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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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October 27, 2011

The Art and Science of Healing in Non-Traditional Spiritual Practices by Franklin L. Courson, Ed.D.


Today we are going to explore some of the more esoteric and unfamiliar spiritual practices which may present themselves in patient visitation. Prayers and gestures vary within different faith groups as loved ones intercede with God for the healing of their friends and family members. Most of these are quiet and reverential. Some of these practices, however, may present themselves to you as not only odd, but as disturbing and a bit alarming. I hope to shed some light on some of these and how to better prepare you as you care for your patients. As always, different does not mean wrong and enthusiasm in the course of prayer does not mean cause for alarm or intervention. However, as in any emotionally charged moment, some things may require you to intervene, beginning, as in the case study presented here, with a call to the Chaplain’s Office as a first recourse. Understanding is not the same as agreement with any belief system be it medical, spiritual or political. It merely means that you, as an aware health care provider, know what is playing out in front of you in order that you can make informed and responsible decisions regarding the well being of your patient.

First of all, what this discussion is NOT about. It is not about magic. It is not about the occult. It is not about demonic possession nor is it about voodoo. It is about cultural and religious diversity and the healing arts found in those traditions. It is about how various religious practices may present themselves in a patient visitation that may be different from what you are used to and may, as in the case presented here, actually be a bit alarming or disturbing.

We’ve come a long way in the last decade or so concerning alternative medicine. Complementary therapies are commonplace now, even in hospitals. Especially in the area of cancer treatment, meditation, modulation of alpha, beta and gamma brain wave states and the use of herbal treatments are not only common place but, dare I say it, even reimbursable. That says something right there about their credence in the medical family. These are not new things. They are old. Look how many women are opting for dulas in midwifery instead of hospital birthing. I actually met a local farmer who told me how effective a sacral cranial treatment was for his migraines. Yes, here in the mountains of western North Carolina. And as far as herbal remedies for various ailments, many of the so called “old wives tales” actually have merit and validity based on pharmacology.

We will begin with a case study and then move on to a more general overview of practices common to Christian and pseudo-Christian belief systems and what you, as care providers might need to put in your bag of tricks in dealing with them.

First, the case in point.

I received a call from the ICU to come up because there was a distraught family member visiting a patient.

Upon arrival, I went to the nurse who had paged me and, as I have learned long ago, asked, “What do I need to know?” Forewarned is forearmed, right?

Briefly, the patient was a 38-year-old African-American woman who we will call Jennifer. Septic urinary tract infection and complications from pneumonia had required that she be sedated and intubated. She was the mother of six children, ranging in age from 8 years to 23 years. In the room with her at the time was her 23 year old son and a friend of his who had brought him to the hospital.

The son, who we will call John, evidently learned of his mother’s hospitalization that day from a friend, although she had been admitted two days earlier. Evidently, their relationship was not close and a bit strained.

Further history on John. His fiancée had died the previous November and had also been intubated prior to her passing. They had had an infant a month or so old. The fiancée’s parents took the child and John is not allowed to have any contact with his son. Obviously, seeing his mother intubated has brought back painful memories and, being unconscious, she is not responsive to any words from him.

When I entered the room, the friend was sitting in the corner observing John at his mother’s bedside. He was sitting next to her, his head bent down and his hands laid on her chest and abdomen. I introduced myself and asked how he was doing, also hoping to find out WHAT he was doing. He was visibly upset at seeing his mother like this and I could tell that he had been crying.

He told me that he has the gift of healing from the Holy Spirit and that he is laying hands on his mother to heal her. So I went to the other side of the bed and positioned my hands above his and prayed with him. Then I noticed a number of things. First, his speech was becoming faster and faster. Second, he began alternating between English and another language which I thought might be Spanish but which upon closer listening, was glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. When speaking in English, he invoked the healing of the Holy Spirit and was demanding that the “demon” and “evil” leave his mother’s body and that she be healed. He became flush in the face and shortly thereafter started trembling his hands as they touched Jennifer.

It was time to make an assessment of the situation and then proceed. From the vantage point of an outside observer, what was going on with John? His behavior was obviously not that of quiet prayer at his mother’s bedside. How does one enter into an understanding of what is going on and what does one do to assist and not impede something that has already taken on somewhat of a life of its own?

This is when we draw not only from readings and discussions but also from experience. Having been in sacred ceremonies where such conduct takes place led me to recognize this moment as one that was spiritual rather than one of mental or emotional instability. There is no appropriate value that can be placed on first hand experience and, in the arena of interfaith chaplaincy, the more experiences we have, the better.

