ACPE Across the Globe: Reflections from Perth
By Ted Hodge, ACPE Certified Educator  |  March 23, 2020

Would it work? Could we be 13 time zones and 30 hours flying time away from family and friends? What would it be like to live in a city that is the most remote, large city in the world, closer to Singapore and Jakarta than Sydney or Melbourne? They speak English but say things like “G’day” and “How you going?” They abbreviate everything and drive on the left side of the road. These were just a few of the questions that my wife Jan and I had for a year, as we contemplated moving and offering CPE at the Royal Perth Hospital, as their very first “International Pastoral Education Fellow” with CPE Educator Michael Hertz. We made the decision once the housing was arranged for a two-bedroom apartment with a view of the Swan River and the Central Business District.

Michael and I interviewed potential students on FaceTime and the excitement began to grow as we considered folks originally from India, South Korea, South Africa, Malaysia, Tonga, and different parts of Australia. With a week to recover from jet lag, we joined our eleven new interns with support staff for a wilderness, bush experience led by ACPE Educator Candidate Trent Elder, as part of his D.Min. Project. “Disorienting dilemma” is putting it mildly for some of the folks who had never camped or slept in a “swag,” (a little like a tent). We were in an area that was considered sacred by the Noongar Aboriginal people and inhabited by noisy pink and grey galahs and a few kangaroos. Three days of sharing food, helping each other set-up camp, cook and clean, along with exercises to help us share more of who we were gave us a huge head start on the unit. Most of us came to the experience away from our normal roles and positions and were on somewhat equal footing. The bush experience concluded with the new interns preparing their own ritual of closure for the whole group. They worked together and crafted an appropriate, action-oriented walking trip to an overlook that even the leaders had not known.

In the hospital, each day started with a 20-minute Morning Reflection with all interns, pastoral care and wellbeing staff. For the CPE participants each week began with everyone taking a carabiner, briefly telling how they were going (doing) and feeling before saying, “I’m in.” The carabiner was then attached to the next person forming a chain. The group then responded with, “Welcome.” At the end of the week the process was repeated as the intern said, “I’m out” as their carabiner was unhooked and the group said, “Be well.” This exercise contributed to the group sense of identity and trust in each other. While the didactic or teaching sessions were done as a larger group, two groups were formed with six in one supervised by Michael and five by me. We did our own individual supervision each week, but every student presented something (mostly verbatims) every week to their group. Covenant or IPR group met twice a week during the 10.5-week program. Midterm and final retreat were done in a wonderful old home functioning as a Quaker meeting house.

Celebrating Christmas or the holidays in shorts and tee-shirts during the two-week break was quite a novel experience with Jingle Bells adapted to “riding in an Australian rusty Ute” (pickup truck). The whole department sang carols throughout the hospital before the break. Several times during the unit, Michael and I had joint supervision with Jenni Wagener, an Australian pastoral educator/pastoral counsellor. She is the new president of the International Council on Pastoral Care and Counselling (ICPCC) which will be held in South Africa in 2023. All Australian educators must be in supervision when they are supervising a unit of CPE. Perhaps we should consider that for ACPE educators.

The final week included fireworks for Australia Day (like our July 4th) and two exercises that were new to me. Each intern presented what the unit had meant to them in a 10 to 15-minute non-verbal exchange that was most creative and frequently involved their peers. This ended with a long piece of butcher paper across the CPE room wall with everyone invited to draw or write a timeline of the experience. All these exercises brought a mix of tears and laughter as the group negotiated the termination process. On the final afternoon, the group planned their own 45-minute graduation. Family, friends, and staff were invited, and certificates presented. Food and fellowship followed for the over 60 people in attendance.

Someone said, “the worst part of going to Australia was not wanting to leave.” Jan and I made deep connections with Michael, the program, the community, and the church. We grieved as we anticipated the leave-taking. We had seen some of the unparalleled beauty of Western Australia, met incredibly kind and welcoming people, seen unique animals and birds, experienced almost continuous blue-sky days, and savoured wonderful foods from all over the world in this most diverse city. We have felt younger for the experience and look forward to now simplifying our life when we get home. The icing on the cake was that we will get to experience three summers in one year!

The Rev. Theodore E. Hodge is an ACPE Certified Educator from Louisville, KY. He may contacted at t.hodge2@aol.com.
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