Category Archives: Supervision

Rediscovering Spirituality. With or without religion.

Some General Information About
The Companions of St Silouan Athonite

First of all and from the outset: This is not a religious group nor a denominational outreach. It is not a cult-in-the-making.


One nagging question that I have frequently posed is this: Why do most people think of spiritual care at the last minute, when someone is at Death’s door or when you are facing the dying process of a loved one? It’s like exercising and eating a healthy diet after the heart attack, isn’t it? Why not get started now.


This is an ecumenical, interfaith, non-denominations, judgement-free community of persons who are solely interested in companioning each other on their spiritual pilgrimages.

The inspiration for forming a wider group of spiritual companions came from my association with a Russian Orthodox Monastery in Northeast New York. The monks decided to resurrect a concept of a group of lay persons who would live some of the monastic values while in the secular world. These so-called companions of the monastery would apply, be considered as aspirants and then admitted to the so-called companions. They would subscribe to a rule of life, establish for themselves a prayer discipline, support the monastery in time and treasure, and make regular pilgrimages, either to the parent monastery or to some other monastery or retreat venue. It was a great idea but poorly organized. It was open to all faiths and, while it had an insignia identifying the companions, a small stylized cross, it still had the flavor of a very distinct Christian denomination. I couldn’t imagine a Buddhist, a Jew or a Moslem wanting to become a companion and having a cross as their insignia.

My patron saint is St Silouan of Mount Athos, St Silouan Athonite for short. I chose Silouan because of his humility and simplicity, his dedication to love and forgiveness, his compassion. Although Silouan was highly advanced in monastic ascetic spirituality and reached the height of monastic hierarchy as a Staretz or elder, a schemamonk, his humility and simplicity were legendary. Silouan, a Russian Orthodox Christian elder monk, who lived on the exclusive Greek peninsula known as Hagios Oros, the “Holy Mountain”, or Mount Athos, he lived values that transcended the Christian model and are the common threads of all the great world spiritual traditions.

As a professional theologian and thanatologist, a scholar of religion and psychospiritual care, I find that the vast majority of persons who call themselves members of a particular faith or belief community don’t have a clue about what their denomination teaches. Most ministers have no clue about what’s going on in interreligious dialogue, much less about their particulars. Most institutionalized religion has been caught with their pants around their ankles when it comes to credibility.

In recent decades we have all too often heard the ambiguous and practically meaningless phrase, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Even the “spiritual” professional literature from the healthcare, deathcare and spiritual care disciplines can’t even agree on an across-the-board commonly held definition of what spirituality is! In fact, one publication did a review of the literature and found more than 90 different “definitions” of  spirituality!

In my professional practice I deal with end-of-life, death, dying, and survivors. I know the value of religion and I know the value of spirituality; I think I know where the one stops and where the other starts. Every time I think I’m sure, a situation arises that sets me back to square one.

One thing is certain: every human being is spiritual. There’s no doubt about it. Once you can admit you recognize that there’s something greater than yourself, that transcends your understanding, you have become spiritual. Now how you use that evolutionary revelation to best advantage and how you ease into it to make meaning of difficult moments, suffering, challenges is another story. To get the most out of your spirituality, you need companioning, guidance, others willing to talk about their spirituality and to share their insights.

That’s what this group, the Companions of St Silouan Athonite, is all about.

It’s an open group meaning that anyone inclined to explore the group can freely do so. What you receive from the group and what you give to the group is purely a matter of what you have at any given time in your journey. The pilgrimmage is self-paced. The requirements are your own.

The only formal hierarchy is me, the self-styled “Principal Companion,” actually the monitor of the group and the main person doing most of the work on this site.

In the near future, once the group shows signs of stability and growth, I will offer two levels of formal membership: Aspirant and Companion. The Aspirant is a candidate who has identified a sincere calling to companion others in developing their spirituality. The Companion is the person who has achieved a certain level of competence in companioning through personal discipline and involvement.

Initially, there is no commitment other than the personal commitment you make to yourself and to those with whom you have a relationship to follow the Simple Rule of the Companions of St Silouan Athonite. As the Companion community matures, we may ask for volunteer support or offer specific products for generating funds. Those products will be subject to the Community’s approval, basically all full Companions will have a say in what is offered and what is done.