So, I called upon my spiritual, emotional and personal experiences and began to “facilitate” the spiritual healing that had already begun and to assist John as he ventured into other realms. What gave me the right to proceed thusly? I guess this is yet another instance when we give it up to the Holy Spirit and jump in, trusting our instincts and trusting in God.

At this point, as should be, my primary concern was for Jennifer’s well-being. The classic medical term for off limits “nolo tangere” - “do not touch” - came to mind and I knew that I had to first interrupt the physical contact but at the same time, not terminate an energy that was taking on a life of its own and needed, in some way, to run its course. So I came over behind him and inserted my hands below his and gently raised them up, telling him at the same time that I knew the healing energy that he was attempting to bring his mother but that we must not agitate her. In my mind, I was also concerned about his proximity to IV’s and monitoring equipment.

Sensing that I was not trying to thwart him, he allowed me to help. His shaking became more active and a couple of times his eyes rolled up in his head, especially when he was speaking in tongues. He stood up and continued his gyrations to the point that I had to stabilize him. The ICU nurse observed at the edge of the room and I know was not sure whether to call Security, the ER or Mental Health. Had I not seen this before, I would have had the same thoughts.

I looked for where he might have a “soft landing” if he went down and sort of moved him near the chair on which he had been sitting. As these highly charged spiritual expressions go, I knew that he was about to peak. This could mean that he might, as some say, “go stiff”, a sort of short-term catatonic state, or even pass out. Again, my first concern was that he not bump into anything or pull anything loose from Jennifer.

He was wearing a dress shirt and tie with his cuffs buttoned. I loosened his tie and opened his collar and had him unbutton his cuffs. He needed to reduce his blood pressure. I got the nurse to bring me a cup of ice and some ice water. He needed to be somewhat stabilized. He then told me, “I think I’m going to throw up.” I asked the nurse for a plastic pan which she got for me. I held his head and after one or two wretches, he purged. I say “purged” because is was not so much vomitus with food chunks and digestive juices as much as it was just clear liquid, some of which was a bit foamy. I told the nurse that he wasn’t “sick” and that we didn’t need medical help but that he needed to get this out of his system. He tried to explain that he wasn’t sick and I told him that I understood and had experienced this before. I think this reduced his anxiety and he knew that I was there to support him rather than impede him.

This went on for a couple of minutes. The nurse brought in a cold wet cloth that we put on the back of his neck. I rubbed his wrists and neck with crushed ice to calm him down. He seemed to want to continue the “work” but I knew that it had run its course and that the task at hand was to bring him back and stabilize him. I reassured him that he had done good work but that now he had to calm down. I knew that unless we reversed his peristalsis that he would, truly, throw up and this time it would be vomit and that we would have a medical condition on our hands. Also, his head was flush and warm; his hands pale and cold. The purging had thrown his BP out of balance. I got him to sip some ice water and chew on some crushed ice so as not to stress his system. He finally calmed down, explaining yet again that he had gifts from the Holy Spirit of healing and tongues. At this point I had to be a bit stern, telling John that his work was done, that he had done it in a good way but that now the work was over and that he needed to let go of it. He needed to be a clear channel through which the healing of the Holy Spirit came through and that he must release it now so as not to do harm to himself or to diminish the effect on his mother.

During all of this, his female friend sat in the corner, observing and not quite sure what to do. She did help us towards the end. Eventually, she helped get him mobilized and out of the ICU.

As to the disposal of the purged fluid, I asked the nurse where the closest drain was and she pointed to the washing station. I told her that, according to this tradition, that the fluids should be disposed of away for incoming water or drinking water. She then told me that there was a toilet in the room. I let John see me flush it down and rinse it out. I told him that I knew that such matter needed to go to the Earth as directly as possible and not be near incoming water sources.

John was calm by now but still a bit shaky. He did, after all, just go through an energy draining process in the prior 10-15 minutes. Brief but very intense. When he stood up, he commented, “I feel taller.” Probably due to his light-headedness.

As luck and providence would have it, staff arrived to do an ultrasound. This provided both the nurse and me to get John out and heading home. Jennifer did not need this erratic energy around her and the staff didn’t need John to get all ramped up again.

His friend and I escorted him out of the room and the other staff entered to run the tests on Jennifer. His friend told me that things were strained between John and his other family members and that he probably would not come back that night. This was a good thing since Jennifer’s sisters came later that evening.

So this does, as the saying goes, recap the facts. But what exactly went on, where does it come from and how do we, as medical and support staff, deal with its manifestations?

