Republished from November 1, 2011 , as mentioned in the article last week 
by Bill Scar, Editor, Our History and Our Future Come Together (2/22/22)


Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD

Tolerance and Encouragement:
Within a Covenant of Mutual Accountability–

Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD


The College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy aspires to be “a supportive and challenging community,” “willing to speak the truth” with “a compassionate heart.”
“A clinical pastoral chaplain must be someone who is
committed to continuing personal transformation.”

“Our continuing vitality will be determined by our ability
to nurture a receptiveness to criticism … .”
“We will have to be resolute and diligent if we want
to nurture a capacity for the self-critical in our midst … .”

In 1975 I was invited to present a keynote address. I spoke on eight “Questions from the Past (on the Future of Clinical Pastoral Education)” – outlining how Anton Boisen might have critiqued what had become of clinical pastoral chaplaincy – asking “whatever happened to the development of a critical tradition?” I was not invited back.

In 2005 I was invited to present a main opening address. I spoke on “religion in crisis” – on being keepers of our brother’s or sister’s religion – outlining how Boisen felt chaplains must promote “the finest potentialities of the human race” – across any and all supposed boundaries – while maintaining “a self-critical stance”. I was not invited back.

This time I am invited to present views on what is wrong with CPSP. What did happen to the development of a critical tradition – a self-critical stance? Can the College admit that some members need patient, persistent collegial support toward further growth – and admit that some Chapters need clear rededication to providing that guidance? Are critics invited back?

Boisen would ask: Can the College be frank about its shortcomings and failures? Can the College consider that some members may need to leave and some chapters may need to close? Can the College admit that not everything worth emulation lies within and that not everything worth scorn lies without? There is no substitute for facing the truth head-on. As Boisen would phrase it, Can the College repent “before it is too late”?

The College spoke out against the world into which it was born. Now it must speak out against itself. The College that burst upon the scene twenty-some years ago was an improvement over professional chaplaincy’s past. The College that moves now into a new decade with new challenges must become an improvement over its own past – in order to fulfill the promise of its future. Chaplains joined because the College committed to a vision of a covenant community, in which members held themselves and their fellow members responsible. Chaplains will remain because the College can refine that vision and recommit to making mutual tolerance, encouragement, and accountability work.

The College has struggled and accomplished much, trying to avoid mistakes made elsewhere. Witness “The Covenant,” that names specific areas known to be potential problems. Perhaps it was not considered consciously – or consciously enough – however, that there would be un-named, un-specified potential problems. Perhaps it was not considered consciously – or consciously enough – though, how to acknowledge any falling short of the College’s ideals, or how to embrace any inevitably needed change.

Fortunately, many members and many chapters are doing well, progressing individually and collectively along their paths of spiritual growth. A member’s success – a chapter’s success – these are encouraging confirmation that the CPSP covenant community can work. None of this success is diminished one bit by acknowledgement that at times members and chapters fail.

The College chose to pursue a model of local rule, through small-group “Chapters,” rather than central office rule. Championing local accountability, however, does not mean that well-considered monitoring by a central leadership team should be avoided. The goal was to expand the availability of clinical pastoral care, counseling, and psychotherapy services, but achievement of that goal becomes meaningless if the quality of such services is not maintained or enhanced.

A personal, non-bureaucratic, non-parental approach only can work if significant amounts of time and energy are devoted to helping each other on a persistent, on-going basis. The College lives or dies according to how diligently each member accepts not only personal responsibility but also collegial responsibility – that each member indeed is – and must be – his or her brother’s or sister’s keeper. Yes, there are tensions inherent in this collegial accountability. No one “promised us a rose garden”.

The College sought to break down arbitrary barriers that made it difficult for rural, non-mainstream, and otherwise marginalized clergy to enter the clinical pastoral field – and it succeeded in this regard. The College sought to assist non-North American clinical chaplains in forming their own indigenous national or regional associations – and it succeeded in this regard. However, breaking down arbitrary barriers does not mean that well-considered standards for initial and continued membership should be avoided – or that the serious consequences of chapters expanding, contracting, or disappearing should be down-played. The College is either a covenanted community or it is not. The College stands or falls according to the seriousness with which it takes The Covenant.

