Drinking from a firehose

Lots of people told me the first week of CPE* was like drinking from a firehose – and they were right. That metaphor might even be an understatement. This first week has aimed a torrent of information and anxiety into my brain. The first sip was hospital orientation – compliance, safety, security, required webinars, and, because it is a hospital system, proper hand washing. Next, a gulp of the themes specific to chaplaincy – family systems, theological reflection, cultural humility, pastoral identity, authority…And then I was doused with the necessary tasks related to records and forms, user names and passwords, policies and procedures.

The topic that feels most like it’ll drown me is death and dying – which will be a major theme for my summer. I knew this was part of the experience, but it still holds a great deal of mystery and anxiety for me. Being with people at the moment or shortly after a death is not an experience I have ever had. In addition to the charged emotion of it, there is the whole “business” of dying that we add in the modern era – gathering information and filling out forms.

If facing death raises anxiety for me, the thought of lost sleep during overnight on-call brings a deluge of terror! As an Olympic level sleeper and napper, I worry about the 2 a.m. page – but it will come – along with pages at all other hours of the day and night. This is why we are there, to respond to needs as they arise, not on a schedule.

To survive the flood of anxiety and newness, I have some tools, some life rafts to grab onto. I have a great group of colleagues – some are newbies like me and others are experienced. Throughout the summer, we’ll be reflecting and praying together about what we are learning and how to do it better. (Also, I wouldn’t make it through at all without comfortable shoes. And sweaters with pockets.) And while the prospect of the next ten weeks is daunting, it is only ten weeks – at the end, I’ll move on to another phase of my formation. But with a priceless experience. What feels like drinking from a firehose today will, by summer’s end, have given me just a taste of the life ahead of me.


*CPE, for the uninitiated, stands for Clinical Pastoral Education, a hospital chaplaincy internship that is required for a lot of people on the path to ordained ministry. It is one of the best ways to learn how to provide pastoral care for people in their greatest times of crisis and vulnerability. And also to experience how that work does not fit your preferred time schedule.

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