The laying on of hands is an ancient modality not limited to the Christian tradition. Accounts of healing by the laying on of hands are recorded in the Gospels as well as in the Acts of the Apostles. In truth, this modality has existed since time immemorial and has become more accepted in Western culture in the form of reiki and touch therapy which are now being incorporated into in-patient and out-patient care as therapeutic complementary therapies. It is not as invasive as massage but utilizes positioning of hands either above an area or actually lightly touching and allowing an energy transfer to take place. There is nothing radically new or odd about this. Holding programs in various neo-natal wards around the country have been very effective in calming drug addicted new-borns as they are held close to the heart and are soothed by the sound and touch of a caring individual.

The agitated state that John experienced was induced on himself. By speaking more and more rapidly and by allowing himself to speak in tongues, thereby further loosening control of his consciousness; John changed his vibration or frequency. Whether you look at modern house music in which the tempo is raised to upwards of 125 beats per minute or look to the whirling dervishes where individuals, especially women and walk-betweens, spin faster and faster until they are transported to an altered state, the shift to a different “frequency” or state of consciousness allows the individual, now a conduit for channeling information or channeling healing energy, to accomplish the work at hand.

In shamanic traditions, whether in Siberia, the Outback, the Kalahari Desert or the Amazon basin, altered states are the means through which medicine men and seers seek out information about the psyche of an individual, especially those who are ill, and use this moment of connection to bring about healing. This shift in frequency or vibration can be accomplished in a number of ways. Increasing faster drumming can bring about the shift, the cessation of which will end the trance state. Certain plants such as peyote or ayaquasca or similar hallucinogenics can do the same thing. Repetitive prayers and round dancing or moving in a circular pattern (such as monks praying in a cloister) will bring about a reverie in which one can receive information or, in the case of caretaking, channel healing energy. In some cases, the “healing” is done at a psychic level, working on the various energy levels and chakras of the patient. Recent innovations in photographic techniques reveal infrared layers, auric layers and other elements of the human body that we heretofore dismissed as so much hooey. Access to these layers and finding their relationship to illness is becoming more and more accepted with medical credence rather than being dismissed as voodoo.

Another modality of healing is to extract and transmute the bile or dark humors out of the individual and then remove it. Thus the purging. Almost universally, the fluid is clear or pale white which indicates to the healer and others that this is, indeed, a healing purging and not simple nausea. Actually, this can be done not only touching the patient, as John did, but can be done without contact and actually in another location. Also, it is not necessary that the person serving as the conduit be of the same belief system as the patient, only that they allow for such phenomena to occur and that the effects can be real. I have seen cases where, in ceremony, an individual of a different tribe or even religion, get “taken” and then channel the illness of a total stranger not even present and then purge, like John, and then, with focus and help, return to a calm state and normal waking vibrational state and then learn that a healing has, in fact, occurred, or that a diagnosis was possible because they told an individual to have a certain condition or organ checked by a doctor. It is pretty universal that the fluids be put as close to Mother Earth as possible, preferably near the roots of a tree, so that they can be absorbed and transmuted and kept out of harm’s way. That is why it should not be poured near water pipes. Evidence in modern history of just how effective and real the absorption forces of Mother Earth are is seen in the Exxon Valdese spill. The majority of the oil has actually been digested, as it were, and neutralized not by man and his chemicals, but by the bacteria and algae present in the ocean itself.

As I said earlier, there are events in the old and new testaments as well as the writings of other cultures and religions that reference hands on healing. Is there an explanation outside of faith? Yes. In short, there is an energy interaction between two individuals. In the work of modern energy field theory, we are learning that more and more events and conditions are the result of the interaction of two or more energy sources and types of vibrations. At the core of all matter and life is the one common element, that of the rule that all matter is animated by vibration and that like vibrations attract. Vibrations yield energy fields and these fields, like all energy fields, can, with the right tools or information, be shifted or altered. Again, imaging techniques show not only the energy flux between the north and south poles of a planet or the energy flow around the poles of a battery but even an energy pattern surrounding the human body and its various energy layers.

The rational mind and the artistic/poetic/spiritual mind are really not that incompatible and can, when used to complement each other, can actually add a depth of understanding not available with only one vantage point. Some of the frustration experienced is when the rational mind always seem to want to justify or explain things, even the inexplicable.

Natural and homeopathic remedies have existed since man began walking upright. His ability to purify them and alter them into pharmaceuticals is only a recent chemical slight of hand. Indigenous peoples around the world have attributed healing qualities to any number of plants and liquids. Often, their use has been incorporated by different religions and belief systems. So it is not surprising that an integration of prayer and the application or use of herbs are joined as we seek to heal.

