Friday, June 2, 2017


I don’t know how many of you have heard of the Enneagram? It is an analytical personality style evaluation tool. There are nine styles, each having their own idiosyncrasies. It takes bits of information and accretes them. Each style has adaptive and non-adaptive, resourceful and non-resourceful characteristics. An other way to express it is “upside” and “downside” features. I took this evaluator during my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training from 2000-2001. CPE is a chaplain training program modeled after the medical internship/residency process. In other words, it is harsh and demanding. If you are a chaplain and did not have that experience, consider yourself fortunate. I learned that I am a 6/7 split between them. This means that I am a loyal and obedient person with courage. But I fear and find the world kind of dangerous. However, I tend to take on too much and might even have an addictive personality. I am in transition to find joy, while avoiding pain.

In CPE there is a supervisor or trainer/evaluator. These folks have special training to manage groups and individuals in a growth process. Much of CPE is to learn about yourself so that you can get yourself out of the way when meeting with people in crisis or in need of spiritual counseling or support. Sadly some supervisors never figured out how to get themselves out of the way.

I had my first unit; a nine-month “extended” one at the only downtown Milwaukee hospital. We met one day a week, plus one day for clinical or seeing patients. My Supervisor was an ordained Pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. She was soft-spoken, petite and humble woman. However, her preaching voice thundered and was filled with story and conviction. I had the privilege of hearing her at St. Mark AME in Milwaukee, a church with stained glass windows surrounding the lofty and massive sanctuary. Each window was the same, blood red with an anvil in the center. She had come from an abusive Southern upbringing that modeled the anvil as so many blacks had. She shared her hard times and persevering life in intimate detail, until as I remember, all her students were in tears. We had learned what open sharing really meant.  It was a privilege, albeit not easy, to be under her tutelage. We would see patients and write up the experience into what is called a verbatim. This sometimes thought-by-thought interaction portrayed the interaction in excruciating detail including our impressions of our own reactions. A supervisor led group counseling followed this writing. These would be visceral, going deep to motivation, fears, frailties and lessons. Often our own weakness was the centerpiece as each person took shots at our selfishness or other unseemly attributes. The process was meant to break us down to understand our own motivations therefore seeing the other person more clearly. Chaplaincy in a ministry of presence and listening, not talking. Even though I was on call often over weekends when I found little or no sleep, I came away enthralled and loving my new venture. I had gone into ministry including my seminary training to be a healthcare chaplain moving from the “front office” to bedside to serve. You see for 35 years before I had been a hospital CEO or consultant/educator. God was finally saying perhaps, you have learned enough to care for my people. Now you will learn more if you stay quiet and open your heart.

My supervisor wondered about my motivation and ability to take the executive out of the picture, humble myself and see life from someone else’s perspective. I will have to say, this took awhile, but became a wonderful journey. Certainly as I walked the hospital halls I could see fire and safety violations or question administrative or medical staff decisions. However, it was and is refreshing to not have that stress and responsibility hanging over me 24/7 anymore.

I became the chaplain at a continuing care facility with some 700 residents in assisted living, skilled nursing rehabilitation and independent living circumstances owned by a large healthcare system. It was a little village unto itself and I was their chaplain/pastor. What a great privilege to chat, counsel, and teach/preach, marry and bury folks I learned to know intimately. This place became known at “Heaven’s Launchpad,” as the aged went “home” on a regular basis. In fact in the eight years I was involved, I officiated at some 150 funerals or memorial services in the lovely chapel or funeral homes and cemeteries throughout Southern Wisconsin.  I stayed there until I was called to help out my church as the “congregational care” person. That story is for another meditation.  However, before I leave this wonderful village experience, I must tell you of the downside, which was not the funerals. Actually, I love doing funerals, as it is a time to reminisce and evangelize.

 After a couple of years in my village position the complex was sold to a long-term care company in the area.  I had already planned to take three more units of CPE and become board certified through the same strong CPE program I had begun. My new boss, however, said I must resign from that plan and be part of her CPE. Therein begins perhaps one of the most challenging and dark periods of my life.

I would have the unique position of having my boss be my CPE Supervisor. Actually this is not supposed to happen, but so began quite an adventure. I would be working full-time at the village and be full-time in CPE. This amounted to working some 80 hours a week, plus on call. It meant working on one side of town and then driving the 20 miles to the other for meetings several times a week. My supervisor was the enneagram expert, who was a five on this scale. This meant that for her, knowledge is power and brought intellectual arrogance and superiority.  Emotionally they are a bit self-absorbed, detached, and hard to know. Herein lies a problem. She wanted to be in total control.  She never shared about herself other than her mastery of chaplaincy. The contrast to the transparent and caring previous supervisor was brutal. This supervisor wanted to keep students off balance and believing that their situation was “tenuous.” Her management style was built around threat and negative or lack. Unlike my earlier CPE, this supervisor did not believe that I could transition from management. Being in authority was her lead. By the way I had taken multiple personality tests that identified that I did not do well with people in authority who wanted to lord over me or keep me “walking on eggshells.” You see, my mother, a bipolar, alcoholic woman who developed early Alzheimer’s, kept me walking on eggshells.  This was not a good match.

My performance was always unsatisfactory and selfish in demeanor from her perspective. She made it clear that I was unable to be able to be present for patients. This struggle continued until I had survived the CPE Residency.  Thank God I had other people who offered me encouragement. Additionally it became clear that my supervisor was a very imbalanced person. Numerous CPE students resigned from the program writing to senior management that she was overbearing, negative and inappropriate in negative reinforcement. In fact, she was forced into counseling to understand herself. This traumatic combination of events caused me to leave my employment for another chaplaincy in a psychiatric hospital. Although, the work fit my strengths and giftedness it was too intense covering four sites and numerous specialty programs as the only full-time chaplain. I resigned and sadly came back to the same position I had vacated, perhaps in need of employment or as Proverbs said “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats a folly” (Proverbs 26:11).

Returning to my old role was a traumatic error. My former supervisor was still there and cut my hours and pays by 40 percent even though I now had more than five years of chaplaincy experience. I recognized that this narcissistic woman was going to control and even punish me for leaving. I continued to serve obediently and loyally as my profile or personality dictated. Soon, however, my church asked me to fill in as their congregational care person because of a pastoral resignation. I have written about this misguided change in another meditation. The lead pastor was also a controlling and narcissistic leader.

I am now serving as a hospital chaplain in an environment with wonderful opportunities to serve, but with difficult staff members. Sounds familiar. However, I have learned and persevered through previous roles. I have been obedient and submitted to God’s will. He has strengthened my spirit to recognize His love in the suffering and hard times. James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy when you come into trials of diverse kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance which must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” I now ask God for wisdom in the trial and He has given me guidance to know that most difficulties are not about me and not to be feared. God is working all things together for our good as we have been called by His purpose (Romans 8:28 paraphrase).  I can now thank God for my trials given to strengthen and make me complete until I see Him face to face.

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