Our chaplains are ministering everyday to persons in need of care in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, rehabilitative centers, prisons, and many other settings. May they and their ministry be blessed as we celebrate the Feast of our Lord's Nativity, and even more on the Feast of Theophany, marking the beginning of Jesus' ministry!
For those reading this post, please remember to pray for the ministry of our chaplains!
For the first time in our OCA seminaries, an accredited unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) was conducted that was based at the seminary itself! Seven current students elected to pursue a unit of CPE as an enhancement of their field education, and one STS graduate entering military chaplaincy requested to participate in this inaugural unit. Archpriest Steven Voytovich, who served as dean for the past five years at St. Tikhon’s, served as the certified educator, facilitating the program development and serving as the certified educator for this unit that ran from January through the end of August of this year.
Drawing upon existing strong relationships with an area hospital, nursing home, and correctional facility, respectively, a satellite agreement was established with Virginia Commonwealth University, with provisional accreditation from the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) given in January. Students visited patients, residents and incarcerated patients during the school year, and then participated in parish internships during the summer, during the unit running from January through August.
The eight participants were divided into two small groups. The core of the clinical training process (clinical here literally meaning “at the bedside”) is that actual encounters are written up by the chaplain, and presented to their peer group. Peers learn from each encounter as well as the chaplain, and the certified educator facilitates the reflection on each case that focuses both on what was happening for the “patient” and for the chaplain offering pastoral care. This process assists in building pastoral skills, but also aids the students in knowing more about themselves through the context of ministry encounters. With this unit occurring at the seminary itself, participants and their supervisor took meals together and attended services at the monastery church together.
In addition, since our faith was shared among the participants, no discussion was needed to define, for example, hesychasm as a dimension of pastoral visits. Instead we could move directly toward how it was present or was utilized. Students saw much of their coursework come alive in these visits. Students also gained much from interactions with facility staff members, and those serving as chaplains from a variety of faith traditions.
Here are some comments directly from participants: “Doctors have stethoscopes and plumbers have flashlights. Pastoral caregivers (chaplains) have CPE. The tools of the trade helped me see what can't be seen and hear what can't be heard.” “CPE showed me how to navigate being uncompromisingly Orthodox in a pluralistic context.” “I thank God for the opportunity to participate in the CPE program while completing my studies at St. Tikhon's. The intensive nature of the training has already yielded fruit both personally and professionally. I can say without reservation that I am in a better position to serve Christ's flock because of this experience.” All eight completed the program, seven completing a full unit of CPE
Many of the elements of clinical training were previously incorporated into the seminary internship program, one of two OCA church-wide initiatives begun in 1999. With the subsequent advent of accessible video conferencing, the sub-groups met in person during the school year, and then continued via video conferencing throughout the summer from various parishes and ministry contexts. The relationships already being formed facilitated continued meaningful dialogue across the miles.
This initiative received funding from a donor supporting ministry in the greater community that was used to implement the satellite agreement, and has previously received funding from the Ganister Foundation. A St. Tikhon's Board Member graciously offered financial assistance in order that the unit could reach its conclusion after Fr. Steven's term as dean ended. Unfortunately, due to seminary financial constraints, the program is not being continued at the present time. Those completing a unit of CPE will, however, be able to either continue training elsewhere, or apply for chaplaincy positions requiring a unit of CPE.
Fr. Steven said about the program: “It was wonderful to see this initiative come into being after envisioning the possibility for over twenty years. It was especially meaningful to see how the students’ experience of CPE contributed to their overall pastoral formation. Thanks be to God for this wonderful opportunity!”
Fr. Steven continues to serve as the Director of the Office of Institutional Chaplains, assisting chaplains in obtaining endorsement for a variety of ministry settings since 2003.
The OCA 19th All-American Council (AAC) convened on July 23rd in St. Louis, Missouri. Among the many important dimensions of the work of the AAC is to hear from each of the departments and offices concerning work accomplished and initiatives underway.
Archpriest Steven Voytovich, Office Director, reported on the work of the Institutional Chaplain Office. You can view the report shared at the AAC here. He highlighted the reality at the present time that Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is occurring in some form at each of the three OCA seminaries.