I will mention just a few specific plants and how they relate:

Sage – cleansing; used in smudging individuals entering a ceremonial circle
Cedar – to clear a space or body or negativity. Good to use before sage
Tobacco – animating; also smoked in prayer pipes to serve as a conduit of an individual’s prayers up to heaven; wet, it can be used to extract infection or stingers or other toxins.
Mint - calming
Sweetgrass – calming and also used in calling in ancestors
Fennel – a “hot” herb possibly used to increase circulation
Basil – calming and quieting; good for infections and fevers and great for clearing the aura as a bath
Lemon verbena – calming; good for exhaustion
Lavender – calming

Fragrances, as in aromatherapy, can be calming or energizing. They do not have to be ingested to have an effect. The airborne particles enter the olfactory sensors and thus enter the body and make their way to the brain and produce the desired effect.

Dried tobacco, sage and sweetgrass are often burned in a pipe or smudge pot. Eucalyptus is also great as a drying plant or as an oil to calm and clear the mind. Burning is not always required, which is good for a hospital room where oxygen is in use, right? The herb can be simply rubbed on the individual or set nearby as a potpourri to impart a fragrance.

In many spiritual and healing traditions, herbs and oils are rubbed on the person’s body. We are all familiar with the holy oils used by various Christian denominations, especially Catholic and Episcopal in the anointing of the sick. This is more than mere ceremony. It actually harkens back to battle preparation when soldiers would rub olive oil on their skin to fortify and protect them. In the New Testament, Jesus’ feet were bathed in oil to clean them and, in the interpretation of biblical scholars, to anoint him for his impending death. Thus, until a couple of decades ago, this act, now called “The Anointing of the Sick”, was rather gloomily called “The Last Rites”. So much for using anointing to fortify and heal the body, right? In the Yoruba tradition there is also a practice called a rogation in which a person uses a number of materials on the key energy and chakra points of the patient including the crown to restore balance (emotional and physical) and health. Oftentimes, an herbal bath called a rogation is used, not unlike at a treatment at a health spa, where herbs, lemon slices and such are used to calm. The added element is the prayerful context which, in a way, amplifies and directs the soothing and healing properties.

So, you see, much of what we have today at expensive spas is based on ancient and time-honored shamanic practices. It is the combination of the spiritual/emotional act, complete with audible prayers and touch, and the actual bio-pharmacology effects of each particular herb or oil that can bring about improved health and greatly improve the patient’s attitude and demeanor and outlook for their own recovery.

Now, regarding faith and religion. There is and never has been anything TOTALLY NEW in the history of man short of the Big Bang Event itself and even that is up for discussion. As man has evolved and migrated, so too, has his culture and the tenets of his faith.

Going back to the original case presented, if I had to guess, I would guess that John is a product of a primitive branch of a faith group. This could be Primitive Baptist, Charismatic Christian or any of several sects from the Caribbean such as Yoruba or Santeria which are an amalgam of Catholicism, African myth and South American tribal cultures. They incorporate many of the same revered saints and angels, have similar creation and redemption mythologies and use sacred plants in healing. They also incorporate ceremonies and rituals in which an individual or a group change their vibrational state in order to enter an altered state wherein they can obtain information, commune with deities and bring about healing. In the dark arts, injury is believed to be possible.

Okay, this is a lot to digest. I don’t ask you to believe any or all of it. I do, however, ask you to be aware of its existence. As more immigrant populations enter our area, more and diverse spiritual traditions and rituals will manifest, especially when loved ones are trying to help those who are ill. Know that for these individuals, this IS TRUE and that IT DOES WORK. That warrants your respect.

Now for a couple of comments about John and what came down in the ICU room.

Given the family dynamics, John seemed to want to do something to connect with his sedated intubated mother who, obviously, was in a non-responsive state. If I had to do some quick analysis, I would also think that he was not a very self-possessed, confident individual. So, when in doubt, go to a comfort place. In his case, John reverted to religion. Not only religion, but a modality in which he turned himself over to the power of the Holy Spirit in order to deliver something to his mother. I think he seeks retreat in faith rather than strengthening his own life, abdicating responsibility not only for his failures but for his successes as well. Anything that happens happens because GOD makes it so. This insecurity manifested itself in his constant telling that the HOLY SPIRIT has given HIM gifts. His constant use of “my”, “mine” and “me” indicated to me an insecure ownership of his own strength. And although the time with him was power packed, I do not recall him ONCE addressing his mother directly but mainly addressing the illness permeating her body, the evil that must be purged and the command that the evil one leave her body. This harkens to a primitive belief that illness is evil. This is obviously uninformed belief and actually takes away from the power to heal.

