“Seven current students elected to pursue a unit of CPE as an enhancement of their field education, and one STOTS graduate entering military chaplaincy also requested to participate in this inaugural unit,” according to Archpriest Steven Voytovich, Director of the Orthodox Church in America’s Office of Institutional Chaplaincies and former STOTS Dean, who facilitated the program’s development and served as its certified educator. “The unit began on January 29, 2018 and concluded on August 30.
“Drawing upon existing strong relationships with an area hospital, nursing home, and correctional facility, a satellite agreement was established with Virginia Commonwealth University, with provisional accreditation from the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education granted in January,” Father Steven said. “Students visited patients, residents and incarcerated persons during the school year and then participated in parish internships during the summer.”
The 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,” Father Steven explained. “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.
“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,” Father Steven continued. “Students saw much of their coursework come alive in these visits. They also gained much from interactions with facility staff members and those serving as chaplains from a variety of faith traditions.”
Many aspects of clinical training were previously incorporated into the seminary’s internship program, one of two OCA Church-wide initiatives initiated 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,” Father Steven explained. “The relationships already being formed facilitated continued meaningful dialogue across the miles.”
According to Father Steven, the initiative received funding from a donor supporting ministry in the greater community that was used to implement the satellite agreement. In the past, it also received funding from the Ganister Foundation.
“It was wonderful to see this initiative come into being after envisioning the possibility for over 20 years,” Father Steven added. “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!”
As Director of the OCA’s Office of Institutional Chaplaincies, Father Steven has assisted chaplains in obtaining endorsement for a variety of ministry settings since 2003.