2009 Launch Conference

Westcott House, Cambridge








Some 70 people gathered at Westcott House on a glorious summer’s day to launch the Association. David Lyall (practical theologian and author) gave the keynote address ‘Supervision as Ministry’ (full text below) following which, with the cutting of the cake, APSE was formally launched. Three workshops followed

Supervision: Attending to Soul Vision’ – Michael Paterson

This workshop explored the dialogue necessary in supervision between an individual’s personal vision and that of their workplace.

Negotiating Accreditation as a Pastoral Supervisor or Educator for Pastoral Supervision – Jane Leach

This workshop offered a guide through the APSE accreditation process.

Pastoral Supervision in the Healthcare Context – Martin Kerry

Tracing the rise of interest in supervision within professional life, this workshop explored the place of multifaith appropriate pastoral supervision in Healthcare today.


At the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, just below the Castle, there stands a building now known as The Hub. It is currently the Headquarters of the Edinburgh International Festival. Until a few years ago it was the Tolbooth Church and at one point in its long and varied history it found itself in dire straits and without a minister. Responding to that situation the then Professor of New Testament in the university proposed a scheme which he believed would serve the spiritual needs of the parishioners in the teeming tenements around the church and at the same time enhance the pastoral skills of his students.

The Professor’s biographer tells us that he had not much faith in mere lectures in Pastoral Theology (well being a Professor of New Testament he would think that – and maybe indeed some of us who call ourselves Practical Theologians might think that too). But , with the approval of the church authorities/ Presbytery of Edinburgh, he recruited into his project nearly all the students in his classes. The parish was divided into districts and allocated to each student who was expected to visit regularly the families placed under his pastoral care and to keep a careful note of all the visits. The Professor made himself responsible for initiating the new visitors into the techniques of pastoral visiting, supervising their continued involvement in the work. His biographer goes on

Once a fortnight the Professor presided at a gathering of all the Tollbooth workers when every case of difficulty was discussed and decided upon and helpful counsels given
There are two things remarkable about this vignette of theological education. First of all the date – it happened in 1870 – and the fact that the biographer refers to the whole enterprise as Clinical Divinity ( I was happy to share this story with Frank Lake)

Professor Archibald Charteris was a visionary, perhaps more of a visionary than he realised. There is no evidence that this foray into experience-based learning and intentional reflection upon that experience outlived his own enthusiasm. So why has it taken so long for its importance to be recognised ? Perhaps the time was not ripe. Perhaps while he had an intuitive grasp of the importance of what he was doing, the language, the concept, the culture were not ripe to allow this tender seedling to take root and flourish.

The same could not be said one hundred years later when pastoral studies in Britain as we know it began to flourish. So much was happening around the 1960s. The 1959 the Scottish Pastoral Association was formed bringing together ministers, doctors and social workers; in 1960 the journal CONTACT (now PRACTICAL THEOLOGY) was launched, in 1962 Frank Lake began his Clinical Theology seminars; in 1965 Bill Kyle started the Westminster Pastoral Foundation , originally in a strongly Methodist context, in 1971 Father Louis Marteau inaugurated the Roman Catholic Dympna Centre; around the same time Harry Dean became Director of the Salvation Army Counselling Centre and a Jewish counselling centre was set up in which Irene Bloomfield, a Jewish psychotherapist played a leading role. Also at this time universities were introducing certificates and diplomas in pastoral studies , hospital chaplaincy was becoming much more geared to the needs of the modern hospital.

It was all happening . Indeed, many of the key players were involved in setting up the Association for Pastoral Care and Counselling which was one of the significant sections of the British Association of Counselling They were all talking to one another and we might have expected that one of the topics of conversation would have been the importance of supervision and the accreditation of supervisors, as indeed it was within the British counselling movement generally. So why did it not happen within pastoral care and counselling? And why was there no intentional development of pastoral supervision at that time?

I think the answer to that question lies, at least partly, in a paper was published in CONTACT in 1971which arguably set back the accreditation of supervisors by a whole generation. The paper began with these words

It is proposed that an organisation be set up which will be concerned to delineate a hierarchy of standards for pastoral counselling. This organisation will be concerned with the accreditation of persons and institutions.