John was also out of control, exhibiting no restraint and just letting the energy go where it chose. An older, more experienced individual would first of all been acutely aware that they were in an ICU with a sedated patient hooked up to IV’s and monitors. John did not seem to be aware of his surroundings. That he allowed himself to begin shaking out of control even as he was touching his mother was also irresponsible. Towards the end, his body continued to wretch as if he wanted to carry the purging and catharsis beyond where it needed to go. This is where intervention is required. Like cold plunging hot pasta into ice water to abruptly stop the cooking process, the use of ice and a cold cloth pulled John back very quickly, an act that he was incapable or unwilling to do on his own.

Can a person “taken by the Holy Spirit” still be in control? Absolutely. In my Native American tradition, there is a big distinction between “being taken by Spirit” and “walking into Spirit”. It takes practice and by that I mean that you have to go through the experience a number of times before you get the hang of it and get your gyroscope in working order. It is also good to have others around you to assist in your re-entry and to monitor you physically in case you do go too far down the rabbit hole.

My advice to you is this:

First, respect the individuals’ tradition. Have a healthy respect for the potential that it has. In can be incredibly powerful and healing. However, like in anything left unchecked, it can get out of control.

Therefore, in this or any other context, as you know, the first responsibility is to the patient, not the family member. So long as there is respect of them by you but also of the patient by them, cut them some slack. There are some amazing stories of bedside healing through prayer and intercession that baffle the medical mind.

I think that paging the chaplain on duty was the correct call. Someone from the ER or Security might not have had exposure to such rituals or spiritual modality and their response would have been more of a medical and/or restraining intervention.

If things look like they are getting out of control, the operative word is “containment”. Even if the person doesn’t seem to be through “doing their thing”, use something like a cold cloth or ice on the back of the neck. It can not only quiet nausea, it can quiet a rowdy spirit out of control.

Know that there can be physical manifestations such as the rolling back of eyes, speaking in tongues, body shaking and such that are not medical conditions requiring triage or security backup. Absent potential harm to the patient or disruption to others in the surrounding ward, know that these “spiritual events” have a short life span. Rest, departure and plenty of fluids are the best things for the one who just went through the work.

I know that you have all seen powerful and inexplicable and beautiful things in your work. Mystery is still mystery. Healing is both an Art as well as a Science and it is our privilege to be at the crossroads where those two meet.

As interfaith chaplains, ours is not always a role that is clearly defined and for which there are pat answers for pat questions or situations. Ours is not a role of proselytizing our own faith beliefs. Actually, it is in a solid grounding in our own beliefs that allows us the flexibility of venturing outside those beliefs in our work with patients, families and staff. Sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zones and, as in this case, to mediate and facilitate in sacred work that is a bit alien to us. Each and every person has their own concept of God, their own modalities of prayer and their own intercessory traditions. Being solidly grounded in our own beliefs, we can take something of a leap of faith and enter into their world, even for a brief moment. Healing is both and art and a science. Healing is a phenomenon which combines medical science, healing art techniques and, above all, a firm faith that God can accomplish the work through the entreaties of his children on the behalf of others.

And so we remember yet again that our work is first about the spiritual and emotional healing of the patient. Tolerance and respect of the beliefs and practices of their personal faith group is called for which in no way implies that we accept or embrace those beliefs. In an actual event, we sometimes have to toss out our cookbook and enter into what might be called divine free verse and trust that because of the good intentions of those present, the journey will be good and the prayers heard.

Reverend Franklin L. Courson, Ed.D.
Associate Chaplain, Pardee Hospital
Hendersonville, NC

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 9:26 AM

October 26, 2011



Left to right: Raymond Lawrence, Agnes Ho from Hong Kong, Steve Voitovich, Annie Wong and Stepen Abborow from Malaysia, and Richard Liew. Cesar Espineda was present but missing from the photo.

CPSP members attending the International Council on Pastoral Care and Counseling (ICPCC) in Rotorua New Zealand in August.The meeting was attended by about one hundred and fifty persons from every continent. The ICPCC meets every four years, and is a opportunity to share globally current trends and developments in the field of pastoral care and counseling.

