One of the requirements for ordination in the ELCA is to have at least one unit of what is known as CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE is an experiential program that often involves hands on pastoral work in clinical situations such as hospitals and the like.
Quite frankly I wasn’t looking forward to it, as I had heard horror stories from classmates about their experiences. Also it is an immersive program, and as a commuter it was going to be difficult for me to take the time to make this thing happen. Well as it turns out I was able to integrate it into my internship, working through a program at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center in Willmar Minnesota, about a forty-five minute drive from home.
It also turned out to be a good experience! Oh, it wasn’t one I would have chosen to go through, working not only with members of my internship congregation, but also with the chronically mentally ill, and folks with chemical dependency of nearly every kind. But, it was a positive growing experience. At the end of the unit you do a one on one review with your supervisor. Naturally I was a little nervous about this, but my supervisor, Father Francis Garvey was a humble and gentle Roman Catholic Priest and we had generally gotten on quite well. What he said, I have debated putting into this post at the risk of sounding too pious, but it is all I have to work with so here ya go… He said in his unique Irish and mid-Minnesota brogue, “David doesn’t wear his Lutheran faith on his sleeve, it pervades everything he is and does.” Honestly I had to stop him here as I really didn’t grasp what his meaning was. At this point a very large grin crossed his face and he explained that in the over 30 years of doing CPE and being a priest, he had noted many people’s faith was in many ways just a part of them, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he found that they treated their faith as something they could pick up or put down as they wanted, it wasn’t central to who they were. I don’t tell you this story to puff myself up, and Lord knows I am not perfect, but I tell this story to lay out a question that I think is important.
What is central for you? What is at the core of what you do and who you are?
OK, that is a pretty heavy question I guess, so I won’t expect that you will instantly know and respond. It is a question that needs to be asked from time to time and maybe it is good to get some trusted and honest outside observation into this.
My point is that in the reading from Nehemiah today is found smack dab in the middle of Nehemiah. All around this reading is the return of the exiles, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, the reestablishment of the Jewish nation. But in the middle of all of this comes this story about the reestablishment of the Torah, the renewal of the covenantal relationship. For the writer of Nehemiah, this was core, it was what all the rest of the story is about, it is why they were doing what they were doing. This relationship with God, remembering the covenant, the promises of God are central to who they were. For Christians it is in the remembering our baptism, that we too return to what is central, to what is most important and why it is we do what we do and who and who’s we are.
You can find out more about what CPE is by clicking here.