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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Guides Along the Way Edition

Our question this week is from a candidate for ministry who is looking ahead, anticipating the types of experiences and guides along the way who can aid in preparation for parish ministry:

I am finally at that point in my seminary program when I need to start thinking about Supervised Practice Ministry work. I am require to complete a credit of Clinical Pastoral Education, which feels pretty intimidating. But it’s the setting that I’m wondering about. I am hoping to find a good parish ministry mentor to work with for part of those hours. However, I am not sure that Iwant to limit myself to those experiences, given that I am just as likely to find myself in a “non-traditional” call (tent making, yoked churches, middle judicatory + parish, etc).
  • What are some opportunities or learning situations that you wish you’d been exposed to during this “trying it on for size”season?
  • What are some non-traditional (non-parish) settings that I might want to explore?
  • What are some key things to look for in finding a good place to intern?
  • What are some key things to look for when trying to identify a good mentor?
From Ruth, who blogs at ‘Sunday’s coming’

I’m a bit reluctant to comment after last week’s flurry of comments picking up on something I’d said (even Matriarchs have feelings!), but here goes...

I’d better make it clear that I’ve now been in the position of being a supervising minister a few times, so maybe I’m commenting as a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’.

I really wanted to comment on what makes a good place to be/ a good mentor to have. I think the key here is that the place and the minister need to be focused on this as a learning experience for the student. An intern is NOT a low-paid assistant – so when putting together a programme (for the year/ the month/the week) the question should be not ‘what does the church need you to do?’ but ‘what experiences do you need at this stage of your learning?’. You need a mentor/minister who is clear about this and will remind the church if they need reminding.

I think it also helps to have a mentor who will prioritise theological reflection on the experiences, so that you’re not just picking up ‘hints and tips’ about how to do ministry, but learning deeply what it means for you.

When I was an internship student I really valued the fact that my mentor was happy to give time to explain why he did things certain ways, without getting defensive: and he reflected back how I had done things without once saying ‘If I were you I would have done it this way...’ As a supervising minister I have always tried to model this way of being.

May you find deep joy in your placement.

And from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

This is a great set of questions. I’ll admit that I feel kind of ignorant, as I thought CPE was usually not parish based, but rather in a hospital or institutional setting with a trained CPE supervisor. In my mind, field education or field studies can be parish on other than parish based, but CPE is nearly always non-parish based. Often seminaries and higher governing bodies offer guidance regarding CPE settings. You’ll surely be checking in with them for tips and advice…

I think the answers to your questions largely depends upon where you’re located and if you’re willing to travel, should your local setting not offer CPE. The majority of CPE settings I’m aware of are hospital based. However, I’ve heard of a CPE program in Chicago that places folks in schools and other institutional settings other than hospitals. However, field education/studies’ settings that are not parish based include nursing homes, prison ministry, college chaplaincy, justice agencies, not-for-profits.

Wherever you go, I’d look for a supervisor who is accessible and available for questions and reflection—real supervision—and I’d be cautious about settings that seem to be looking for someone to pick up the slack, or do work that others don’t want to. A good mentor would be excited about ministry, available to you, and genuinely interested in your growth and development in ministry.

Do you have advice and/or experience to offer? Use the "Post a Comment" function to join the conversation.

And thanks to all of you who have submitted questions...the queue is full! We look forward to addressing them in the weeks ahead.

May you live in God's amazing grace+
rev honey


  1. this is so interesting because there's discussion going on here that is also relevant!

    As a moderator of a committee on preparation for ministry (a PCUSA presbytery-level committee overseeing students' preparation and process), I would like to see more of our students seeking out supervised ministry experiences that are very different from their previous church/ministry experience. So if you're from a large church, look for a small (or even tiny!) church to serve, or vice versa. If you're from a city, seek out a rural experience. If your home church has been around since 1839, look for a new church development to intern in. If you've never been in a hospital before, look for hospital-based CPE. If, like me, you grew up with all your grandparents and great grandparents being healthy and vibrant and young-ish, look for a CPE experience in a nursing home. Most committees/seminaries require both a unit of CPE *and* a separate unit of supervised ministry in some other setting (most often parish-based). Use that to get different kinds of experiences and to build relationships with people who will continue to help you process when you go to the next experience.
    I think a good mentor is one you will be able to call on even when they're no longer your supervisor, and will help you think through things and help you reflect, rather than tell you what they think you should think. (I don't know if that made sense, but I'm hoping it did!)

  2. Just here to say thanks to Ruth for coming back! (o) and to all the Matriarchs for their work in this field.

  3. Depending on your seminary's requirements, you may not have the options you want, at least not for CPE. The ACPE website has the information about where internship sites are in your area. The summer units are more time-intensive (a semester in 10 weeks) but the ones during the year have to be balanced with classes, etc. I elected to apply for a summer term and I start my CPE unit in June.

    Depending on your seminary, you might get to do an internship that is different from CPE (an additional placement.) It was among the most practical parts of my training so far.

    Good luck - and you're asking great questions!

  4. Having finished seminary recently, I would echo Ruth about what to look for in a parish/field education placement. The fact that the church takes its teaching role seriously is very big, and I found that hour of theological reflection each week one of the great unexpected gifts of my seminary time.

    For CPE, the best advice I got is that you want a supervisor with whom you click. It can be grueling and when you go into supervision I didn't want someone who wasn't going to be supportive. I did CPE at a continuing care retirement community--it had community, assisted living, nursing home and then hospital visits. Since I want to go into parish ministry I thought it was great experience for the times of crisis in people's lives, but also a place to practice developing relationships and then having to say "good" good-byes. We did a lot of memorial services, and that's a piece of experience you can't necessarily count on getting--I'm "comfortable" dealing with death and grief now, or at least I've had a good bit of experience.
    I did blog about it some at the time, and in fact my welcome to Rev Gal Pals was during CPE.


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