In many convalescent centers and nursing homes, chaplains come by to visit residents, lead a Bible study or perform communion.
While that time is valuable, overall, says Rev. Karen Jones, older adults in those settings have long been an underserved community when it comes to receiving true pastoral care.
“There’s not always a pastor available to come in and go room to room, to sit and work with people individually and develop relationships,” said Jones, a retired educator from Tidewater Virginia who was ordained in 2015. “But now there is a program that allows us to do that, that teaches us to do that.”
Thanks to a three-year, $333,000 grant from the Robert B. Lantz Foundation to the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH) in conjunction with the Riverside Regional Medical Center Pastoral Care Department, Jones is a member of the inaugural class of student chaplains providing spiritual care to older adults through a Clinical Pastoral Education Program in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.
Riverside received the grant, the largest awarded by the foundation in its nearly seven-year history, in August and the first extended program class started in September 2016. Applications for the full-time summer program are being accepted now.
The Robert B. Lantz Foundation was established in 2010 from the legacy of its founder, Rev. Robert B. Lantz. Lantz was a Lutheran minister, pastoral counselor and an Association of Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor.
He received his certificate in patient counseling from the Medical College of Virginia in 1964, which he called the richest educational experience of his life, forming the foundation of his professional career. It was his hope to provide educational opportunities and support to clergy and medical professionals on the Northern Neck.
“My husband and I started coming to this area in 1971 and fell in love with it,” said Katherine Lantz, president of the Robert B. Lantz Foundation and also his widow. “When he thought about wanting to do something for the people in this area, this was his vision.”
The Robert B. Lantz Foundation awards grants on an annual basis to support the people of the Northern Neck in areas of pastoral education, counseling training for clergy and healthcare professionals and programs that support mental wellness. “In a community like this where there are a disparity of available resources for counseling and crisis intervention, clergy are on the front line. They always have been,” said Mark Cooper, chairman of the foundation board of directors. “The need for continuing education for clergy, just like for any board certified physician, is important.”
Riverside’s commitment to clinical pastoral education began in 1975 when the first supervisor of pastoral care was hired at the Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. Since then, more than 300 individuals have completed the program and entered or returned to the ministry with enhanced skills and a deeper sense of calling.
Until now, though, clinical pastoral education was not available locally. Seminarians, community clergy and endorsed lay-persons have had to gain training in Hampton Roads, Fredericksburg, Northern Virginia or Richmond.
With the recent grant, Riverside and the CEALH educational program can ensure that the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula have highly-trained spiritual care providers.
Doug Watson, a nationally accredited ACPE program supervisor, called the education that student chaplains receive in the program “a ministry of presence.” “Prisoners and hospitalized people are more clearly aware of the nature of the chaplain, the authenticity of the person ministering to them, than anyone else,” Watson said. “What does a chaplain do? We begin by listening. We’re present. We try to teach (clergy about) being available to patients.”
Spiritual care project
In the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, the student chaplains will provide spiritual care in locations where Riverside provides services to older adults and their families, Walter Reed and Tappahannock Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living, memory care and independent living facilities.
Jones, for example, is completing her work at the Mathews Convalescent Center and Riverside Walter Reed Hospital. Patients, residents, families and Riverside team members who care for older adults, as well as the broader community, all ultimately benefit from this program.
Given that there are roughly 3,600 clinical hours available for 12 student chaplains each year and each student visits three individuals per hour of on-site work, more than 10,800 people will receive the benefit of spiritual care.
“After this three-year project, we will work diligently to secure ongoing funding,” said Mary Martha Stewart, director of Culture Change & ClearPath at CEALH and project director. “The goal is to establish an ongoing clinical pastoral education program with support of Riverside and increase the number of chaplains in the area.”
According to Wendi Steinberg, ACPE supervisor and director of the Clinical Pastoral Education Program for Riverside, “The education students receive is different from the typical traditional classroom. Students engage in action, reflection and then action. They have a ministry experience, reflect upon it and then engage in ministry again.”
The students often learn as much about themselves as a caregiver as they do about the patient, said Steinberg.
“I am a lifelong learner and I appreciate and enjoy the academic setting, but this setting in this program gives me more of a hands-on type experience where we learn a lot about pastoring individuals,” Jones said.
The full-time summer program is available May through August 2017, with applications due before March 2017. An extended program will be offered September 2017 through May 2018, also in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck.
The program will include clinical review, didactics, individual supervision and guest speakers. Students will receive 400 hours of supervision as well as a full unit of clinical pastoral education credit. To apply, visit acpe.edu. The application process will also include an individual, on-site interview.
For clinical pastoral education at Riverside, contact Steinberg at [email protected], or 757-532-7873.