At some point in time, again as the Community grows and matures, it would be great if we could have a Companions retreat once a year at locations offering retreat accommodations and meeting facilities.

The organization will be very loosely structured: Most of the site will be public access. That means that announcements, reflections, etc. will be public access.

Anyone interested in more intense involvement will be asked to “Follow” the site by signing up with their real name and their email. This means only that the moderator, I, will see who you are and know our email. You will receive an email automatically notifying you whenever a new item is posted. You can do the same for comments.

At some time in the near future, I will post an application form on this site. If anyone wishes to become an Aspirant they will fill out the form and email it to me.

To become a full Companion, you will fill out the same form but only after 6 months of Aspirancy, include an essay about your spirituality and the importance of being a Companion, and you will document your spiritual activities, retreats, spiritual direction, etc.

A full Companion will receive a letter of good standing and a Certificate of Companionship, both of which will have only sentimental value.

Very soon I will create a suitable “habit” for Companions. The habit will be a small item identifying the wearer as a Companion. It will likely be a lapel pin or similar item. Cost will be kept low, since the value of the habit is to be kept intrinsic and the habit itself is to be kept very humble.

Since most everything will be done digitally and the material for reflections etc. will come directly from my own resources or from material I’m reviewing at the time and find suitable for the Companions, no real overheads will be generated. As for the habit, the Companion will purchase that directly from the manufacturer.

I may from time to time suggest certain devotional items such as prayer ropes and the like or items to enhance sensual aspects of the spiritual practice. If I do so, I will also provide links to suppliers of such items. I do not have any financial interest in any of these suppliers but if one were to come about, I would announce that fact publicly to the Community.

Aspirants and Companions are accountable to themselves. If you misrepresent something you do your conscience is your judge, no one else.

Finally, all I ask is if you are seriously interested in becoming a participating member of the group that you contribute to the reflections or to the feedback about reflections. The only requirements are that you remain on topic, leave egos outside, and don’t bring any personal baggage on board. No proselytizing and not judgmentalism.

In closing, I do sincerely welcome your comments, recommendations, suggestions, even criticisms of me and only me. Comments should be made using the comments form on each post; they will be moderated and then published. If you don’t want what you write to be public please email me your thoughts to st.silouan.companions@gmail.com. Your email communications will be confidential and I now notify anyone concerned that I invoke clergy privilege should any law enforcement agency request insight into the emails. When I say confidential, I mean confidential.

As always, I am available at st.silouan.companions@gmail.com should you have any questions or concerns.

To view the Simple Rule of the Companions of St Silouan click here.

Looking forward to exploring the beauty and mystery of spirituality with you,

Peace and joy!
Rev. Ch. Harold Vadney BA, [MA], MDiv.
Principal Companion

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Does Your Care Facility Offer What You Need?

I, As A Clinical Pastoral Care Provider,  and You, As A Consumer of Clinical Pastoral Care Services in Hospitals and Nursing Homes, Have An Obligation to Be More Critical and Ask More Questions. We Must Have A Voice.

We Must Ask Critical Questions!

Over the years I have done a great deal of reading, research, and critical thinking about pastoral care, spiritual support, chaplaincy and have come to some conclusions. Some of these conclusions are disturbing, others are illuminating, some are constructive, others are serious wake-up calls. So let me throw a couple of them out and get some feedback from my pastoral care colleagues and from some of our readers who may be on the receiving end of our well-meant efforts. Continue reading

Appearances…Are they Important?

We’ve All Heard the Pleonasm,  Never judge someone by the way he looks or a book by the way it’s covered; For inside those tattered pages, there’s a lot to be discovered” — Stephen Cosgrove  — But We Must Always Be Attentive To How We Present Ourselves to the Client!

While it is true we, as chaplains and pastoral care providers, should never succumb to judgmentalism, much less judge a client by his or her appearance. To do so in our holy roles as ministers of pastoral care to the suffering would be an abomination.

That having been said, I think many of our professional and volunteer associates have much to learn about how their appearance affects the recipient of our ministrations. Here are some observations. Continue reading

Does Interfaith Require a Denial of Faith?

Hear with your eyes; see with your ears!

Hear with your eyes; see with your ears!