Now I have to confess that I have never seen these proposals. But in this much quoted paper ‘Objections to a National Pastoral Organisation’ Robert Lambourne , who taught Pastoral Studies at Birmingham . launched a powerful and much quoted critique of the proposals. [Some might call it getting your retaliation in first]. He argued

The pastoral counselling called for in this country during the next twenty years cannot be built around a practice and conceptual framework derived from professional problem solving and prevention of breakdown. That practice and clinical framework is based upon the clinical, medical and psychoanalytic models of the USA of twenty years ago and it has proved inadequate. To copy it even with modifications would be a disaster, because not only is it not what was wanted, but because it will be an obstacle to what is wanted…… What is required is pastoral care which is lay, corporate, adventurous, variegated and diffuse.

Lambourne’s was an influential voice which undoubtedly rang bells for many people at that time. It certainly led to a pastoral counselling movement largely consisting of lay people , free from both clerical and medical dominance. Excellent courses, such as those at St John’s Nottingham, flourished with many people, mainly lay women, finding a vocation in counselling in a faith context. Whether it was adventurous and variegated is uncertain . But arguably it was diffuse – and that was the problem. What did NOT emerge were structures for the accreditation of people in pastoral care and counselling. Those individuals who sought accreditation as counsellors had to go down the secular route of BAC accreditation (in itself not a bad thing). Or else organisations such as the WPF had to initiate its own system of internal accreditation. A great deal of supervision was undoubtedly going on but with no pressures for the accreditation of counsellors, neither were there any parallel pressures for the accreditation of supervisors.

So why now? Why now 150 years after Archibald Charteris’ intuitive insights into experience based learning ? Why now 40 years after Robert Lambourne’s broadside against accreditation of counsellors? The fact that so many people have come here today is surely testimony that the time is now ripe to move forward. The answer to the ‘Why now?’ question is in this room. I can only guess at the reasons. Part of the answer, possibly, is that with the greater awareness of the contribution of chaplains in hospital, there comes also greater pressures for accountability and commitment to continuing professional competence. Perhaps also there is our own awareness of the need for continuing support in the pastoral work we do. And as experience based learning becomes more central in ministerial formation, so also there is a recognition of the need for competent supervision.

We are a diverse group, healthcare chaplains, people involved in CPE, experienced pastoral supervisors, people from churches with responsibilities for ministry formation to mention only some . In the midst of our diversity, I am assuming that we share certain common interests and commitments, four in particular.

First, I am assuming that we are all committed to high quality pastoral care, and specifically to care for people in the context of a community of faith. For me pastoral care is characterised by a sensitivity to the stories which shape us, a sensitivity which takes seriously the spiritual component of these stories, not only the faith stories and spiritual journeys of those with whom we work, but our own stories and the stories of the communities of faith which nurture us. I also assume an agreement that these stories are not to be forced upon other people but may be drawn upon as sources of insight and enrichment.

I am aware that this group meeting here today reflecting the culture of 21st Century Britain, is much more religiously diverse that in previous generations . So what do we do with our religious diversity? One way would be to ignore it or to search for a lowest common denominator of religious experience. I think this would be a wrong approach. It seems to me that if our different pastoral ministries are indeed funded by our own stories, then such a procedure will lead to an impoverishment of our understanding of supervision in the pastoral context. I want to argue that a better way forward must be in a respectful sharing of stories, so that we can understand where each is coming from and understand how these stories shape our respective ministries and understanding of supervision..

At the 1997 European Conference on Pastoral Care and Counselling held at Ripon, one of the main addresses was given by Gilal Dror, a woman rabbi from Israel In her address she drew upon the Abrahamic tradition, arguing that when people come for counselling in the context of faith they do so with a sense that both counsellor and counselled are engaged not only in the process of listening to one another but also the ongoing challenge of trying to hear God’s voice. I am assuming that this is a sentiment to which each of us with our own sacred texts and traditions, Christian, Jewish, Muslim ,could subscribe.

Second, I assume that we all share a common commitment to experience –based learning.. Yet experience by itself is not enough. Some years ago, Ed White of the Alban Institute in Washington , speaking to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said ‘Some ministers have 40 years experience; other ministers have one years experience 40 times over’ Experience only becomes of value when it is reflected upon. The task of supervision is to provide a safe place in which people can reflect upon their experience of ministry.

