Pastors Gain Ministry Skills through Hospital Training

Date Posted: 4/28/2016

Current pastors and candidates for ministry gain insight for leadership and pastoral skills through hands-on clinical programs at Houston Methodist Hospital.
Many Texas Conference United Methodists know Houston Methodist Hospital for its excellent patient care. Perhaps a lesser known fact is that it’s also a training site for pastors and lay ministers seeking to grow in their leadership and care-giving skills. The program for clergy and seminary students is called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Houston Methodist is expanding CPE system-wide, introducing students to Houston Methodist Sugar Land, Houston Methodist Willowbrook, and Houston Methodist West in Katy, in addition to the students at the Texas Medical Center.

Unique Benefits: A Personal Perspective
As he was transitioning from seminary to pastoral ministry, Rev. Kip Gilts, Superintendent of the South District, spent two years at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, earning nine units of Clinical Pastoral Education. “There has never been a day in ministry that I have not utilized the skills and tools I gained in my CPE training,” he says. Kip recommends CPE to most seminarians seeking their internship placement. He cites increased self-awareness, experience in providing pastoral care in crisis situations, and skilled supervision for professional development as unique benefits from a CPE internship.

The practical ministry experience gained through CPE has also been valuable for Dr. B.J. Hightower, a senior staff chaplain at Houston Methodist Hospital. CPE helps pastors “navigate the tension between the spiritual and the secular,” she shares. The educational process also helps students evaluate their own moral and ethical beliefs in real world ministry, particularly in end of life care.

According to the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, the accrediting agency for CPE, the focus of ministry training is on “living human documents.” These are patients served in hospitals, clients served at social service agencies, and the chaplains and care providers themselves. The focus of CPE is on self-awareness in ministry that helps pastors be more aware of their own and others’ emotional needs.  Kip believes this is helpful not only in pastoral care, but also in crisis leadership.

One method of learning in CPE is called the Inter-Personal Relationship Seminar or IPR. “This time calls you to the table and gives you a laboratory for confrontation,” he explains. “It allows you to be assertive and ‘try out behaviors’ that you can’t do anywhere else.” It helps the students become aware of how they come across to others.

Rev. Tom Stephenson took his first unit of CPE at Houston Methodist Hospital while serving as a pastor in a neighboring community. “I appreciated the convenience of the extended unit that allowed me to attend class, work with patients, and continue to serve my congregation.” He said he valued the transparency he experienced in CPE. “I learned that I don’t have to be perfect.” He is continuing his CPE training as a resident at Houston Methodist.

As pastor of Wesley Tabernacle UMC in Galveston, Rev. Steffon Arrington wanted to gain additional pastoral care skills for his ministry. He is currently doing an extended unit of CPE at a medical center hospital. The convenient class time and weekend hours with patients allow him to continue to serve his congregation full-time. CPE has helped him “develop better empathic listening skills as well as care in grief and crisis situations.”

Flexible Options
There are many opportunities for CPE within the bounds of the Texas Annual Conference, including Tyler and the hospitals of the Texas Medical Center. At Houston Methodist pastors serving full-time appointments can take advantage of extended units, which run from September to May.

Classes meet one evening per week, with patient care a couple of weekends per month. Houston Methodist also offers a summer internship, which is 10 weeks of full-time work, and residencies, which are one year of full-time work. More information can be found at, or by contacting Dr. Luis Rodriguez, the CPE Manager, at or 713-441-2381. There will also be a CPE display from Houston Methodist at Annual Conference this year.