often comes with some degree of ambiguity and suspicion as suggested by the very question, “Pastor, where is your church?” Yet, it is precisely because of its ambiguity that chaplaincy is among the most challenging and rewarding ministries for the ordained pastor.

Usually when the question arises, it is accompanied by a sense of connection, appreciation, and gratitude by those for whom the chaplain’s ministry of presence, compassion and consolation met a need in a time of illness and crisis. Pastoral ministry beyond the congregation offers an unanxious presence of the Church’s witness where it is especially needed. Chaplains are ambassadors of the church’s pastoral commitment and affirm a compassionate presence to the vulnerable patient, as well to medical and support staff that care for them. Such ministry demonstrates the wisdom passed on from past generations to the present generation to empower and commission ministers for service in the world.

Attention to self-care as the clock keeps ticking

Unlike congregational ministry, pastoral care ministry in the hospital remains a 24 hour crisis ministry. A congregation can close its doors each day to open them again come morning, whereas the hospital never closes its doors and the emergency needs of others are attended to 24 hours each day of the year. Hospital ministry requires the chaplain to provide pastoral care on a moment’s notice.

The danger of overextending oneself physically and emotionally is always present. The chaplain maintaining a personal discipline of self-care becomes paramount for a healthy, dynamic, and sustainable ministry. It is often the case that hospital chaplains require and seek out congregational pastors for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. As such, hospital ministry is shared ministry between chaplains and congregational clergy of many faith traditions. Congregations are in fact the life blood of hospital chaplaincies, and without them chaplains remain in isolation from their faith community.

Chaplains belong to the faith community

The question “Pastor, where is your church?” becomes all the more meaningful because it resounds with opportunity for chaplains to pause and examine their congregational connections. Moreover, this reflection is an invitation for congregations to pause and examine their shared ministry with lay and ordained ministers in non-congregational and specialized settings.

Although my parish is the hospital where I am called to a professional ministry, my congregation always remains a faith community that remembers me in its prayers and where I gather with the faithful each week to fellowship, study Holy Scriptures, and receive Sacraments as spiritual nourishment for ongoing ministry.

Community as survival is in our DNA

The question, “Where is your church?” is one about community and family. It is a about the inner longing to experience belonging in a community that cares for you. When I hear the question, it reminds me of the difficulties and challenges a patient and their loved ones face within the sterile cold walls of a hospital during sickness and adversity that can only be made bearable by the caring comfort of human compassion and community.

The question surges from our very DNA and the primal desire for survival and our basic human strategy for survivability as members of a community. Human beings seek out community for our very survival—it is no less important to the sick in a hospital to experience a supportive community that is accessible to them. It is often the case that a chaplain is the only representative of a faith community immediately available to the patient and their loved ones. The chaplain stands as a representative of the larger community of faith lending its support in a time of crisis. The ministry of a chaplain “bridges” the gap between the hospitalized and the faith communities that gather beyond the walls of a patient’s bedside.

The Chaplain has power to create community

So it is that from a simple question by a patient that more is at play than meets the eye. The chaplain is in a privileged space to see the patient through “clinical eyes,” to discern that what is being said is primal and often a visceral need for community. It is a cry for support by another human being in crisis who is cut off from their normal resources.

A truth of pastoral care ministry in a hospital is that often when a patient asks a question, it is an invitation to the chaplain to accompany and journey with patient in their crisis. The wisdom of faith is that the chaplain does not journey alone. The chaplain has the power to create the faith community and as its representative, accompanies and joins to the faith community the sick and vulnerable in their hour of need.
Belen Gonzalez y Perez, M.A.R., M.Div., D.Min.
Director of Chaplaincy Services & Education
Long Island College Hospital
Brooklyn, New York

To contact Dr. Perez, click here.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 10:58 PM

June 10, 2009

Five Books At One End of a Shelf By Ron Evans


Five books at one end of a shelf. A somewhat forlorn grouping to be sure, they are the only books left in my possession of a purely theological nature. All others have fallen away.

And this morning it occurs to me that I have never stopped long enough to look at why I have kept them, never risked asking: “You five there on the end of the shelf, why are you here?”

I might point out that clergy like myself , in their theological training, were expected, if not to have mastered the writings of various theologians, then to have at least some passing acquaintance with them. For most of us this meant that we sat through lectures and heard various names mentioned, all German it seemed -Cullman, Neibhur , Bonhoeffer, Barth(actually a Swiss) Pannenburg, Brunner (there were two of them) Bultman, -the list seemed endless.. We may have read a book or two by some of them. Occasionally something stuck.