Retrospectively one might recognize that focusing on covenant responsibility and on dispersed local governance was simple in theory but complex in lived actuality. One is hard-pressed to point to another professional organization that functions in this manner, so it would be a rare member who comes to the College already grasping intimately how it works. The simplicity is attractive to those who deal daily with impersonal, infantilizing bureaucracies. The complexity lies within all the joy and heartaches of working with brothers and sisters – growing up with brothers and sisters – truly as brothers and sisters, in the deepest meanings of those relationships. Retrospectively one might recognize that making this attractive organization work would be harder than it might at first sound. To continue reaping the many benefits will take dedication and re-dedication – perhaps even more dedication than had been expected.

The College’s external struggles of the last two decades have discouraged any substantial amount of frank and open confession of its internal struggles. The College, understandably, had to “put its best foot forward” as it dealt with outside matters. Now it must take a look at its “dirty laundry” and deal with those inside matters that have been neglected too long. Concealment and avoidance out of concerns for external disparagement will not work as the College takes the next step forward. Abandoning all but the most perfect members and the most perfect chapters will not work either. Time and patience – a lot of time and patience – will be required to work with each other, toward helping each other and each chapter to become better than in the past. Let me repeat: abandonment of our brothers and sisters is not an option. While a struggling organization might have felt it had to avoid acknowledging any problems, a vibrant organization must be courageous enough both openly to acknowledge problems and openly to be dedicated to solving them.

Among the barely mentionable items within the College has been the succession of leadership. A certain degree of responsible anarchy with a generally benign nominal leader plus a few “elders” on hand to arrange occasional “mid-course corrections” has worked well enough. Tension persists, however, as members contemplate the unknown – how the College will fare with a future nominal leader, who may or may not be generally benign, plus a younger leadership team, that may or may not appreciate the lessons learned through the histories of the College and its predecessor organizations. The College has been fortunate to have various members arise quite naturally into formal and informal guiding roles. It may be time – even past time – to begin the open conversation about how this ungoverned natural process relates to the need for a nominal leader plus a few “elders” at the top.

In summary, the central problem facing the College is learning how to deal constructively with the understandable difficulties in living up to its ideals. Acknowledgement – and correction – of shortcomings makes ideals all that more real. Denial – and evasion – of shortcomings – as if they simply were not supposed to happen – undermines the whole notion of commitment to ideals. The College formulated a revolution in the field of clinical pastoral chaplaincy. The challenge is how to re-vitalize – re-empower – atmospheres of self-criticism and self-correction. The challenge, as Boisen phrased it, is how to mature in times both of crisis and of custom.

See also
Powell RC. “Tolerance and Encouragement: Among the Roots of the Clinical Pastoral Tradition.” CPSP Pastoral Report. 06 June 2011.
Powell RC. “Tolerance and Encouragement: At the Core of the Modern Clinical Pastoral Tradition.” CPSP Pastoral Report. 10 September 2011.

The first opening comment is from “The Covenant” of The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy; and
Lawrence RJ. “Eleventh CPSP Plenary Meeting Report to the Community: 15 March 2001.” CPSP Pastoral Report. 03 June 2003.
See also, Boisen A. Religion in Crisis and Custom: A Sociological and Psychological Study. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955, p.237: “a living fellowship with a certain body of beliefs in which there is room for growth and for discovery.”
The second opening comment is from 
Lawrence RJ. “General Secretary’s Report to Plenary: 21 March 2003.” CPSP Pastoral Report 03 June 2003.
The third opening comment is from
Lawrence RJ. 2001, op cit; in other words, re-reading this entire earlier article is highly recommended.

The 1975 reference is to
Powell RC. "Questions from the Past (on the Future of Clinical Pastoral Education)" invited keynote address, presented before the “50th Anniversary of Clinical Pastoral Education” conference, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Minneapolis, 16-19 October 1975. 1975 Conference Proceedings: 1-21, 1976.
The 2005 reference is to
Powell RC. ““Religion in Crisis and Custom: Formation and Transformation – Discovery and Recovery – of Spirit and Soul.” opening address delivered August 2005 at the 8th Asia Pacific Congress on Pastoral Care and Counseling, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China. on the internet at [click on “Materials”] and at CPSP Pastoral Report.

The reference to Boisen and “before it is too late” is to
Boisen AT “Evangelism in the Light of Psychiatry,” Journal of Religion. 1927; 7(1):76-80; pp 79,76.
Robert Charles Powell, MD, PhD is the leading historian of the clinical pastoral movement. Many of his published writings are posted on the Pastoral Report. Readers can use the PR's search engine found on the left side-bar to locate his articles. As a practicing psychiatrist, his writings reflect his daily investment in his clinical practice of providing psychotherapy and care to his patients. Contact Dr. Powell by clicking here.