Third, I am assuming a common awareness that pastoral ministry is inherently stressful.. To listen to the stories of others is to enter into their world, to appreciate their struggles and to become aware of their pain. Of course in supervision as in pastoral care there is a fine line to be walked between allowing ourselves to the overwhelmed by the story of the other and remaining unaffected by it. Empathy is a quality of the helping relationship. Empathy cannot be taught. It is not a technique to be turned on and off at will Appendix A of the papers prepared for today rightly points out that Supervision is not counselling but it is possible that process of supervision itself may in fact prevent the need for counselling by helping the supervisee gain a fresh perspective upon the strengths of his or her performance amidst the limitations of simply being human.

Fourthly, I am assuming that the pressures for greater accountability in our work are not burdensome but an opportunity for development, not simply as individuals but as a group of people minded to develop supervision as a more intentional and professional ministry of our communities of faith and on behalf of them.

Which brings me to the title of this paper – Supervision as Ministry. I have chosen this title in the belief that supervision is a form of ministry and in particular a ministry which enables the ministry of others. I have argued that we can only speak from the perspective of our own context and I now want to draw upon those aspects of my own understanding of ministry which influence my understanding of supervision. I do not believe that these are the only perspectives of ministry which can illuminate the process of supervision. Indeed my hope is that colleagues from other faith traditions will share the perspectives and understandings which arise from their stories and contexts.

I want to take four facets of ministry as I understand it and explore how these might illuminate what goes on in pastoral supervision, These are Proclamation, Education, Pastoral Care and Sharing the Spiritual Journey


To begin with proclamation might seems surprising or counter-intuitive or even somewhat perverse . Let me assure you, however, that I am not suggesting that supervision involves preaching to our supervisees. What I am suggesting is that at the heart of the process of supervision there is good news The blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, captives are set free. In supervision people are enabled to see with fresh eyes and to hear with fresh ears things which they might not otherwise have seen and heard. People are set free, free from misconceptions about the nature of ministry, free from ways of relating to others which inhibit their pastoral ministry, free from scripts which prevent them from growing in ministry.

More fundamentally to speak of supervision as proclamation in these terms is to affirm that at the heart of all pastoral supervision there is a theology of grace. Techniques and the learning of them is important in supervision. But at the end of the day, the essence of supervision, especially pastoral supervision, lies in an area beyond technique, and the name of that area is relationship. In holding on to the idea of supervision as proclamation , I am affirming that grace is communicated not primarily in the content of the conversation but by the quality of the relationship. It is the quality of the supervisory relationship which mirrors grace. It is the grace mirrored in the quality of the relationship which holds people as they find the courage to see and hear things differently. It is this quality of grace-filled ‘holding’ which enables supervisees try new ways and to discover a potential within them selves which they only dimly realised was there.


If I have to make a special plea for supervision as Proclamation, then surely that will not be necessary when I speak of Supervision as Education. After all, we are to be an Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education.

Yet the word education is not without its ambiguities. We may have moved far beyond Mr Gruniard’s conviction that the end of education is simply the acquisition of facts but there still persists in some quarters a belief in the identification of education with instruction- or worse . [When someone in Scotland suggested that for many education was a matter of ‘Gettin’ tell’t’, someone else added ‘Aye, and gettin’ tell’t off] (Do I need to translate?) There is even an ambiguity in that that here we are, launching an Association for Pastoral Supervision with a Keynote Address. I suspect that it might have been more appropriate to have John Foskett standing in our midst and leading us in the kind of group exercise that he does so brilliantly.
In describing supervision as education, I want to go back to the root meaning of the word and to a different understanding of education. E-ducare, Supervision as drawing out what is there. Of course, we are assuming that there is something there to draw out! If there is not, then something has gone wrong with the process which institutions (such as churches have) have of discerning whether or not people are likely to be suitable for ministry .

(Here we should maybe note in passing the possibility that it will be the experience of supervision which will finally reveal that some students on placement should not really be contemplating pastoral ministry. Which in turn brings into focus an important aspect of the supervisory process, namely honest reporting. I guess in all our different set-ups we can point to cases where people were allowed to proceed to ministry because no supervisor had the courage to voice reservations about suitability for ministry.)

But assuming that the selection process has discerned pastoral gifts whether obvious or latent, what philosophy of education do we bring to the task of supervision? I recently saw a television programme in which a sculptor talked about beginning to work on a piece of stone. He spoke about the need to discern the figure contained in the piece of stone and of how he saw as his task as releasing that figure. What he said would have seemed obvious about a woodworker working with a new piece of wood, about the necessity of discerning the figure which would be shaped by the grain of the wood .but by speaking of this in relation to stone the programme brought home to me the need to discern within the supervisee the potential minister or carer, waiting to be brought out or revealed, and not to impose upon the supervisee my understanding of what a minister or pastoral carer might look like.