And herein lies the origin of the five books, all of them by Paul Tillich –yet another German who had found a safe home in America. I have carried these books about faithfully for over 40 years.

1960. A new prof , Pieter de Jong by name, had arrived at the college that fall, a big, friendly bear of man, dressed neatly in suit and tie and speaking in a slightly Germanic accent. The story was that he had been involved with the Dutch underground in the war at considerable risk to is life. Whatever the case. it all combined to lend to him a kind of presence, an air of dignity. Gifted as a theologian he was to bring something of a revolution to the classroom, not to mention our social life.

One of the first things he proceeded to do was to invite his students to his home to socialize. Until that time profs and students had always kept their distance, the washed and the unwashed. Surely de Jong respected that distance, even maintained it, but he also bridged it with grace and charm. As an undergraduate I remember the excitement around the college after the senior class returned from the first gathering in de Jong’s home. Among other things they had been served wine, a move which was, up to that time, unheard of in United Church circles where even grape juice was suspect. And then there was de Jong’s wife.

The family had a new baby, weeks old, and rather than putting the child away with a baby sitter Mrs. de Jong brought the infant into the living room among the guests. When the child began to fuss she simply dropped open her blouse, brought out a breast let the child enjoy himself. So vivid was the description it was as if I had been there. But then the clincher.

Having satisfied his hunger, the child did what babies do next. And Mrs. de Jong, rather than leave the room, simply lay the child out on her lap, whipped off the wet diaper, fired it past a startled student into the nearby hamper in the hall, and pinned on a new one. Wine, boobs and diapers: never had anything like this been before in Saskatchewan. In retrospect, from a theological perspective, you would have to say it was a scene more liberal than orthodox, but never had liberal theology been so popular.

Later that fall de Jong did something that was as surprising as the wine and refreshing as his wife’s breasts; we would have oral examinations at Christmas rather than written. Unheard of and a little scary. How do you go in to the prof’s office and talk for an hour about issues that most days had been as intelligible as Sanskrit?

“Well, Ron, “How are things going?”

I can still hear the words, direct, tinged with that slight Dutch accent. And I can hear myself replying, why or how, I am not sure. Knowing I couldn’t talk about his lectures because I couldn’t understand most of what he said, I replied,

“Well, it was something you suggested in one of your lectures, a book that I have been reading.”

“Oh,which one was that.” It was as if his ears perked up and we were off and running.

The book in question was The Protestant Era, a book of Tillich’s essays which I found easier reading than his two volumes of theology. Only in later years was I to learn that Tillich had a bit of a reputation that accompanied his theology. In a day when such things were not mentioned, it was nevertheless known that any woman who rode more than three floors on an elevator with Tillich got off in some what different condition than when she got on. Whatever he may have done on elevators, however, does not detract from his theology, some might even say enriched it.

I had not read the whole of The Protestant Era, surely no more than two or three chapters, but in that brief encounter I had come upon some words which, while I couldn’t exactly explain them, I knew were somehow right, good beyond all measure. I compare them today to poetry. Like good poetry you don’t just understand it, rather it’s the sound and the rhythm that catches you, sets you off in all directions with a meaning that the poet may never have intended. Tillich may have been a bit of an old reprobate but he was also a poet and a theologian, one who gave life to words in a way that I had not heard before. Take a concept like sin.

Raised as I had been in Saskatchewan, and I have no reason to believe the situation differed greatly elsewhere, we knew what sin was. In fact, we had a list of them in our heads -don’t smoke, don’t drink, and even though we didn’t talk about it, don’t have sex until you were married and then be careful lest you enjoy it. A little exaggerated, I know, but the fact is sin became sins, a grocery list of do nots, one prophylactic placed upon another designed to make sure nothing happened.

Tillich began changing that perception. There in his book he spoke of estrangement, a word derived from a Latin root meaning to “treat as a stranger” or “not belonging, lost, one who did not belong to the family”. Tillich went on to say, or at least I heard him saying, that this is the condition in which we find ourselves as a culture, a people, and certainly as a 21 year old at college. It is not just the grocery list of sins that has beset us but rather a condition, a state of alienation, of being lost, wanderers in a foreign land without a home. I don’t know what that means to you but as a young man, fresh off the farm, who has made a decision to enter the church, and whose identity, although he did not know it, had been scattered like feathers in the wind, this was pure poetry, music. I didn’t understand Tillich but I knew he was right.

My sin was not just the grocery list, in fact I had always thought that if the items on the list were the worst sin had to offer it wasn’t all that bad. My sin was a state of being lost, estranged. Sin was not one of the items on my list it was the brine in which I was pickled, the condition in which I lived. No home in which I belonged.