Raymond J. Lawrence D.Min.
General Secretary
College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 8:01 AM

October 25, 2011

Humanist Chaplains & Chaplain Support of Humanists: Challenges in the Military Culture

Left to Right: Jason Torpy, Greg Epstein and David Plummer

Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers , along with Coalition of Spirit-filled Churches Endorser David Plummer, Chair-Elect of the COMISS Network, joined Chaplain Greg Epstein, Harvard Humanist Chaplain, on Monday, October 3rd, 2011, for a panel discussion at Harvard Divinity School. The event was a joint venture of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Harvard Divinity School, and the American Humanist Association.

The conversation began with definitions of Humanists, Freethinkers, Atheists – “non-theists.” Torpy stated that officially the military reports 1% of all personnel self-identifying as “Atheist.” But he quickly added that up to 20% reported themselves as “no religious preference.” He went on to say that it was very possible that many of these folks were non-theists who are afraid of persecution or discrimination for their worldviews or were non-theists and felt that humanists were more likely to be represented in the “No Religious Preference” (NRP) than any other demographic. Torpy emphasized that he was not trying to "take credit" for the NRP demographic and instead cited several Department of Defense studies that there are more Humanists than Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims to show that non-theists are a significant minority.

Epstein stated that presently there are several Humanist chaplains serving civilian institutions in North America, including Rutgers and Columbia. A representative from the American Ethical Union referenced chaplains their organization endorses who serve in hospitals. Torpy referenced the Netherlands where there are more Humanist chaplains than any other single group.

Plummer read through the regulations concerning the appointment of chaplains and their roles from the Army’s AR-165-1. He stated that for non-theist chaplains to become a reality that there needed to be a regularly-gathering community of like-minded laypeople who meet for idea exchange/doctrine, mutual support, and community/relationship-building. It was discussed that given the opportunity, non-theists at various government installations would enjoy gathering for those stated purposes. It was noted that there are several such active groups of military folks meeting at military installations now ( Once such community is at Fort Bragg, NC and that when they applied with the installation authorities to hold a public concert and lecture, the opportunity and support for it was afforded to them, and then rescinded. After many conversations, it is currently “on” again and scheduled for 31 March 2012 ( Torpy noted that his organization has produced some helpful literature for educating military chaplains and informing potential non-theistic congregants of opportunities and organizations to have their chaplaincy needs met. Plummer stated that it may be time for the military to re-look at their definitions of “faith groups,” and “religion,” in addition to the qualifications of chaplains. “Clearly,” Plummer stated, “non-theists should have the right to be just that without any discrimination or harassment, and to have their needs of opportunities for ideas exchanges, as well as fellowship with like-minded people met -- and to enjoy bad potluck meals like everyone else!”

Torpy stated that often, the red herring provided in opposition to support for atheists and humanists is that we aren't a religion. The Department of Defense provides for one test of what is and is not a religion. That is that a chaplain endorser must have a "church" tax exemption from the IRS, which is outlined in Internal Revenue Code 170b1Ai. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers represents the American Ethical Union ( and the Humanist Society (, both of which are humanist organizations that hold IRS church exemptions, so military regulations have no explicit "religion" barrier to humanist chaplains.

Epstein asked what would be necessary to finally get a non-theistic chaplaincy up and running and to insure that theistic chaplains respected and served non-theist military personnel and their families as they do theistic service-members. Plummer responded that he felt that the only way to make that happen is for the military to establish and enforce a mandatory Statement of Professional Ethics – with significant penalties for violation – that all military chaplains must affirm in order to serve, similar to those that are presently used by the civilian professional chaplain certifying organizations. Torpy emphatically concurred and offered assistance in drafting such a statement, at least to provide for the humanistic and naturalistic perspective.

Credits for the photographs:
Photos are from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard’s Facebook website.
Editor's Note: David Plummer is a CPSP Diplomate, a Life Member of the Military Chaplains Association and he is the Chair-Elect of ECVAC.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 1:27 PM

My Mentors’ Voices Continue to Resonate by Daniel Dávila


Today is the third day of the 2011 Pastoral Care Week, October 23-29. Our theme is "Shared Voice" (voices shared). Tuesdays are special for me because they evoke special voices from my mentors. Celebrate with us as you read this reflection.

I can still recall my first day as a Supervisor-in-Training with a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) group. It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers exploded after they were attacked.

