Learning the Ministry of Presence

One day in 2001 I got a phone call from my sister. “Our mom died this morning,” she said. It was shocking to me and I didn’t know what to do. I was taking a break from my college after two years. I ran to the hospital and I saw the body of my mom. My father and I hugged for five minutes and cried. After that I didn’t cry until a year after the funeral was over. I struggled with God, with the question of “why?” I was supported by many people and that experience encouraged me to look deeper in my vocation of my life.

In 2007, when I ministered to people at the Stanford University Medical Center, I met many family members who struggled and questioned like me. They were shocked and hurt. They were sad, and at times angry. When I entered the room and met them I didn’t know what to say, but I was able to be there with their grief. My training in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Stanford taught me how to be present with people in grief and not confuse it with my own grief—even how to use my experiences as a resource for my ministry.

The ministry of presence is just one aspect of the chaplaincy training provided by the partnership between Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and CPE of Central California. Seminary students to take classes toward chaplaincy credentials as part of the seminary curriculum.

At hospitals and/or hospices and other institutions, you meet very diverse people from very diverse backgrounds in very diverse situations. Some celebrate their healthy newborn baby, and at the other end of the building some mourn the loss of their loved one. Some wait to go back to home with their family after recovery, and others are just admitted to the emergency room.

It is not easy to be there with them.

This requires self-awareness and skills. In order to be fully with them without judgment and prejudice, you need to be aware of your culture, values and beliefs and how they impact your ministry. It could be enriched by skills of active listening, empathy and compassionate ministry.

At the same time, CPE training is an integration process using experienced-based learning. What that means is you don’t learn your theology in CPE, but you begin to integrate your theology into your ministry. In other words, your confessed theology could have conflicts with your life journey, and you struggled with it. In your ministry, without dealing with this struggle, you may end up using the time with people as processing your theology instead of supporting them where they are. So, in CPE training, students reflect on their theology and how it is impacting their identity as a spiritual care provider and in their ministry with people. This process supports you in integrating what you believe into what you do in ministry, and/or putting your head with your heart together in ministry.

In the Fresno community, there are many hospitals and hospices. People in those institutions need spiritual support in their life journey. CPE training will prepare you to be present not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually with people. The goal of CPE training is for you to become a reflective practitioner as a spiritual care provider.

To find out more about CPE training and FPU, contact Kido Ahn at Ki.do.ahn@fresno.edu or kidoahn@cpecentralca.org. You can also check the CPE website at cpecentralca.org.