A colleague recently raised a very relevant and poignant question, one which I think we in pastoral and spiritual care care ministry to the sick and dying have had to face and which, and in my experience, receives only marginal and very inadequate attention in divinity formation–naturally because most divinity formation is denominationally oriented–and clinical pastoral formation–because in the programs to which students are farmed out the supervisors are of one denomination supervising a variety of denominations (and generally ignorant of the philosophy, theology, tradition of most of the students’ traditions because the program is “interfaith”). There may be several reasons for the “neglect,” the first being ignorance of and opposition to alternative or conflicting traditions. Most of us have been inculcated very early in our faith formation, and certainly in the context of some agendas inherent in divinity programs, by the notion that we are the “elect” and the “others” just haven’t yet gotten it right. I personally deplore that exclusionist attitude as much as I abhor Marcionism or supercessionism. But it’s there, and what it brings to those who have occasion to be in regular contact with other faiths and traditions is the gnawing anxiety that somehow, by ministering to the “others,” we may be injuring our own faith or, as my colleague stated it, “does interfaith ministry require me to deny my own faith?” or to deny something essential to or in our own spirituality or faith life.

My response to the question was and continues to be that “interfaith” doesn’t require the minister to “deny” anything at all but invites us to participation and relationship.

This is where, I think, good formation, training, seasoned with generous life experience, helps a lot. We are most uncertain, feeling we’re on thin ice, as it were, where we are poorly prepared, unsure of our own feelings or potential responses, or where we expect we should have an answer or a fix-it. We as pastoral care providers need to give ourselves permission–as part of that self-care thing–to be uncertain, to be insecure, to ask probing questions of ourselves about what we believe and how we believe, to go dry once in a while. Every great saint (read “saint as in moral model of living” in any tradition) has experienced this.

If we have “faith” we have it. It may not always and at all times be as strong as at others and there are crests and troughs–anyone who truly believes in anything has questioned it at one time or another–and we, rather speaking for myself now, I have sometimes asked myself “What’s the use!?!” only to turn around and remember that I am creature! I am the bearer only of the message–and that message may only be one of silent presence–, the receiver has the decoding book in his/her heart that will reveal his/her Truth, the meaning.

Unity in Diversity!

The recent (by “recent” I mean in the past 5 decades versus the past 5 centuries) efforts and movement towards interfaith dialogue and communion/unity speak volumes to us in pastoral care, and allow us to be more open to other faiths and traditions, recognizing the shared and appreciating, respecting, tolerating the perhaps conflicting aspects. Our personal faith is al lthe richer for appreciating and accepting others’ perspectives and how what for Christians is the Holy Spirit reveals the Godhead thru those perspectives. As in the case of science and Holy Scripture there’s no conflict at all–it is only human beings who inject conflict–and here I’d like to refer to Calvin’s theory of the two books. Science and Holy Scripture complement, buttress, affirm each other as revelation. So, too, do other faiths and traditions and we as pastoral and spiritual care providers are in the unique position to tap these resources, to adopt and adapt some of them,  but we must do so without anxiety for what we fear we might have to lose but anticipation at what we have to gain. This requires an open and receptive heart and mind.

And a generous dose of humility and charity wouldn’t hurt.

Finally, the interfaith symbol is a good focus for reflecting on what I’d like to call the circumincession or perichoresis of interfaith ministry; it’s a dynamic movement within and into the various faiths and traditions, denying nothing, incorporating everything.

Addendum: A collegue just commented on my posting: “You made me smile there. There is a line toward the end of the movie “The Polar Express”, where Know-it-all Boy is going on at Santa about the first gift of Christmas. Santa looks at him says “Young man, patience. And a smidgen of humility might also serve you well.” How true!

I’ve found that the Chaplains group on Linked In has some very worthwhile discussions.

Interfaith? Supervision?

What’s Interfaith? While the notion of holistic care that supports mind, body, psyche, soul is nothing radically new, it has attained some level of vogue in recent years. But it has not been made clear what exactly institutions mean when they throw the term around, as they are wont to do, however. Seems like it’s the new trendy word that has supplanted the notion of “non-denominational” but is much more arrogant. Non-denominational at least meant that it didn’t cater for any particular denomination (presumably of Christianity but could conceivably be extended to any religion, if understood broadly as a denomination). Interfaith, on the other hand, is much bolder, more arrogant, and flies in the face of any meaninful signification. In fact, interfaith could mean “in between faiths” or “catering for all faiths.” Either the one or the other is wholly illogical, and that’s why both the patient and patient families and the pastoral care provider have to be very cautious when approached by anything “interfaith.”
Even the emblems used by “interfaith” providers appears a bit exaggerated and gives the impression that interfaith can do it all. It can’t.

