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Whether we are clergy or lay; whether we choose to recognize it or not; we all have a calling. It may take a host of people to discern it and half your life before you have the courage to act upon it.  However, based on my own experience, it’s never too late to move forward.

I believe people come into our lives for a reason, whether we recognize it or not. In gratitude of those who work in Spiritual Care and those who shepherded me along the way, I would like to share my story of healing and personal transformation. 

Although I have been a life-long Anglican, it wasn’t until I discovered the community of St John’s, North Vancouver (roughly 15 years ago) that I experienced a spiritual awakening.  I was in my early 50’s and overcome with a deep yearing to become centered in Christ; to be of service to others.  Guided by this loving and supportive faith community, I gradually became immersed in its contemplative prayer practices, worship services and outreach programs.  The parish’s priest, (the Reverend Patrick Blaney) encouraged me to participate in the Caring Ministry program for seniors.  Several years later Patrick affirmed my calling to Pastoral Care.  This led to my discernment of the diaconate; and in 2018, ordination as a vocational deacon within the Diocese of New Westminster.  

While I was the deacon at the parish of St John’s, the Reverend Bryan Rivers occasionally filled in when the priest was away. Bryan just happened to also be the Anglican Chaplain at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).  I immediately felt inspired to learn more about his ministry.  Subsequently, I was permitted to ‘shadow’ Bryan on a hospital shift.  Little did I know, I was now on a journey of healing: not just for my patients, but also for myself. 

VGH was well known territory to me.  I had enrolled in its RN training program 35 years earlier.  However, half way through the RN Program I dropped out; a painful decision that I agonized over for decades to come. 

However, Spirit made sure there was no fear or doubt, this time round. I served, part-time on Bryan’s chaplaincy team: initially as an Anglican denominational volunteer; later as deacon.  As my path unfolded Bryan and I marveled at a growing number of God-instances; they affirmed my pastoral care ministry and led to my own healing. This was the time and place where Spirit was calling me.

While at VGH I also became acquainted with the staff and practitioners of Vancouver Coastal Health’s Clinical Psycho-Spiritual Education (CPE) Teaching Unit, within which the Chaplain’s office was located.  I marveled at the stamina and resilience of their hard-working Spiritual Care interns.

It’s important to understand that CPE is a very intense form of education. 

Prospective CPE students are interviewed and assessed for personal maturity and readiness. Although an introductory unit of CPE is typically required for students completing a Masters of Divinity or a Public and Pastoral Leadership Program, CPE is equally beneficial for parish clergy (like me) or lay people who are seeking to deepen their ministry or vocation.  It can also lead to (usually after completion of between 3 to 5 Units of CPE plus a year’s Residency) an accreditation with CASC (Canadian Association of Spiritual Care). 

CPE is a blend of the pastoral/spiritual-tradition and modern sociological and psychological approaches to patient care (often referred to as an action/reflection model).  Clearly, CPE isn’t for everyone, nor was it in my wildest dreams.  However, God had other plans for me.

In 2021, armed with a lot of encouragement from my chaplain and the Spiritual Care practitioners, I enrolled into CPE Unit 1.  I recall being filled with equal amounts of excitement and fear (and I had several melt-downs along the way!)  But in the end I found my CPE experience very powerful.  One does work hard, and the interpersonal work can be challenging. However, you also reap a heightened sense of personal awareness - incredibly important for your patient care -  which can’t help but transform the practitioner.

CPE supports a holistic approach to health care. Its practitioners are part of an interdisciplinary team and a resource, not only to patients, but to their families and hospital staff.  The holistic program affirms a patient’s spirituality and culture as part of the healing process.

Learning occurs not only through the student’s clinical experience (roughly 200 hours per Unit; either in a hospital or long term care facility) but through didactic sessions, peer group and supervisor reflection. This combined learning experience heightens the student’s personal awareness to better understand their emotions, reactions, triggers and how they might be impacting others. This is essential in enabling students to effectively support and offer appropriate interventions to address the patient’s emotional and spiritual care needs.

CPE practitioners also receive training that enables them to support clients of all faiths, beliefs and customs for: prayer, meditation, supportive spiritual services and ceremonies.  

Vancouver Coastal Health Spiritual Care Practitioners are available 24 hours/7 days a week to support the patient in their holistic journey.  This often involves: coming alongside patients as a compassionate and non-judgmental presence; being an empathetic listener; helping patients find hope - despite pain, suffering, illness; facing death or dying; and, helping patients find meaning in their life experiences (or a sense of transcendence).

I really can’t say enough about the benefits of Vancouver Coastal Health’s Spiritual Care Program (led by the Reverend Dr. Doug Longstaffe, Regional Director, Spiritual Care and Multifaith Services), and the work of his VGH team of Spiritual Care Practitioners. I sincerely hope, if you or your loved one find yourself in hospital, that you will reach out to staff and request a visit from Spiritual Care.  You will be in good hands. 

 The Reverend Juanita Clark is a licensed Anglican Deacon within the Diocese of New Westminster.  She is currently completing CPE Unit 2 and is a part of the Spiritual Care on-call team at Lion’s Gate Hospital, North Vancouver, BC.   She is also a vowed member of the dispersed Benedictine Canon Community of St. Aidan’s.

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