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‘This stuff is real’ Ecumenical project looks at development of pastoral practices By Catrina Ciccone The phone rang just as Eve, an ELCA seminary

student, arrived home from a run. It was her weekend as chaplain-on-call for the hospice facility and a family had requested her presence. When she arrived at the facility, she discovered Jim, a grieving, adult son in distress. Jim’s father, the hospice patient, suffered a stroke

that afternoon and was dying. His mother lived with severe dementia, and the daughter in the fam- ily hadn’t arrived yet. Jim was feeling overwhelmed and unsure about what to do—should he bring his mother into the room to be with her dying husband, or would that exac- erbate her health challenges and trig- ger a panic attack? Eve helped Jim

d i s c e r n c l a r i t y in the situat ion, and together they brought his mother into the room. As they gathered around the father’s bedside, Eve began to pray out loud. When she said, “Into your hands we commend his spirit,” the man died. “He died right there,” she said. “It was definitely

a growing moment. Like, holy cow, this stuff is real!” Eve is one of 50 pastors participating in the

‘ They sang about love and it made me feel worse.’

Learning Pastoral Imaginat ion (LPI) Project funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The project has followed a group of ministers from seminary into their various paths of ministry as it looks at how people develop wise pastoral practices over time. The LPI Project is founded on the idea that as pastors live into their vocation, they develop what practical theologian Craig Dykstra has named “pastoral imagination.” The LPI Project, housed at Luther Seminary, St.

Paul, Minn., since 2008, is co-directed by Christian Scharen, vice president for applied research at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, and Eileen Campbell-Reed, an associate professor

38 JUNE 2016

at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Nashville, Tenn. In their f ive-year report on the project, they built on Dykstra’s concept that says pastoral imagination is “a capacity to see a situation of ministry in all its holy and relational depths, and to respond with wise and fitting judgment and action.” The study includes a diverse group of participants

from 10 theological schools throughout the country, including Luther. Every 18 to 24 months the partici- pants gather in a retreat setting for an interview. “[Over the last five years] we have witnessed

‘Whether a pastor has been ordained for three months, three years or three decades, the

congregations they serve contribute to their ongoing growth in ministerial practice.’

noticeable shifts in the stories these ministers tell, the level of insight in the ref lections they share, the way that they speak and even the way that they physically carry their bodies,” Campbell-Reed

said. These shifts, she added, testify to each minister’s blossoming pastoral identity and imagination. Maintaining participants’ anonymity is part of

the LPI Project. Everyone in the study is assigned a pseudonym, so while Eve and Jim’s interaction is real, their names have been changed. “We wanted to describe the realities of ministry

today in all their richness and complexity, making the practice available for public reflection, but to do so we also needed to honor the confidentiality of the pastor- parishioner relationship,” Campbell-Reed said. Scharen and Campbell-Reed say this study is

important because the stakes of good and wise ministry are real. “People in the pews already know this, deep in

their bones—they’ve experienced it when a pastor has gotten it really right and seemed to know just what to do and say to help them in a moment of crisis, or to lead their congregation through a challenging period,” Scharen said. “Conversely, they may have experienced the damage that can be done, either personally or


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