Clinical Pastoral Education

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The idea of learning pastoral ministry by serving the sick in a hospital which is the central thrust of clinical pastoral education (CPE) has been an attractive idea for many Mennonites. It may be that, with their strong emphasis upon discipleship, they have felt that this is nearest to the way Jesus trained the twelve. He trained them "to do by doing." First, he modeled for them, then sent them to serve and to report back to him. He gave his "lectures" between his ministries to the sick, and discussed faith issues in this milieu of serving the sick.

Although individual Mennonites began to show their interest in CPE already in its formative years, they were not among the founders of the movement. In 1925 a medical doctor named Richard Cabot set out to train ministers by supervised practice, somewhat as a medical doctor is trained. In 1930, Anton Boisen, a sociologist of religion who had experienced mental illness himself, pioneered in arranging for pastoral interns to serve the mentally ill and to receive peer and professional supervision. He called it "learning pastoral theology by reading the living human document." Two major denominations, the Lutheran and the Southern Baptist, developed their own clinical education programs for their pastors, and many hospitals developed programs. In 1944, the first National Conference on Clinical Training was held. By 1950, a Council for Clinical Training had developed professional standards.

All of the score or more of clinical pastoral education programs relied upon the action-reflection method. An ecumenical group of six "chaplain interns" were assigned to give pastoral care to sufferers in crises, asked to report back to peers and a professional supervisor, and to discuss the "teaching input sessions" together. Each student used an individualized "contract for learning," to focus the resulting insights toward developing a unique style of ministry in line with his or her gifts.

In 1967, in an amazing ecumenical achievement, a score of separate programs of clinical training for pastoral ministries merged and formed The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). Soon leading hospitals and chaplain associations gave it their endorsement and theological seminaries gave its programs recognition by awarding transcript credit toward their pastoral degree. The movement grew steadily, and the standards have remained constant over the years. The December 1987 ACPE News reported that in the United States alone there were 750 active supervisors, serving in 382 centers (hospitals, etc.) relating to 110 seminaries representing 20 denominations. ACPE had 1,366 "clinical members."

No records known to this writer have preserved the names of all the Mennonites who have profited from CPE and who have made unique contributions to it. At least 20 Mennonites have served as supervisors. The 1987 directory of ACPE supervisors listed seven who were Mennonite.

Ralph Lebold, in addition to supervising in the London [[[Ontario (Canada)|Ontario]]] Psychiatric Center, also developed an accredited CPE program in the Valleyview Mennonite Church of London, of which he was pastor. This was one of only two congregations in North America to be so accredited.

Bob Carlson, Mennonite CPE supervisor in the Prairie View Psychiatric Center of Newton, Kansas, offered CPE to area pastors as part of a large community education program. In the year 1980 alone, Prairie View offered education and consultation to 80 hospitals, universities, colleges, and church organizations of the area. Elmer Ediger commented, "The CPE program has been the most substantial training contribution of Prairie View" (If We Can Love, 141).

At Philhaven Hospital, Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania, John Lederach and Paul Miller developed a program in 1985 to serve pastors of their catchment area. Missionaries returning from years of service overseas, leaders in a mid-life change of career, nurses shifting to chaplaincy, etc., came for training. The average age of the first 28 pastors and leaders (of whom 14 were women) was 48 years of age.

Chester Raber and Ronald Hunsicker, Mennonite CPE supervisors at Oaklawn Center, Elkhart, Indiana, developed a remarkable program of satellite centers. Between 1973 and 1981 they offered CPE in as many as 10 other hospitals, prisons, homes for boys, and geriatric centers of the area. They had 17 students, representing 6 denominations, in CPE at one time.

Myron Ebersole developed the CPE programs at Lancaster General Hospital and the Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania. Of the 369 students in programs he has directed and supervised, 26 have been Mennonites or Brethren in Christ. He has been involved at regional and national levels of the ACPE, and he led in the development of a Standing Committee on Public Issues, with the intention of integrating concerns for peace, social justice, and ethical issues as a aspect of education for pastoral care.

See also Mental Health Facilities and Services, North America

Author(s) Paul M Miller
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Miller, Paul M. "Clinical Pastoral Education." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 26 Jul 2021.

APA style

Miller, Paul M. (1989). Clinical Pastoral Education. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 July 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 165-166. All rights reserved.

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