Equipping Future Pastors

Beginning the first week of October 2015, United Church Homes will be providing the fourth “unit” or “class” of students in the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Trinity Community in Beavercreek, Ohio. Completing at least one “unit” of CPE is more often than not a requirement of church and ministry committees for individuals who are discerning a call to ministry. Most CPE programs are located in a hospital or hospice settings. Hallmarks of CPE are that the student is learning in the midst of a small group of peers who are under the supervision of a specialized supervising chaplain as they learn about and explore their calling and understanding of their pastoral role and authority. The program at Trinity is only one of two in the Midwest region that offers the CPE experience in a setting whose mission is to care for elders.

While students make their journey through seminary, they will have opportunities to study various aspects of ministry with children. They will have many opportunities for field placement settings and internships that focus on ministry with youth. But rarely will they have the opportunity to experience and learn about the spiritual journey of elders—those in the second half of life. This is one of the best gifts of the CPE program to these future ministers and to the church.

Likewise, Trinity Community is enriched by the presence of the students. “One unpredictable outcome of the CPE program has been its life giving impact on Trinity Community residents,” writes Rev. Greta Wagner, director of pastoral care and Clinical Pastoral Education at Trinity. “Our elders have taken ownership of and deep value in their part to foster formation of pastoral students. They welcome chaplain interns of every age and background at their bedsides in nursing care and apartments in the retirement center. For most, the set sojourn that limits CPE student’s time here has been received as an opportunity to nurture learners and then set them free with hope for their futures and a sense of having contributed to the ministers they will become.”

Not only are the students learning how to be present at the bedside, they develop pastoral relationships with the same individuals who come to the worship services that the students plan and lead, they make pastoral calls and lead Bible study—just like in the local church setting. In fact, Rev. Wagner writes, “CPE has enlivened the residents’ interest in worship led by diverse students from a multitude of religious backgrounds. Residents from differing denominations and cultures seem to come to life with new energy and focus when CPE students are present.”

So far, the students who participate in the CPE program at Trinity aren’t preparing for a call to chaplaincy, they are most often discerning a call to local church ministry. Given the fact that today there are more people over the age of 65 in the state of Ohio than there are children in school, United Church Homes is thrilled to be providing this opportunity to help expand the education of these future pastors to the range of needs of the older adults who are a part of their future congregations.