Here’s an illustration: In many of today’s non-denominational or secular care facilities, whether the secular hospital or nursing care facility, if it has a pastoral care or religious services presence, will usually characterize itself as “interfaith,” and its chaplains as “interfaith chaplains.” Total rubbish. And it’s more self-aggrandizing and misleading than it is comforting to those receiving the “care” from such departments. First of all, it doesn’t take into sufficient consideration the uniqueness of each faith’s tradition and spirituality. Second of all, it presumes that a Buddhist can provide adequate care to a Lutheran, and that’s simply not so. Or a mainstream protestant can provide adequate care to a Buddhist or a Hindu. The Jewish and Moslem traditions have caught on and pretty much take care of their own, preferring a rabbi or an imam. That’s very understandable under the circumstances. But what about those religions that are pretty rare, like Buddhists, or those suffering shortages of clergy like many Christian denominations?

Someone saying, “I’m the chaplain,” can mean many things. Moreover, many of the chaplains most patients and patients’ families see in most institutions are actually interns or so-called residents, trainees. Many of these people have little or no formal training in ministry, pastoral care, spirituality, theology, ethics, much less education and training in comparative religion or religious ethics. I even worked with persons who had never even been to a funeral let alone accompany a family in an end-of-life situation, or counsel a family when making a withdrawal of life support decision! It’s embarrassing!

But it gets worse! In a supervision conference during my own training, one so-called “chaplain intern” was relating an encounter with one of the patients in my care, whom he had seen during the night while acting as on-call “chaplain.” The parents asked about baptism for their dying son, an adult, and my colleague went on about what he explained to them about infant baptism–the patient was 37years old!–and adult baptism.

Pseudo-Theologian

The intern’s theology was total rubbish and all he proved was that he knew absolutely nothing about the theology of baptism (and he was studying divinity at a leading school). Ultimately–thanks to the intern’s catechesis–the parents opted not to have their son baptized. The man died unbaptized, the parents got an “edu-muck-ation” of sorts, and I had an opportunity to practice extreme humility…and deep prayer! The pitiful part of this is that the so-called supervisor said nothing at all, despite being an ordained RCA minister! At times, on direct inquiry by patient or family, we must respond with pastoral guidance based on life-experience, formation, training, interreligious/interfaith/intertradion respect and appreciation, and much extracurricular study; this was a regrettable example of putting the ignorant in a position of immense gravitas and having him drop the pastoral ball.
Another travesty: In my same group of interns (Albany Medical Center, Summer 2011) there was a Canadian female professor, allegedly teaching “theology” (but her description looks more like an excerpt from a feminazi catalogue). She came from humble and abusive stock, had a number of really shoulda-been-disqualifying psychosocial issues, was totally unprepared for ministry…BUT…was apparently an “Anglican deacon” and soon to be “priested.”

The “curette” or is it “curate.”

But even as a case-worth-further-study she was turned loose on patients and families. She attended a patient and her family on one of my units during night on-call. When I visited the patient and her family the next day they behaved rather bizarrely. We had a relationship so they soon told me what was bothering them. The parents were reserved in their description of this “Anglican deacon” or “that woman” as they put it; the daughter (the patient was less kind, calling the intern a “hovering freak”). I brought this up to the supervisor who did nothing. On several occasions I found her “ministering” to families of patients on my units in the waiting areas. She even “introduced” me to families to whom I was ministering for days. I regret not being able to reproduce for you the looks the people gave her, and their comments on the Vicar of Dilby that followed. On another occasion, the family of a young African-American patient on one of her units flatly refused to have her in the room; the family insisted that I minister to the dying young man. Staff thanked me for being there instead of the other intern. The unit paged me to attend to the family, who requested me specifically, since it was expected the young man would die within the hour. Out of courtesy I contacted the lead chaplain for the unit, my colleague the “Anglican deacon,” who forbade (which was her prerogative) me to continue ministering to “her patient and family” on her unit; the young man died that same day. In personal supervision I related the case to the supervisor (who was already made aware of the situation), and noted that the incident was tragic but foreseeable. The intern had no clue about the family, their needs, their desires; it was all about property rights. The so-called “supervisor” cast a blind eye to all of this. The outcome was far from “interfaith” and much less pastoral care.

