“CPE is the only form of pastoral training that gets down deep into who you are and helps you take back your projections so that you are present when visiting patients

– Rev. Elaina Hyde-Mills

Rev. Elaina Hyde-Mills’ life of spiritual service has spanned decades. Now retired, she reflects on her calling to chaplaincy as a step-by-step process sparked by a need for pastoral volunteers at a nearby Roman Catholic hospital. During this time, her natural affinity for chaplaincy was affirmed as she ventured from volunteer work to a full-time position. Retired for the past eight years, she founded the “Star of the Sea Centre for Spiritual Living and Practice,” a multi-faith spiritual program on the island where she lives in Canada. A proud CPE alum, she shares the story of her journey noting how PHM was instrumental in her metamorphosis.

Why did you decide to enroll in CPE?
I was already working in a hospital in Canada when it was becoming more critical for pastoral care workers to become qualified. Providence Health required that we get our credentials and gave me a leave of absence and a couple of years to do it. I interviewed at five different programs and decided that none, except Pacific Health Ministry, were multi-faith and multi-cultural enough for me.

I wanted something that was fairly broad spectrum in terms of diversity. Because I had already done one unit of CPE in 1980 in a Canadian psychiatric hospital, I knew I wanted to be in a residency program, which is why I applied to PHM. I also sought the enrichment of working with different people from other cultures, because I wanted to experience their ethnic and faith traditions due to where I was in my own personal journey.

When did you participate in CPE, and what specific program/course did you participate in?
A long time after the program in 1980 at the psychiatric hospital. I then came to Hawaiʻi in 1994 for four units which is a year-long program and residency.

Were there any differences between your experience at home in Canada versus with PHM?
The differences were huge! The program at PHM was life-changing for me. It was the most challenging thing I have done in my whole life, and yet, it was the most rewarding. I felt pushed to my limits, stretching in ways I couldn’t have imagined, largely because most of my student colleagues were primarily fluent in their own languages rather than mine. Between 1980 and 1994 it was a different time. In my first unit at the psychiatric hospital, there were six of us in the program, with one male supervisor. I was the only woman.

The model of my first CPE program at home was very hands-on, learn as you go, like an apprenticeship. Our classes were combined with clinical work, and, in that way, it was very similar to the structure of the PHM training in terms of class topics and experience. In 1994, John Moody was the “Interfaith Ministries of Hawaiʻi” executive director and our overall training supervisor. The staff chaplains/ preceptors from different clinical sites also worked with us regularly:  Al Miles was my supervisor at Queens Hospital, Gail Sugimoto Leong at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children, and Clarence Liu at Hawaiʻi State Hospital. Interfaith Ministries of Hawaiʻi (which became PHM) was structured differently than I had experienced, which is part of why I was attracted to the program. I loved what they were doing. The integration of all the Honolulu hospitals into one ministry was ahead of its time I thought it made a lot of sense to me.

How did you personally grow with CPE training?
There were nine of us in the class all from different parts of the world. Therefore, I found communication very difficult, not only with language but also with forming emotional connections. It was challenging to find a way for our group to connect and communicate well with each other. That isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate it. I did, and I recognized, in the end, the importance of that kind of challenge.

My supervisor also did everything he could to rid me of my preconceptions and privilege. He challenged and pushed me to appreciate what I took for granted. While that was difficult for me, I recognize that he had a plan for me. It was a wake-up call because I was unaware of the privilege I came from. He made me reflect on my assumptions that were coming from my limited experience of the world.

How did CPE affect you professionally?
I can undoubtedly say that CPE affected me professionally. The last two hospitals I worked at home in Canada had aboriginal First Nations populations. The CPE training helped me look at the differences in terms of their care expectations and the culture. I was able to bring this learning into my work so that I could be with them with integrity and respect.

Additionally, in working for the Health Authority, we were a part of a diverse patient care team. The doctors, nurses, and staff were of different nationalities and from various ethnic backgrounds. The staff’s cooperation was essential for fostering a good working environment. When most people hear about hospital chaplains, they think we just come in from our church and visit patients. That isn’t how it was for me, and that is not how the career path was intended. As a chaplain working in a hospital, you are much more a professional team member.

How would you describe the value of CPE to others?
I think CPE is essential training for anybody interested in becoming more aware of how they function, who they are, and how they relate to others. CPE is the only form of pastoral training that gets deep into who you are and helps you take back your projections so that you are present when visiting patients. It increased my endurance and my character.

It was taxing and demanding, but I would do it all over again. If I had the chance to go back tomorrow, I would. If I could volunteer for Pacific Health Ministry tomorrow, I would. I felt deeply honored to be able to participate in their training program. Even though I graduated over 26 years ago now, I have not heard of any other program like it. I can still see all members of my group vividly in my mind. It was an adventure and a privilege to be there.

How have you coped during this pandemic? What has helped to uplift your spirits?
I haven’t had much fun in the last 18 months and find that I’m just beginning to again now! I have about a dozen masks of all kinds, shapes, and colors and maybe lost a couple. My favorite dishes were those I sometimes managed to create by putting unusual ingredients together. 

My relationship with my “bubble,” my garden, and my interior life with God kept me going.  I also write poetry, have a rebellious non-conformist side, am a good dancer, sing in a chamber choir and orchestra, and started practicing my three-ball juggling during the Pandemic.