Live with Purpose - October 29, 2021

The Impact of Spiritual Care

By Timaeus Dimitri Reed

Staying healthy can have many meanings and dimensions, especially as we age. We do our best to eat well, keep active and live comfortable lives. Tending to our bodies in this way is a big part of taking the best care of ourselves, though there is more we can do.

At Goodwin House Inc. (GHI), we believe that maintaining our mental and spiritual wellbeing is every bit as important.

That’s one reason why we’re committed to our Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, which offers specialized training to those seeking skills in providing spiritual care. Few people have heard of CPE training, and October is designated as a time to celebrate pastors and clergy, so we thought this was a great opportunity to share with our Good Life readers more about it.

What is CPE?

Many of us are likely familiar with chaplains. We most commonly hear about them in settings such as hospitals, prisons, the military, law enforcement and higher education. What many of us might not know is how one becomes a chaplain.

This is where CPE comes in.

As with many careers and professions, there are formal studies that chaplains can (and in many cases must) complete in order to provide spiritual care to those who need it. Programs that provide CPE training are certified by the ACPE (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education).

According to ACPE, clinical pastoral education “brings theological students and ministers of all faiths (pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and others) into supervised encounter with persons in crisis.” Students are guided through interactions with those seeking spiritual care. Together, they reflect on the specific situations they encounter and provide feedback that helps them gain greater awareness of themselves as well as the spiritual needs of others.

Goodwin House Inc. was born out of a faith-based tradition in the 1960s. We are an inter-faith organization that celebrates all faiths. No matter their spiritual walk of life, residents, members, patients and staff know they can trust us to be there for them when needed. Whether faced with grief, finding purpose or a longing for connection, CPE at Goodwin House is a place for all to find spiritual support and guidance.

Out of about 350 CPE programs in the United States, we are the only  program in Northern Virginia accredited by ACPE. We are also one of fewer than 10 CPE programs based in a senior living and healthcare setting. This makes our program quite unique.

Aspiring chaplains of all faiths come to our organization for certified, personalized training and mentorship in spiritual care. We offer three seasonal sessions (fall, winter and summer), as well as residency programs for spiritual leaders looking to serve in a clinical context. Since the Goodwin House CPE program launched in 1998, nearly 350 students have participated.

Thanks to our unique setting, students of Goodwin House CPE benefit from building personal relationships with older adults who themselves bring incredible insights to conversations about the human condition and spirituality. Students also develop skills in providing spiritual support for home and hospital visits, in hospice and palliative care and in a variety of other clinical placements.

What CPE Means to the GHI Family

CPE may be the start of the spiritual care journey for many chaplains as well as those they serve, yet the bonds forged are everlasting. That sense of community, belonging and fellowship is a critical component of the mission-based service that Goodwin House strives for. Gwen Scheffel, a resident at Goodwin House Alexandria (GHA) was thrilled to experience this first-hand when she began volunteering in CPE.

“The issues that many of us encounter as we age require that we reach out to each other and to those who can help us hone our understanding of end of life,” Gwen said. “We need to practice our faith(s) and become more humane in our interactions.”

In 2019, Gwen joined the CPE program’s Professional Advisory Committee, which consists of residents and GHI staff who help mentor students. Gwen served as committee chairperson in 2021. With her background as a Wittenberg University professor and as a seminary mentor, Gwen firmly believes in the importance of the “transformative experience” that CPE provides the clergy and residents alike.

And she’s right. At Goodwin House, we believe that no one should face any stage of their life without the peace of mind and security that comes with fellowship. The students, mentors, staff and residents all share in the wealth of mutual spiritual nourishment and philosophical clarity that CPE brings out of people.

We find that those who benefit from our CPE program have much to teach us in return. Watching students grow in their ministry is a rewarding experience. Jeanne MacKenzie is a retired pastor and resident of Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC). Jeanne feels so uplifted by the program that she has volunteered her time and wisdom into CPE for the past eight years.

“I am overjoyed to witness the impact of healthy graduate pastors and other caregivers have as they move into their future worksites,” Jeanne said. “It is a pleasure to get to know the students during their time with us.”

Many students who go beyond their CPE training live out the wisdom of Jeanne, Gwen and others to accomplish great things.

Graduating to Success

“CPE at Goodwin House showed me how to listen and learn the different ways each individual communicates,” said Chaplain Edrees Bridges, a graduate of Goodwin House CPE.

Chaplain Bridges completed his second unit of CPE with Goodwin House during the earliest scares of the pandemic in 2020. After graduating from CPE, he began pursuing a Doctorate of ministry at Claremont School of Theology. In August of 2021, Chaplain Bridges was commissioned the first Muslim Chaplain in the Maryland National Guard.

“My experience at a senior living community taught me that an unconventional approach to chaplaincy is essential to establishing a relationship with different kinds of people,” Chaplain Bridges said. “I am extremely grateful that I was able to establish relationships with residents that have lasted beyond my internship.”

There is no shortage of settings in need of spiritual care, and we are proud to have prepared students for all of them, including prisons. Chaplains who leave Goodwin House CPE  are prepared to walk strong in their theological journey to guide any who are in need of finding clarity and support.

Reverend Keith Venson is a perfect example. He completed his Goodwin House CPE training in 2019 and serves unwaveringly as a chaplain with the District of Columbia Department of Corrections.

Reverend Venson credits his Goodwin House CPE training with his belief that being with others and meeting them where they stand in their time of need is invaluable.

“Training in a senior living community has taught me how to wonder in love,” said Reverend Venson. “To journey with another into the places and spaces they desire to go… It is a sacred trust to slow down and listen with my whole being and be present at the moment. This is the gift that Goodwin House has afforded me.”

Some of our students have even grown into leadership roles at Goodwin House, like Liz Pomerleau, the Director of Goodwin House CPE. After completing a one-year residency at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, Liz came to Goodwin House in 2012 to further her pastoral education for a year. We were happy to welcome Liz back in 2015, when she started to train as an educator so she could eventually become our CPE director, a role she has held since 2019.

“At Goodwin house, it was sort of like settling down and finding my pastoral identity,” Liz said, reflecting on her journey. “The residents know how to create a community, which is one of the most important parts of spiritual care.”

Thankful for Selfless Service

We are thankful for Liz and the entire CPE volunteer team for the work they do to train the next generation of spiritual care providers, and more so for their continued to commitment to serving the needs of older adults and those who care for them. Not everyone has a spiritual lifestyle, but everyone needs community. The largest population we serve at GHI is people who don’t affiliate with any religion.

A good CPE program, or any spiritual setting for that matter, remains open and ready to serve those in need however they need. We hope that spiritual leaders and care providers near you are doing the same. We also hope that whatever path you walk, you find a spiritually caring family like ours at GHI.

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Timaeus Reed is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at GHI. He plans, writes and designs for internal and external campaigns that support all areas of the organization. He relocated from Kansas to D.C. to join the team in the summer of 2021. When he isn’t getting lost in traffic, Timaeus loves listening to live Go-Go music and stand-up comedy.

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