In just a few short months, the new Center for Pastoral Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary(JTS) has already made a substantial impact on its students—and the many patients they have counseled.
Pastoral education, or the art of teaching religious leaders how to care for others in physical or emotional crisis, draws on religious traditions and psychological training. Students enter into hospital rooms, day treatment programs for people with mental illness and senior residences in order to establish the pastoral relationships which enable them to learn how to help individuals to address core religious questions that become urgent in the face of suffering, loss and death.
Rabbi Mychal Springer, director of the Center for Pastoral Education, described what the center offers, saying, "Students receive in-depth supervision to help them to care for people, drawing on Judaism and other faith traditions as powerful resources for cultivating hope in moments of crisis."
The Center for Pastoral Education was initiated by Rabbi Springer and launched by a $500,000 grant over four years from the Charles H. Revson Foundation to bring Jews and non-Jews together in a program fully accredited by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). Julie Sandorf, president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, said, "The Revson Foundation is honored to help inaugurate this pioneering effort. Under Rabbi Springer's inspired leadership, a new generation of rabbis and clergy will transform the compassionate care of those who are ill and most in need of powerful responses to perennial questions of meaning." A recently announced $200,000 matching grant from the Booth Ferris Foundation will also be disbursed in 2009–2010.
The center recently celebrated its first graduating class in August. The initial seven graduates, all from JTS or Union Theological Seminary (UTS)—Jeffrey Abraham, Melissa Berman, Joel Berning, Matthew Klein, Lori Koffman, Jennifer Schlosberg, and Jonathan Schultz—held a variety of positions throughout the world of pastoral care, working with mentors in such environments as a residential treatment program for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, a hospital, a senior center, and others.
UJA-Federation of New York generously funds student stipends. Says Roberta Leiner, managing director of UJAFED's Caring Commission, "Supporting rabbinic students to gain the requisite pastoral skills and hands-on experiences in the field, bolstering their competencies to address the needs of the 'whole person' has been an essential component of our commitment to professional development and what we hope to achieve by supporting the JTS interns."
For Joel Berning, a recent graduate of UTS who was placed at PrideSite1, a day treatment program for people recovering from mental illness, the experience could not have been more eye opening. "I'm grateful for the gifts I have been given through the ministry and the space provided by both my clients and friends onsite and at JTS. The CPE program has given me an immense opportunity and comfort in my journey, my convictions, and in my growth." Michael McAllister, former site director at PrideSite1, who worked with Joel, said, "It's a wonderful program and serves as a launchpad for people to help others who have been through a lot of trauma and pain."
Joel and the other graduates are at the forefront of a growing trend. As baby boomers transition into senior citizenship, pastoral care will also be in even greater demand. "Rabbis and laypeople around the country have identified expert pastoral care as an essential need in their communities. The center will have a transformative effect on the Jewish community and well beyond," said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen.
The first graduating class is but an initial step in providing quality education and real-world experience to a wide variety of pastoral caregivers who will go on to help the countless people in need of this vital service.