It was on Tuesdays when we met and it was on one of those days that we discussed Mitch Albom’s book titled “Tuesdays with Morrie.” The book is a series of flashbacks as Mitch recalls the voice of his favorite professor at Brandeis University. It was not until sixteen years after Mitch graduated that he reconnected with and dedicated his Tuesdays to his dying professor, Morrie Schwartz, whom he called “coach.” After his mentor’s death, Mitch continues to hear Morrie’s instructions on the meaning of life and how to accept death and aging. His mentor’s voice from their Tuesdays continues to resonate in his life.

Like Mitch Albom, I too recall the voices of my mentors.
María Dávila-Díaz, my mother who modeled respect and love for others;
Eliseo Dávila, my father who taught me discipline and the work ethic;
Mr. Clark, my sixth grade teacher who believed in me;
Donald Capps, my seminary professor who introduced me to pastoral care and counseling;

My CPE mentors and supervisors:
Ben Patrick modeled how to listen to the heart;
Fred Sickert taught me to think with my heart and feel with my mind;
Medicus Rentz modeled how to be a pastoral clinician;
George Buck taught me how to identify the client’s pain, name it and process it;
Esteban Montilla modeled pastoral care and gentleness by using confrontation plus care.

Now it is your turn: what are the voices from your mentors?
Daniel Dávila is a CPSP Board Certified Clinical Chaplain at the Austin State Hospital in Texas who was awarded Employee of the Month this year..

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 1:02 PM

October 21, 2011



Brian Childs, PhD, Director of Ethics and Spiritual Care at Shore Health System, University of Maryland Medical System was recently awarded the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) Presidential Citation award.

The Shore's Health System Weekly Newsletter Currents published October 5, 2011 states:

“Dr. Childs plays a key role in assuring that Shore Health System maintains the highest standards for medical ethics in patient care,” said Michael Tooke, MD, FACP, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Shore Health System. “We are very proud of Brian for his ongoing professionalism and dedication to these important issues.”

The full article can be read by clicking here.

Brian H. Childs, Ph.D.
Director of Ethics
Shore Health System
University of Maryland Medical System
219 South Washington St.
Easton, MD 21601

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 1:38 PM


Bonne Olson, CPSP Diplomate, appeared in a New York Times article written by Samuel Freedman and published August 26, 2011. The article documents the work of chaplains at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center located in Queens Village, NY.

Mr. Freedman writes:

Among the clergy, Ms. Olson, 57, is the newest addition, hired last year as a part-timer. A former teacher, called to ministry in midlife and ordained by the United Church of Christ, she brought experience with narrative medicine, a process of actively eliciting and listening to the stories of patients. Her two weekly writing groups, one apiece for inpatients and outpatients, use narrative medicine’s techniques to explore each participant’s faith life and ethical conscience.
“The thing that strikes me about psychiatric patients,” Ms. Olson said in an interview this month, “is that so many people tell their story for them. When do they get to tell it for themselves? The act of writing is that your story is not only worth being told, but being heard. And this is all based on their story being sacred. Their experience, heartbreaking as it is, is held by God.”

In order to read the complete article, please click here.

Perry Miller, Editor

The Rev. Bonnie Olson can be contacted by clicking here.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 12:58 PM

October 13, 2011



At the first annual National Clinical Training Seminar – West (NCTS-West), held last month in Malibu, California, the thirty of us in attendance considered some things that we consider basics in pastoral care and particularly in CPSP. Most of the first day was devoted to “Use of Self,” especially the role of transference in our work, and in particular the rarely mentioned erotic transference.

Day Two was devoted to a theme that was woven throughout the first day. It is what I think of as the Three C’s of CPSP – “Chapter: Covenant and Community.” I will write more about this subject in a coming issue of Pastoral Report but meanwhile, I’d like to share something that many NCTS-West participants said was a profound, new experience. It is how we began our second day together.

First a little background. Years ago, after hearing about CPSP, I decided to make time to meditate on the Covenant. I wanted to know what CPSP was really about, what it stood for, and what its real possibilities might be in the world of pastoral care. It was doing this – slowly and thoughtfully meditating on the words of the Covenant, on all of them, and not just some – that led me to the conviction that the vision of the CPSP founders was truly visionary and profound. Making this meditation is what sealed my commitment to the small community we call the Chapter in the context of a larger aggregation of chapters we know as the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy.

This meditation has become a regular part of my life. It is something I have consistently returned to, and benefited from, over the years.

So at Malibu, with the group gathered, I read the Covenant from beginning to end aloud, slowly. Very slowly. Phrase by phrase, pausing for a slow breath between phrases.

I, and now we, invite you to share this practice. When you’re alone. And gathered in Chapter. Often.