I am of course aware that in the literature of supervision there is an emphasis upon the importance of the ‘cross-grained experience’, of the potential for learning and growth in those experiences which ‘cut across the grain’ of the supervisees habitual ways of dealing with situations Perhaps it is as we work with thee two ways, these two potentially conflicting ways, of working with this metaphor that we find ourselves at the heart of understanding the process of supervision

Pastoral Care

If the idea of Supervision as Proclamation might seem eccentric and the idea of supervision as Education obvious, then the relation between supervision and both pastoral care and spiritual direction is more finely nuanced. The Definition of Pastoral Supervision as set out in Appendix A states quite clearly that Pastoral Supervision is not counselling but that aspects of what might be described as counselling may arise in Pastoral Supervision but that if the supervisee really needs counselling this should take place elsewhere. I do not disagree with this.

Yet, if we are talking about pastoral supervision, then the supervisory relationship must have some of the basic qualities of any pastoral relationship, namely a care and concern for the well-being of the supervisee,. This is no mere academic point. Without being able to quote chapter and verse, I do recall picking up a perception , maybe no more than a perception, that some approaches to supervision, particularly in the earlier days of CPE, could be quite confrontational to the extent of being damaging to the supervisee. I am not denying that supervision if it is to be effective will cause a degree of discomfort. I still remember very clearly my own experience of CPE in the Texas Medical Center over 30 years ago. There were five of us in the group. We met as a group with the supervisor for three hours on four mornings each week. It was intense, it was uncomfortable, there was no hiding place, no sinking back into the woodwork, all our defences were challenged. I didn’t think I was being defensive, just being British amidst all these Americans who seemed content to ‘let it all hang out’ . {I began to develop a theory that one of the best defences was pseudo emotion but that is another paper]. I guess I was not the first supervisee who kept being told ‘Get out of your head and into your guts’ While this was very uncomfortable, I know I needed to hear it. What made it bearable was the skill and care of the supervisor who was able to ‘hold’ us pastorally, individually and as a group, creating a safe space in which we could see through different eyes and hear with different ears and be released at least to some extent from those ingrained habits which inhibited our growth in ministry. This is what I mean by supervision as pastoral care

Sharing the Spiritual Journey

Again, the definition in Appendix A is finely nuanced. Pastoral supervision is not spiritual accompaniment i.e. its sole or primary purpose is not the exploration of the spiritual life and development of the supervisee though aspects of this may arise in pastoral supervision . Again I agree but I think it is worthwhile thinking a little of the spirituality of the supervisory relationship itself.

At the heart of the pastoral relationship, whether that be of care or counselling or supervision, there are at least two unavoidable paradoxes or tensions. First how can we be true to our faith tradition and at the same time draw upon the insights of the secular therapies and educational theories? Second, how can we be true to ourselves and at the same time supervise others who may have very different experiences and understandings of faith from our own? I keep coming back to Thomas Merton whose life and writing has influenced so many. Merton spoke of ‘salvation as therapeutic wholeness’, of ‘God’s love and grace invading the human heart at every level. The paradox which lies at the heart of Merton’s spirituality is the same paradox which lies at the heart of pastoral care and education, a paradox which holds in creative tension both congruence with the Christian story (or the narrative of any other faith community) and the insights of the secular psychotherapies. The paradox is that the search for an authentic spirituality sets us free from the bondage of religion. Set free from the compulsion to talk about God, there is a new and deeper freedom to talk about God ….and not to talk about God. There is ‘a time to speak and a time to keep silence’ [Eccles3.:7] When people in emotional or spiritual distress see the way forward, or when supervisees gain fresh insights and grow in ministry, then we can celebrate the presence of God free from the compulsion to clothe what has happened in religious language There is a time to be silent…..but thee is also a time to speak. In his search for that which was most truly human, in his work for civil rights, in his dialogue with Christians who were not Catholics and with monks who were not Christian, Merton did not cease to be who he was, a Christian, a Catholic, a monk and a priest. His spiritual world affirming journey did not deny his identity.

In our pastoral supervision we do not cease to be who we are. But in the strange mystery of dialogue we can still be who we are without diminishing the otherness of the other as they grow in that sense of who they were meant to be in the purposes of God. If we can get this even partly right then the endeavour to launch an Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education will have been enormously worthwhile.

David Lyall, June 2009