But estranged from what? Family? Not really. They were still there, and for all my complaints were still good people. Friends? I had a few. Even had a girl friend. So what was amiss?

Tillich said I was estranged from “the ground of my being”. Again, without a word of explanation I knew he was right. Coming from a family where work was a given and to work hard was to receive honor and blessing, I worked. In my memory we never took off a July 1 to enjoy a sports day. It was a day when the kids were home from school and you worked. One year we splurged and went to the exhibition and stayed at the Bessborough Hotel for 2 days and enjoyed ourselves. Even that was almost a sin. In short, if you worked hard and kept the grocery list that was all that was required. You would surely get ahead, wherever that was. For my father it meant he could pay the interest at the bank. But something was missing. There was no point to it, no end, no beginning.

Tillich said it was to be a stranger, estranged from the ground of my being. The temptation is to try and explain Tillich but, like explaining poetry, something is inevitably lost. Perhaps a story will help.

At about the same time as I was encountering Tillich I began hearing about Alcoholics Anonymous. Although I did not drink, alcohol abuse in our home caused no end of difficulty; AA caught my attention. Later I came to know a number of AA members, never ceasing to be moved by their stories and by the affection they had for one another. There is nothing like going on a fishing trip with a group of recovering alcoholics and being subjected to a weekend filled with stories of their escapades, stories marked by pain but filled with gratitude. One particular man I came to know and admire, Angus by name, as an older man who had been sober for years, yet never ceased to display a sense of awe that somehow life had been returned to him.

It was from Angus I first hard it said that in the development of alcoholism in a person’s life the spiritual dimension that was the first to go and the last to be recovered and that if this recovery was not made sobriety would be a tenuous business at best. Surely a recovering alcoholic and Tillich were talking the same language.

I don’t know if I should have ever been ordained and sent out as a preacher or not. To-day, increasingly, I feel alienated from the whole process of whatever it means to be church, the estrangement more complete than fifty years ago. And old age brings with it its own loneliness, its own dimensions of isolation. One advantage, however, if I can call it that, is that at seventy three I have something I didn’t have at twenty three.

I have experience and with it a bit of memory that has accumulated. For one thing you know, even though you never quite get used to it, that you are a stranger. In youth you didn’t dare entertain such an idea. Anyone who thinks they have estrangement licked, old age will cure them of the thought. But it is this every understanding, this knowing, that lends to life occasions of solitude, moments saved from the work of being anxious.

Little things become important. Stories. The wisdom of drunks. Remembering sitting in a prof’s office, one who served wine at his parties and whose wife’s breasts were beautiful. Remembering a fall day reading Tillich’s books, books that have been with me forty years. A remembering that brings with it, sometimes as if by accident, the sheer joy of that first reading.

Estranged, yes, but someone knows my story.


Ron Evans is a CPSP Diplomate who now devotes his energy to writing. His book, Sakatchewan Remembered, was well received. One reviewer states: "...Evans will make you laugh. He takes subjects that once made us blush with guilt or laugh nervously, and makes them approachable and acceptable. He does this by using his humor to gently sand away the rough edges. I have a belief that if you pursue something to its darkest, quips Evans, there will be something bearable about it..."

Following the book's publication, Ron focused his creative energies to produce an audio version of his book. The words and voice of the author blended with the music of a gifted local musician makes it a must have CD for your collection, especially if you like to listen to books in your car and when on the move with your iPod.

Ron's most recent book, Letters from the Sourdough Bagel: confessions of a loner who likes company, has yet to make its appearance on AMAZON.COM.

Click here to email Ron Evans.

-Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 2:06 PM

June 9, 2009

The Humanness in Front of Us by Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D.


My daily work begins with visiting patients whose religion is unknown, obtaining their affiliation, and, if affiliated, making that information known to the appropriate chaplains. These patients especially provide examples of the spontaneous humanness one encounters as a hospital chaplain.

Like the older white male patient in an intensive care unit, whose religion was listed as “unknown.” I entered his room and introduced myself as the hospital chaplain making my rounds on the floor. He interrupted, “I can’t hear, and I had cataracts and can’t see.” I crossed the room, walked around to the upper side of his bed and said, more loudly, “I’m Rev. Alberts, hospital chaplain, making my rounds.” Before I could state the purpose of my routine visit, he shouted, “I don’t want any religious person in my room!