The Covenant of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy

Spiritual pilgrims

We, the CPSP members
see ourselves as spiritual pilgrims
seeking a truly collegial professional community.
Our calling and commitments are, therefore,
first and last theological.
We covenant
to address one another and to be addressed by one another
in a profound theological sense.
We commit
to being mutually responsible to one another
for our professional work and direction.


Matters that are typically dealt with in other certifying bodies
by centralized governance
will be dealt with
in Chapters.
Thus, we organize ourselves in such a way
that we each participate in a relatively small group called a Chapter
consisting of approximately a dozen colleagues.
Teaching or counseling programs directed by CPSP Diplomates
are the primary responsibility of the Chapter.

Recovery of soul

We commit ourselves
to a galaxy of shared values
that are as deeply held
as they are difficult to communicate.
“Recovery of soul” is a metaphor
that points toward these values.
We place a premium on the significance of the relationships among ourselves.
We value personal authority and creativity.
We believe we should make a space for one another
and stand ready to midwife one another
in our respective spiritual journeys.
Because we believe that life is best lived by grace,
we believe it essential
to guard against becoming invasive, aggressive, or predatory toward each other.
We believe that persons are always more important than institutions,
and even the institution of CPSP itself must be carefully monitored
lest it take on an idolatrous character.

A Living Experience

We intend
to travel light,
to own no property,
to accumulate no wealth,
and to create no bureaucracy.
We are invested in offering a living experience
that reflects human life and faith
within a milieu
of supportive
and challenging
community of fellow pilgrims.
David Roth, PhD, is the Convener of the Nautilus Pacific Chapter in Southern California, the oldest CPSP Chapter on the West Coast. He is a certified clinical chaplain and a sex and relationship therapist based in Phoenix, Arizona.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 1:18 PM

October 8, 2011

Hindus Taking a Serious Look at Military and Clinical Civilian Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling


Spirit-filled Christian endorsing executive David B. Plummer, MDiv, joined Jewish psychiatrist/ historian Robert C. Powell, MD, PhD, in Columbus, Ohio, on September 23-25, 2011, for the Sixth Annual Hindu Mandir [Temple] Executives’ Conference (HMEC). Plummer, who has a background in Army chaplaincy, clinical healthcare chaplaincy, and psychotherapy, presented a PowerPoint lecture on the need for the various Hindu faith communities jointly to establish a clear pathway -– including a consolidated religious endorsing body –- for Hindus to become chaplains and pastoral counselors in the military and civilian spheres. Plummer, the Chair-Elect of the COMISS Network, gave specific recommendations about how this pathway could be established. Currently there is only one Hindu military chaplain serving US armed forces personnel and their families and only four other Hindu chaplains serving North American civilian institutions.

North America is home to approximately 600 Hindu congregations. The recent HMEC
meeting had approximately 280 delegates representing about 100 such temple communities. HMEC aims to be a very inclusive organization, including all worshippers who consider the Vedas as part of their heritage -- “all those who believe, practice, or respect the spiritual and religious principles and practices having roots in Bharat [the ancient Greater India].” Thus HMEC views “Hindu” as including Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs “and people of many different sects within the Hindu ethos" (see .

Plummer is thought to be the first non-Hindu clergyperson to address HMEC. He
felt graciously and warmly received. In the accompanying photo he can be seen at the speakers' table on the far right. Immediately to his left is J. Gordon Melton, the renowned scholar of religious movements and author of the Encyclopedia of American Religions. Melton addressed the group on the topic of Hindus and Hinduism in
the USA, claiming that there are approximately two million practicing Hindus in
America today.

At the podium is Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami, an editor of the magazine, Hinduism Today. More information about this conference may be found at .
Credits for the photograph:
Photo from Hinduism Today at

Editor's Note: Both Dr. Powell, a past Commissioner on the COMISS Commission for the Accreditation of Pastoral Services, and Endorser Plummer serve on the CPSP Executive Committee.
Readers can contact David B. Plummer, MDiv and Robert C. Powell, MD, PhD

Use Google Translate in order to read the article or view the Pastoral Report in your native language: Enter the Pastoral Report's URL ( into Google Translate, choose your language and click. The PR is now viewed in your chosen language.

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 3:15 AM

October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Editor's Note: Steve Jobs admonition that we not "...waste our life trying to live somebody else's life..." reminds me how I've alway been touched through the years by CPSP and its dedication to create a space that calls for us to live our unique life, not somebody else's life. We in CPSP are indeed the "crazies".

-Perry Miller

Perry Miller, Editor

Posted by Perry Miller, Editor at 11:11 PM