He shared from cases studies of CPE integrated into seminary pastoral formation curricula (identified as the New Plan in the 1930's), found in Edward Thornton's work, Professional Education for Ministry: a History of Clinical Pastoral Education, three evaluative points underscoring the value of CPE: “(1) it enhanced theological learning in the classical as well as the practical fields; (2) it provided professional training for pastoral functioning in ministry to persons. Training was found to be relevant to preaching, teaching, and the administration of the sacraments, as well as to pastoral care and counseling. (3) the New Plan stimulated the students’ growth as persons.” (Thornton, p. 216) Each of these three points are important for preparing the next generation of priests and dedicated laypersons to navigate the growing complexities of parish life, as well as institutional chaplaincy roles, in our rapidly changing culture.
Fr. Steven further noted that the Orthodox Tradition is represented in greater pastoral care and counseling round tables such as the Commission for Ministry in Specialized Settings (COMISS Network) and the Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies (AREB). Fr. Steven currently serves on the COMISS leadership team.
This office began supporting chaplains in ministry through endorsement in 2003. The endorsing relationship uniquely brings together four parties: the chaplain, his or her faith tradition, the caregiving context, and credentialing bodies where certification is concerned. Layperson are commissioned for ministry in their parish setting (just as readers and chanters and servers were set apart for ministry). Endorsement is site-specific.
Fr. Steven ended his report by asking for prayers for all our institutional chaplains who are by virtue of their ministry in the greater community manifesting the council theme: "For the Life of the World".
The Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies (AREB) met in Alexandria Virginia on January 5-6. A significant feature of this year's meeting was a presentation by Dr. Robert J. Wicks, Professor Emeritus of Loyola University in Maryland. Dr. Wicks addressed endorsers in the area of resiliency in pastoral caregiving, and shared a handout of best practice points also related to resiliency for endorsers to utilize with chaplains in their ministry.
Endorsers representing numerous Faith Traditions gather at this annual AREB meeting to review best practice models of endorsement, share fellowship, and update members on developments in the pastoral care and counseling arena. Many who attend this meeting will remain for other chaplaincy-related meetings during the coming week. Among them will be the Commission on Ministry in Specialized Settings (COMISS Network) that meest from Sunday, January 7th to Monday January 8th.
The Orthodox Church in America has been a COMISS Member since 2005, and Archpriest Steven Voytovich has been active in COMISS and AREB for over ten years. Please return to see developments from the upcoming COMISS meeting.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Theophany, celebrating the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ and the beginning of His ministry. May God bless all our Institutional Chaplains on this feast as they minister to those in need, following our Lord's example.
Endorsers from a multitude of faith traditions will be gathering early in January, 2019. For institutional chaplaincy, endorsers will attend meetings of the COMISS Network (Commission on Ministry in Specialized Settings) and AREB (Association of Religious Endorsing Bodies). Military chaplaincy meetings are also held.
AREB as an entity is just over ten years old. This body is made up of endorsers, who work together to advocate for the relationship between communitieis of faith, credentialing bodies, and chaplain employers. This body will meet from January 11-12, 2019. They explore best practices for endorsing, and reflect on what is currently unfolding in the chaplaincy community from the endorsing perspective. As more credentialing bodies are entering the chaplaincy arena, AREB seeks to interact with them to advocate for continued active engagemeent between faith communities and institutions employing chaplains, as well as bodies like the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), and the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP) who certify chaplains.
The COMISS Network represents a nation-wide round table for certifying bodies, endorsers representing faith communities, those who employ chaplains, and others, who come together annually to share developments in the chaplaincy arena. The COMISS Network meets January 13-14, 2019. Table discussions offer opportunities for a sharing across disciplines on presentation topics that recently have been focused in the area of pastoral research. Also individual representatives can share what is happening for their particular organization.
The Orthodox Church in America has been a member of COMISS since 2005. When AREB formed in 2006 and 2007, the OCA was part of that formation. Archpriest Steven Voytovich has served in leadership roles in both bodies. Archpriest Theodore Boback attends the military chaplain meetings that follow COMISS and AREB and has similarly held leadership roles. OCA chaplains desiring to serve in military or institutional chaplaincy positions are supported by the work of the Office of Insitutional Chaplaincy and the Office of Military Chaplaincy, and all endorsements are ultimately forwarded through Metropolitan Tikhon's office.