CPE Stories: Finding Joy in Transitions
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is a transformative inter-faith experience that allows divinity students to learn from spiritual practitioners about pastoral care through experiential learning in clinical pastoral settings–hospitals, congregations, and ministries.
Jayme Kokkonen, a third-year MDiv student, shares her CPE experience and what it has taught her about finding joy in transitions.
Where did you complete your Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)?
I completed my CPE last summer at Loyola Medical Center, in Maywood, Illinois.
What were the most prevalent types of care your CPE internship offered?
Loyola is a teaching hospital with a level one trauma center. Since I didn’t do as much work in the emergency department with trauma calls, most of my time was spent visiting patients.
Loyola is a larger hospital that offers various types of care. This includes Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU), Oncology, Rehabilitation, Trauma and Burn, and at least 11 Intensive Care Units. Initially, I offered care to patients in the Cardiovascular unit, but as time went on, I slowly began working with Pediatrics, Women’s Health, and Labor and Delivery.
What was most enjoyable about working at your CPE internship?
The most enjoyable part of CPE for me were the interdenominational and interfaith conversations that I got to have. Loyola is a Catholic hospital so many of the staff chaplains and healthcare workers (I’d say) were Catholic or specifically chose to work at a Catholic institution.
Although most of Loyola’s staff was connected to the Catholic church in some shape or form, I still encountered other faith traditions. Since I grew up in the ELCA, and I’m currently attending an ELCA seminary, it was both challenging and enriching to be a part of a formative experience that wasn’t grounded in Lutheran roots. My diverse cohort consisted of two people who were Catholic and one person who was Universal Unitarian. Although each of us had a Christian background, our varying theologies inspired fruitful conversation. The conversations with my cohort and staff chaplains helped me grow in my understanding about the Catholic Church and their traditions which I may not have learned apart from this internship. In essence, the community at Loyola became my teachers.
I also enjoyed connecting with patients. It was fun entering a room and hoping that we were going to have conversations about spirituality; and for people to assume that’s why I was there. I was also excited to see where our conversation would take us. When I met with patients and/or their families, I was exposed to different faith traditions and people who didn’t identify with a faith tradition at all. When meeting with patients who didn’t identify with a faith tradition, I found it enriching that I could tap into their spirituality and what matters to them. This made it easier for me to understand how people found purpose in their lives outside of religion.
It was also enjoyable to do ministry full-time after a year of being in the classroom. After a year of seminary, it felt like a lot of the concepts were theoretical or hypothetical situations. So, it was fun (It wasn’t always fun, but overall, it was enjoyable) to be thrown into hands on learning rather than reading.
What was difficult about working at your CPE internship?
CPE in a hospital is difficult in the sense that there’s a lot of suffering, tragedy, and pain that happens. Encountering that in very real and tangible ways and sitting with the people who were experiencing those realities was difficult. As much as it was enjoyable to get practical experience doing ministry, it was also difficult. A big part of my learning over my CPE unit was overcoming my own anxieties to have a better pastoral presence with people. For me, it wasn’t just about memorizing the right questions to ask people, but it was a lot of self-reflection and evaluation to foster those relationships and interactions.
How has CPE prepared you to be a faith leader in the public church?
First, CPE taught me a lot about pastoral care, and practically about pastoral interactions with people. In the hospital in particular, interactions and relationships are so short that sometimes the twenty minutes you’ve spent with a patient is the last time you may see them. Either they have been moved to another floor in the hospital or they have died. These kinds of experiences helped me orient myself. ‘Why am I here? What can I do? How can we make the most of our time together here knowing that this might be the last time I see you?’ CPE helped me evaluate what pastoral relationships are, can be, or need to be in that moment.
Secondly, CPE prepared me to be a faith leader in the public church because it affirmed my call to hospital chaplaincy which is something I was already discerning. At the end of my CPE unit, I felt much more confident in claiming that truth for myself.
LSTC is transitioning from our historic home to a new location which can be both daunting and joyous. What has CPE taught you about finding joy in transitions?
I love this question. CPE includes a lot of transition, and everything feels transient. I think one of the biggest things that I took from the relationships that I made at Loyola is to cherish the time we have now, because eventually it will come to an end. I think being able to focus on what we have with us now is a joyful place to start.
As I think of LSTC’s transition, what we have in front of us now is this time in a new space and figuring out who we are as a community. Whatever comes 10 years from now, once LSTC is adjusted in this new space is for the community 10 years from now to address. All we have promised to us is what we have in front of us. Our old ways of being a community and our old building are no longer promised to us. But we can choose to remain hopeful about the future! Let’s focus on the now.