The following is a reflection from Jonathan Altman, 3rd year Divinity School student, about his experience with Clinical Pastoral Education.  Thanks for sharing, Jonathan! 


This past summer I served as a Chaplain Intern at WakeMed Health and Hospitals in Raleigh, NC. As a part of my divinity school curriculum I completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (henceforth known as CPE), and I consider this experience to be one of the most formative in my divinity school career in both professional and personal aspects.


CPE is an accredited program in which seminarians (and sometimes others) immerse themselves in hospital or urban chaplaincy by acquiring 300 hours of first-hand patient contact and 300 hours of supervision, didactics, and interpersonal relationships. Since I chose to do CPE during the summer, I was required to be at the hospital Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I also completed seven 24-hour on-calls, some of which often occurred on weekends. To put it simply: this summer I breathed, ate, and slept chaplaincy.


My assigned unit in the hospital was Cardiovascular Surgery Intermediate Care, and I had the opportunity to minister to individuals from all walks of life: highly-educated professionals, other ministers, skilled laborers, a homeless man, and prisoners. Patients in this unit were often preparing/recovering for/from open-heart surgery. I learned quickly how to offer a comforting presence to those who knew their lives had significantly changed.


Most taxing, however, were my on-calls in which I was the only chaplain to respond to traumas in the Emergency Department around the clock. In that environment I was no longer Jonathan Howard Altman, son of Bill and Karron, brother of Natalie, husband of Anna. I was the chaplain, an often feared face who was thought to be the bearer of bad news (i.e. death), even though I never uttered such information even when I knew it. I was the comforter who watched several patients die as I had my arm around their spouses, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. I facilitated viewings of bodies. I offered a listening ear, tears at times, and many prayers.


Chaplaincy is a needed ministry; it is adventurous, stressful, and fulfilling. Most important for me, however, is what CPE taught me personally through myriad patient encounters: that I am a minister and people are receptive to my identity as such, that I can face the fears of life (even those from my past), and God is indeed working in this world to bring all of creation to himself.


I thank God for the privilege of experiencing CPE, and I pray that I will continue to bear a tender heart and hands to hold the hurting who are, unfortunately, much too present.


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