Clinical Pastoral Education Program Brings Hope, Relief
When the Rev. Brian Gowan first encountered Hugo and Alejandra (“Alex”) Chamorro in summer 2020, it was in the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital. The husband and wife were both critically ill with COVID-19 and were put into induced comas.
The senior chaplain spent his days ministering to Alex, Hugo and the other patients in his charge. He prayed for them and spoke words of encouragement in their hushed rooms. It was a mission he undertook with a respectful, quiet resolve — to stand in for the loved ones who couldn’t be present because of mandatory visitor restrictions.
“There will always be a need to walk alongside others, especially in health care,” says the Rev. Stacy Auld, system director for Spiritual Care and Values Integration at Houston Methodist. She points out that, thanks in large part to philanthropy, the Houston Methodist Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Program has skillfully trained hospital chaplains to walk beside and offer the light of faith to patients and their families since 1967.
Through an accredited, yearlong CPE residency, trainees enter a full-time interfaith program that includes not only hospital chaplains but also church pastors, hospice workers and other spiritual care stewards. While admission simply requires an undergraduate degree and active faith affiliation, many of the 14 residents welcomed annually hold advanced degrees from some of the country’s most respected seminaries and theological institutions.
Residents perform clinical work on seven Houston Methodist campuses, where ministerial training in clinical support, theology, psychology, self-awareness and compassion meets real-life health care. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these themes came into especially sharp relief across the health care landscape. In turn, the chaplaincy program proved that its spiritual depth was matched only by a drive for state-of-the-art practices to better reach patients and their families.
“The pandemic served as a huge catalyst for innovation in the spiritual care world,” explains the Rev. Auld. “Suddenly, the question was, ‘How do we modernize to connect patients with loved ones who can’t be with them in person? How do we expand care across Houston Methodist?’”
“The philanthropic community has left an indelible mark on our spiritual care programs and training at Houston Methodist. Its impact in allowing us to offer hope and comfort to our patients over the years is truly immeasurable.”
The Rev. Dr. Charles R. Millikan, DMin Dr. Ronny W. And Ruth Ann Barner Centennial Chair in Spiritual Care
The result was twofold. First, a flood of technology-based connectivity entered the scene. While virtual ICU and telemedicine became household words, Houston Methodist chaplains adapted quickly to offer telechaplaincy services, allowing them to minister virtually to patients when necessary and connect them remotely to family members. A customized spiritual care app rolled out on in-room patient iPads, including a library of chaplains’ reflections and more than 20 supportive interfaith videos created by local faith leaders.
Second, the thinly stretched spiritual care team recognized a need to grow and strengthen its volunteer program to ensure first-rate training and adaptability across the Houston Methodist system. The team brainstormed and laid out a plan, but it would require substantial funding to reach its potential.
As if in answer to prayers, longtime Houston Methodist benefactors Jim and Carole Walter Looke made a transformative 2022 gift to Houston Methodist, a portion of which served to establish the C. James and Carole Walter Looke Volunteer Chaplaincy Training and Education Program. The endowed gift will bolster community partnerships with local churches and religious organizations for the purpose of recruiting, training and managing spiritual care volunteers to serve across the Houston Methodist system. It will also support related education activities.
“The level of commitment and care that Houston Methodist chaplains and other spiritual care staff showed during the worst of the pandemic touched us deeply,” says Carole. “So many Houstonians faced unprecedented medical challenges of their own and in their loved ones’ lives; to have a chaplain step in as a friend, spiritual companion and guide served as an invaluable resource.”
Houston Methodist is indebted to Carole and Jim Looke for their profound generosity and compassion
The spiritual care volunteer program will provide training in basic pastoral care skills specific to the hospital setting. Participation also will allow volunteers to share lessons learned with their own faith groups, workplaces and homes, enhancing the quality of care offered within their communities.
“The level of commitment and care that Houston Methodist chaplains and other spiritual care staff showed during the worst of the pandemic touched us deeply.”
Carole Walter Looke
Today, as life slowly swings toward a new endemic reality for Houston Methodist staff and patients, the Rev. Gowan and Alex Chamorro continue a friendship begun at her bedside. When Alex awoke after a six-week coma, it was to the news that her husband, Hugo, had passed away from his illness.
In the days that followed, she found comfort in notes she discovered tucked into her medical record — prayers and words of reassurance from Chaplain Gowan that reflected his genuine care and faith-filled intercession on behalf of her and her late husband. “Those words will minister to me forever as a permanent reminder of God’s presence,” says Alex.
Click to access the 2022 Houston Methodist Spiritual Care and Values Integration Annual Report