I decided to do a CPE residency for two reasons. First, I had wanted to do one since finishing my first unit, and the timing seemed perfect. Second, it's pretty much a requirement for getting any kind of chaplain job, and definitely for becoming a board-certified chaplain. Since I wasn't sure when I'd want to go back to the local church, I wanted to make sure and have solid qualifications for other ministries.
I chose my residency site based on the rave reviews I had heard about the supervisor. A clergy friend had recommended him and I had spoken to several other people who had been in his CPE program and loved it. In my experience, a good CPE experience depends on having a good supervisor and good colleagues. I couldn't control who my fellow residents would be, but I could choose my supervisor.
Just as a side note, I definitely picked the right supervisor and the right medical center. "Henry" (my code name for him) is a fantastic supervisor, and just what I needed. He's not perfect, by any means. He's more liberal than I am (politically and theologically) but 95% of the time that's a non-issue. He's also a little hard to read at times (I think he could make millions playing poker) which can be kind of frustrating. However, everything else about him is great. He allows us plenty of room in which to mess up and learn from our mistakes and trusts us to use our judgment when making decisions. I could go on forever, but you don't need to hear me wax eloquent on him.
My colleagues (I'll call them "Sandy" and "Danny") are great and I think we're a good fit. It's nice that we're all within 10 years of each other in age; Sandy is almost 29 and Danny is 37. They just happen to both be African-American (but I could care less about that) so I've learned a lot about the black church that I didn't know before. We're different enough to make things interesting but still have tons of common ground (Sandy and I both like food, Danny and I both have kids, etc). I feel safe being myself around them and Henry, which is very liberating after two years at SJ, when I felt like I had to be someone else (and that didn't even work). If something I say, do, or don't do hurts/angers/confuses them, I know that they'll talk to me about it rather than talking to each other and ganging up on me. I'd do the same thing for them, and I hope they know that.
The most powerful thing I realized in my first month or two of this residency was that the SJ fiasco was not ALL my fault. I had been beating myself up for almost six months, and that stopped once I absolved myself of total blame. Was part of it my fault? Sure, and my major task this year is to identify and make some major headway on those issues. I won't return to the local church until I feel like I've resolved those issues to my satisfaction. I'm not expecting to be perfect, but I don't want to risk a repeat of what happened at SJ. However, it was very liberating to realize that the congregation (or more likely, a core group of 5-10 people) were also responsible for what happened. Just as there were certain times where I could have acted differently and changed things, there were certain times when the church could have acted differently and changed things.
I think that in my next few posts, I'll identify some of the factors/reactions that were totally out of my control. Then, I'll identify some of the factors that WERE in my control, and how things might have been different. This isn't for the sake of beating myself up, but for the sake of reflecting, venting, healing, and growing.