The patient’s outburst surprised me. But my surprise was tempered by my belief that patients usually have a good reason for reacting negatively to a “religious person.” Moving away from his bedside, I replied, “You answered my question” [about whether he had a religious affiliation]. Then, reaching for something in common with him, I said, “I recently had cataracts removed from my eyes.” He replied, “I had one removed, and that is why I’m blind.” “I’m sorry,” I said, heading toward the door, and adding, “I respect your wishes very much.” “That’s okay,” he replied, his tone positive. Then he asked, “Could you do something for me?” “Sure,” I answered, surprised again. “Push that table [his over-bed mobile table] closer so I can reach that Ginger ale and cup,” he directed. He then commented, “These freakin’ people don’t know what they’re doing. I have a bum right shoulder and can’t reach it, and the table is too far away from my other hand.”

The patient’s predicament was obvious, and his frustration understandable. I pushed the table closer to him, and handed him the cup. He drank what was left in it, pulled the straw from the can of Ginger ale and said, “That straw doesn’t work either.” He proceeded to pour Ginger ale into the cup and drink it. Then, after a pause, he said, “Thank you. You’ve been a big help to me.” “You’re welcome,” I replied. It was about him having access to Ginger ale and not to a god. The humanness in front of us.

For another patient, it was about his needing access to a loving god. An older, terminally ill black man, the patient told a palliative care nurse that soon he would be “shoveling coal.” The concerned nurse shared his troubling words of self-condemnation with me, said he was dying of cancer, had difficulty speaking because of his weakened condition, and asked that I visit him. His doctor also told me “We’re in a muddle about his saying he’s going to shovel coal in the next life, not knowing how to handle it.”

The patient confirmed that he was “going to be shoveling a lot of coal” when he died. Why? “Because of the number of bad things I have done in my life,” he said in a weakened tone. I did not pursue the “bad things” he said he did because of his difficulty speaking. Instead, his being a black man, led me to ask if anyone had ever done “bad things” to him “growing up and in your life?” “Yes, a lot.”

Having researched and written about America’s white-controlled hierarchy of access to economic and political power, I assumed he probably had at least two racial strikes waiting for him when he was born. One invisible strike could be seen in a study that found, “Blacks Suffer Heart Failure More Than Whites . . . at a rate 20 times higher than did whites, even dying of it decades before the condition typically strikes white . . . researchers reported.” (The New York Times, Mar. 19, 2009)

The second unseen strike against this patient may be found in another recent study that showed, “Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area—working memory.” The “bad things” here: “Children raised in poverty suffer many ill effects: They often have health problems and tend to struggle in school, which can create a cycle of poverty across generations.” (The Boston Globe, Apr. 7, 2009). In other words, a full stomach feeds a hungry mind. And a hungry mind is the pathway to a full stomach and a self-loving heart.

Sadly the patient had a self-loathing heart. A white-dominated hierarchy, with him at the bottom where “bad” economic and social and political “things” happen to poor people of color especially—and also to economically strapped white persons. “Bad things” legitimized by a theology of self-hatred, which was the third strike that apparently led this patient to believe he would be “shoveling coal” in hell when he died.

What seemed to reassure the patient was not so much that I said Jesus revealed a “god of love who especially loves you.” Nor my statement that all of us are human and in need of grace. Nor the fact that a lot of “bad things” had happened to him already. Nor even the prayer that I offered, though prayer is often a powerful way to affirm and reassure a patient.

What seemed to especially connect with this patient was my telling him, “Wherever you are I will see you there.” “You will?,” he asked. “Yes, I’ll be there. And neither of us will be shoveling coal.” “I hope you’re right,” he said. Before his discharge to a hospice I saw him again and repeated: “Wherever you go, I’ll be there. I’ll look for you until I find you.” “Okay,” he replied, “that’s a promise.” “That’s a promise.” The patient seemed to find reassurance in hearing someone not only voice caring about whether he lived or died but caring about him even after he died.

The humanness in front of us. The humanness inside of us.

Bill Alberts is hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center. Dr. Alberts is a nationally known writer and an occasional contributor to CounterPunch. In addition, he is convener of the New England Chapter of CPSP. He can be reached at

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 8:55 AM

June 7, 2009

2010 CPSP Plenary Dates Announced


James Gebhart, Chair of the 2010 CPSP Plenary, provided the following announcement:

Start to plan now for the 2010 20th Anniversary Celebration in Columbus, Ohio April 10-13, 2010. This is going to be a special occasion, a time to honor our history and to have a festival in our community. Many special surprises are being planned. Join the celebration. Mark your calendars!.

Shortly, I will provide details, including hotel and Plenary program information.

Jim Gebhart, Plenary Chair

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:51 PM