And then there’s the sundry “digruntled” Cathlick. This is apparently a new variety of Catholic who had to announce at every didactic session to each new speaker not that she is just a Catholic but invariably a “disgruntled Catholic,” as if that made her something special in the eyes of those present. She invariably had to distinguish herself from the apparently run-of-the-mill “gruntled Catholic.” She had to identify herself as a species of Catholic or a Cathlick, CINO (Catholic In Name Only). Invariably a middle-aged female, needful, dragging her baggage from bedside to bedside. And because of her needfulness, requires special attention and gets it; while putting everyone else on edge with her neurotic idiosyncrasies. (We had one of these in my group and she was allowed to complete her CPE unit apart from the group, receiving special personal supervision from the so-called supervisor). She could play a part as “interfaith” pastoral care-giver that she could not licitly play in real life, that is, outside of the hospital. A travesty.

But think of it this way: The departments providing the “training” get paid, the institution gets reimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid, the trainees get a unique experience, the department managers and staff get big heads. Everyone wins…well, almost everyone. But it’s really about the reimbursement and the prestige of having a chaplain training program on site–but that’s all that counts, isn’t it? There’s something dishonest, unethical about this. Don’t you think? Therefore…

You must always be skeptical. It’s a shame but it’s true. Things are not always what they seem and it is in your best interest to ask questions and insist on transparency. If someone appears at your or your loved one’s bedside, find out who they are. Ask questions like what is your religion? Where did you study? What do you expect to do for me, my loved one? How do your expect to help us?
I realize it’s difficult to have the presence of mind and the wherewithall to ask such questions in such a stressful situation but why accept an amateur for pastoral or spiritual care when you’d expect a specialist for medical or nursing care. Is you earthly well-being more important than your eternal essence?
Pastoral and spiritual care is one of the most important support services available to patients and families in critical situations. It would be foolish to refuse it or not to make the best of it. You deserve the spiritual and emotional care a good chaplain can provide; so does your loved one. Whether it’s prayer and teaching or simply silent presence; whether it’s performing a complex religious ritual or simply holding hands, it’s good medicine and even science has shown that it works in positive ways. Accept it if offered, but make certain it’s authentic and can provide what you need.

Read about my own interfaith internship experience.

Related Posts

 Chaplain Wuss

Disciple Syndrome

Pay-2-Work?

Don’t Be Nice!

 

The Interfaith CPE Experience

Interfaith Intern Receives 1 CPE Unit

I’ve been reading a number of interesting comments on Interfaith chaplaincy on the professional blogs. I’ve reproduced my own experience of my Interfaith Internship at Interfaith. Read about the travesty of interfaith CPE at a mid-sized acute care facility, and some of my experiences of so-called “supervision” and some questionable interns.

My CPE Group & Supervisor

Nutty History

CPE Co-Founder?

In the mid 1920s, the new form of theological education known as Clinical Pastoral Education developed out of the risk-taking of Dr. William A. Bryan, Superintendent of the Worcester State Hospital, Worcester, MA when he employed Rev. Anton T. Boisen, a former mental patient, to become the hospital chaplain. Thus the research interests of this Congregational /Presbyterian (he called himself Presbygational) minister became the motivation that initiated clinical pastoral education. Anton Boisen had been hospitalized for psychotic breaks from 1920 to 1922, and during the hospitalization, he felt a calling to “break down the dividing wall between religion and medicine.” He believed that certain types of schizophrenia could be understood as attempts to solve problems of the soul. He invited four students, to spend the summer of 1925 with him at the hospital. One of the four, Helen Flanders Dunbar, subsequent a pioneer in the field of psychosomatic medicine, came as a research assistant. Dr. Flanders Dunbar later became the Medical Director of the organization of clinical programs called the Council for Clinical Pastoral Training of Theological Students in New York City.

Read more at CPE History.