This fall, I have started a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, a program that prepares me for a career in Hospital Chaplaincy. To even apply for certification, I need to complete 4 units of CPE each of which consists of 300 clinical hours and 100 classroom hours. At the end of the 4 units I will have the opportunity to write lots essays and go before a certificating board, that is if I discern that this is the path I want to follow. Concurrently, I’m enrolled in a program call Soul of Leadership, a program designed to reflect, challenge, and develop skills in leadership, spirituality, and the integration of the two. As part of the program, I am reading several books and writing reflection papers, as I am also doing in my CPE program. My CPE supervisor, in one of our supervisory meetings, encouraged me to look at Chaplaincy as Leadership. He was very supportive of me participating in both programs and looks forward to hearing about my experiences. At this first Soul of Leadership retreat, as I sat down to do the first readings and reflection exercises, I found that the journey to explore Chaplaincy as Leadership has already started. So in these reflections, that is the focus of my thoughts. In Margaret Benfield’s book Soul of a Leader, her first three chapters begin to outline a process of soulful leadership where first one muSoul of a Leaderst follow the heart, then find partners, and then dare to dream. Margaret uses various stories of leaders in many different work place environments and situations to illustrate her points and asks, as part of the Soul of Leadership program, “How have you followed your heart, found partners, and dared to dream in ways similar to the leaders highlighted in Chapters 1-3?”
When I look at my journey to the CPE program and ultimately chaplaincy, I am surprised to find that it was a journey of following my heart. After completing seminary in 2011, I worked in several positions trying to find my call, trying to find a good fit, trying to find where, as folks I hang out with often quote, “My greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” Yet with the challenges of being a young women in the work force and with the social consciousness of systems of oppression that include systems of race, gender, class, and ability inequality, I not only did not find my call, I wasn’t sure if when I found it, I, as a white middle class able person should be trying to meet the world’s need. So, in the last four years, I have found work that I have loved and worked with people whom I have loved, but work that ultimately did not lead in the direction that God was pulling me. And I have found work that I have not loved and worked with people who have been challenging, some who have been hurtful and degrading.
From each of these experiences I have learned a great deal. For one, I have learned that when my heart speaks of hurt and injustice, it speaks loudly. When my heart speaks of joy and contentment, the voices of expectation, ambition, and restlessness speak louder. I have learned that challenge and lack of challenge can both lead to boredom. That my own self-critique can cause me to disengage, which I also do when I do things too well and I find no place to grow. I have learned that doors close for me due to my age and my gender and open for me due to my race and my education. I have learned that compassion, intuition, and love are rare workplace values and when I do find them, I have a hard time trusting that they actually exist. I have a hard time rejoicing in their presence because I fear the sense of professionalism that in moments of needing to “cover our ass” rips them away. Yet ultimately I have learned that God wants me to love, wants me to be compassionate, wants me to use my gifts of intuition and imagination in the work that I do in the world. It is this call that has led me to chaplaincy and it is in this way that I have come to follow my heart.
Last spring, I was in the middle of the interview process for a role in leadership in my Quaker community when I applied for the CPE program at Brigham & Women’s. It was the only CPE program to which I applied, and although I had thought about applying for several years and spoken to my family about it, my reason for doing so is still a bit mysterious to me.
I had been selected as one of 4 finalists for the position in my Quaker community and my in-person interviews had gone really well. The other finalists were prominent figures in the Quaker world and I felt honored to have been selected along side them. I had significantly less experience than these other three but was told by the community that the skills, experience and gifts that I did have would be enough to be considered. The community ultimately decided to choose someone else, who in my opinion was a safe and logical choice. Hiring me would have been risky and I believe it would have been fruitful. It was crushing not to be hired by my community and to feel like I’ve lost, or perhaps misplaced, partners on my journey in Quaker leadership.
Yet in the midst of this intense experience, I had applied to the CPE program. I had been interviewed and had been accepted. It was confusing to feel both deep hurt and pain for the other job as well as joy for my acceptance into the CPE program. I felt like my heart was running a marathon (I also got married a month later so that adds to it all!). So while one way closed for me, another opened and my heart still sought partners for my journey. When I started the CPE program in September, I found myself among friends, journeymen, and pilgrims hiking along the same path.
So now that I’ve found myself in an incredibly supportive program, where my gifts are valued and encouraged, where I’m asked to be the kind of person that I am and that I want to be, do I dare to dream of doing this as a career? Chapter 3 in Margaret’s book looks at finding the heart’s hope. “With hope restored, the soulful leader dares to dream.” (56). It’s a fearful process for me. Do I trust the path? Do I trust God? Do I put my whole self into this dream? Do I trust the chaplain partners that I have around me?
In some ways, learning to hope again, learning to trust in a new community, and learning new skills and new roles, is like learning to walk. I’ve only been in this program for a short time and I feel that I’m not quite ready to dare to dream of this being a career path. I’m still learning to trust the program and the people around me. I’m still learning to trust myself too. I’m finding that when I stumble, when I don’t meet my own expectations, or when I project my own fears and anxieties onto my interactions with others, I get in my own way. Margaret writes, “When leaders don’t have room to stumble, their hearts lose their passion.” (30)
While my program is incredibly supportive and reminds me constantly to be gentle with myself, it is me who doesn’t let me stumble. And in that confused state of self-critique, I wonder, is this really what I want to be doing? Can I cut it? Am I slacking? Will the CPE supervisors want me to continue the program after this semester? Am I going to grow bored of this? Am I going to hate this career but feel stuck in it? Do I want to devote the next 2 years to finding out? Am I really doing anything at all? Am I bad at this? And on and on and on. The voice in my head is dangerous to my heart’s growth and fulfillment. So how do I unite my heart and my head? How do I help them be friends? How do I find the place where they both pause in a sense of rightness that what I am doing in my life is good? I don’t know yet… and so the journey continues.