A Message from the Pacific Health Ministry CPE residents

As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, our Pacific Health Ministry team had to think outside of the box and find ways to use technology to our benefit, particularly with our Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) residents. Accustomed to the traditional in-person, in-class learning experience, our residents were flexible and resilient in facing this adjustment. For insights into the distance learning experience, we spoke with four CPE residents to learn about how they adjusted to moving from the classroom to the Zoom room.

Raul Perez
When we completed our last winter unit of CPE, we shared laughter, snacks, tea, and even hugs with one another. Not knowing that this was the last time we’d be together in-person, the class moved from in-person to virtual (Zoom) within a matter of two weeks. At first, we had to face technical difficulties such as videos not working, navigating the different buttons, and slow Wi-Fi connections. However, after the next class, we became “Zoom scholars” as we began changing our backgrounds—blending ourselves into outer space and even resting in a swimming pool.

As weeks went by, we learned to adapt to this new normal. Zoom provided us with the advantage of being together no matter where we were in space. I believe it also gave us confidence in our sharing time and seeing each other’s eyes. While we still miss the nuances of being together in class—and especially taking excursions—I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see my fellow classmates in the time of this pandemic.

Jennifer Crouse
After spending two units of in-person classes with my cohort, the biggest change for me has been one of human connection. When arriving and settling into class, we would have a cup of coffee, tea, or lunch with light conversation as we all gathered to begin. Then during our breaks, we would enjoy a snack, coffee, tea, or water while participating in discussions on any topics that might interest us. There would be laughter. We’d browse books on the bookshelf, meandering around the classroom until our sessions resumed.

Now, Zoom is the mechanism through which I see my cohort. When we pause for our breaks, we move off-screen until it’s time to resume class, completely removed from human connection. I suppose this is what I miss most—seeing my cohort face-to-face as we talk about gardens, chickens, music, basketball and so much more. There are my incredible CPE colleagues whom I miss even when I see them twice a week on Zoom.

Utufa’asili J. McDermott
CPE residents moved from the traditional classroom setting to a more technical meeting via Zoom since the arrival of COVID-19 on our shores. Before the pandemic, I would eagerly await our class times and very much enjoyed seeing everyone in person. I especially appreciated the time before classes when I’d catch up with some of my colleagues. The CPE class members had cultivated natural, wholesome relationships with one another, which began first in the traditional classroom setting.

Now, though, I feel the virtual wonders of Zoom meetings have only enhanced our relationships and made us more transparent than we previously were in-person. In this virtual setting and every time we meet, I notice that some of us use virtual backgrounds, which speaks to how we are feeling and what’s on our minds. For example, I see the scenic backdrops of colleagues from their homes far away. I also observe white walls, walls with crucifixes, and those dressed in blue and white plaid curtains. I find that these backdrops tell us a little more about ourselves and about each other.

I also notice every now and then distracting background noises, such as a neighbor working on their home, a rooster crowing, or children playing. I see these glimpses of the other’s reality as an avenue of transparency that brings about a new kind of closeness for our class. Sure, Zoom meetings will often come with technical problems related to internet connections, microphones, and other video issues. However, I have a new endearing and loving perspective of the class because of it.

Brianna Lloyd
There is, at first, finding the meeting link (I must sort through my emails). Then, there is remembering the meeting login. There are those few minutes waiting for the host to start the meeting (noting the irony of “host” amidst a viral pandemic). And finally, there is inadvertently donning the entering-the-meeting face, a mix of awkward confusion and concentration, while trying to sort out computer audio and whether my computer is muted or not. Once this is sorted, there is a broadening of my view to the whole screen and seeing those faces whom I long to see—this joy of connection, particularly at a distance. This face and that face and…my face (pause. Do I look ok? What do I look like when I talk? Why do I frown when others are talking…hmm, I should practice a different listening face…)? And back to this face and that face.

I am engaged, mostly, for the first 30 minutes, glad to reconnect, curious how others are feeling and what they are doing. Slowly, distance enters the conversation again. I am unable to read facial expressions well through the computer, unable to read body movements. There is a physical context in which we all move and by which we are in these moments (and all moments) shaped. These contexts are all different here. Someone feels a breeze, while another hears a chicken; someone is carefully eyeing their dog, while another is looking at the news online (oops, that’s me…how do I look when I’m looking at the news?). A kind of fog descends. The work of focus ascends, along with a headache. My ear buds begin to hurt. This doesn’t help.

By the second hour of the meeting, I feel absent but yearn for connection; only, the connection I yearn for, I can’t find. Or, I feel it in other ways—with the outside wind or the neighbors talking or the garden that beckons.

It seems to me that there is so much connection that happens in the space between bodies. Our minds, our souls, our bodies are shaped by one another; they filter through mask and breath and interact. Still, we have reached beyond the physical limits into a space without bodies. Here we are in Zoom (where is that exactly?). But who is the “I” that is there? And why do I sense that I have left some crucial part of myself, and my connection, behind?

About the CPE Program