The APSE Story

The APSE Story

by Jane Leach, Founding Chair of the Association

APSE was voted into being by a group of 25 people interested in pastoral supervision who met for a consultation in Glasgow on 17th October 2008 sponsored by NHS Education Scotland. But who were these people and how did they come to be involved?

Early meetings

The first meetings which led up to the formation of APSE were instigated by Mark Sutherland, the then Lead Chaplain at the Maudsley Hospital and chair of UKACPE (United Kingdom Association for Clinical and Pastoral Education). The meetings involved the three officers of UKACPE and four others involved in healthcare chaplaincy training.

The purpose was twofold:

  • to find a way forward for CPE in England
  • to discuss more generally the promotion of a culture of reflective practice in healthcare.

As we talked together, we found ourselves wanting to hold together not just the various healthcare constituencies, but also parish ministry and theological education as part of the wider culture of reflective practice in ministry.

Two Consultations in 2008

After several meetings in 2006-7 we arranged a consultation in February 2008, which was hosted by NHS Education Scotland, as a way of seeking to broaden the conversation in the hope of founding an association.

We tried to map key stakeholders in pastoral supervision and to invite representatives, bringing together people from BIAPT (British & Irish Association for Practical Theology), from the Journal of Practical Theology, from theological education, from Clinical Pastoral Education Scotland, from CAAB and from the Healthcare Chaplains’ professional associations.

The 25 that gathered in Edinburgh in February 2008 represented all those constituencies and brought together people from a range of denominations: Baptists, members of the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, The Episcopal Church in Scotland, the Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

That consultative group began discussing what pastoral theology is and what an association might look like and seek to achieve. It commissioned its own work to be undertaken by a small working group. First, members of the group were asked to submit their own definitions of pastoral supervision; second they were invited to submit a short bibliography on pastoral supervision; and third to comment on a draft structure for an association which could accredit supervisors.

Towards an agreed working definition of pastoral supervision

The results of that work were discussed at a second consultation in October 2008. Given the breadth of the constituencies it is not surprising that some issues were hotly debated:

Whether pastoral supervision is understood as the supervision of pastoral work or by the commitments of the person offering the supervision. In the end the latter route was chosen, allowing for NHS contexts in which chaplains might, for example, supervise nurses whose practice is not necessarily pastoral in a theological sense.

We explored what the word ‘pastoral’ denotes and whether it is the best adjective to describe what is distinctive about the kind of supervision under discussion. In the end the word ‘pastoral’ was kept and its meaning nuanced by the definition that was eventually agreed. In particular, the phrase, theologically/spiritually rich – works within a framework of “spiritual/theology understanding in dialogue with the supervisee’s world view and work” was agreed. This accommodated those who wanted to preserve Christian theology as the distinctive basis for their supervisory work and who felt this was important for their constituencies, particularly in theological education and parish ministry, but acknowledged the fact that not all who work in chaplaincy or engage in supervision informed by their faith commitments are necessarily Christian. This was felt to be particularly important by those healthcare chaplains who work in multi-faith teams.

In the light of this we debated what to do with other Christian language in the documents. The interesting part of this was a discussion about why pastoral supervision matters. The need for accountability in ministry and chaplaincy was agreed; and the need for personal development for those engaged in it, but most also agreed that there was a wider agenda of human wellbeing and community at stake than the language of professional accountability alone suggests. The vestiges of this are discernible in the section headed, “a way of growing in ”.

Towards a framework for accreditation

Once we had managed to find agreement for what we meant by pastoral supervision our next task was to work out how to get the association going: who would accredit the first applicants and how high should the bar be set? Some preferred a relatively easy route for the first year in order to encourage applicants. Others preferred a rigorous start in order to establish credibility from the beginning. In the end a compromise was agreed. Applications during the first year would require slightly less evidence than in subsequent years but would be subject to interview by an APSE-nominated senior practitioner.

The lively debate will no doubt continue – and that is one of the objectives of APSE – to encourage conversation between different traditions of pastoral supervision and amongst practitioners from various fields. What has emerged, however, is enough of a common view about what this pastoral supervision is in order to work together, and a consensus that some kind of national accreditation in pastoral supervision will help to promote good practice.

And that is our overall objective: to promote good practice in pastoral supervision.

We intend to do this by:

Providing a system of accreditation for pastoral supervisors and educators in pastoral supervision

Supporting initiatives in the training of pastoral supervisors

Fostering groups for the support, accountability and continuing development of pastoral supervisors

Encouraging conversation amongst the various traditions and contexts of pastoral supervision and pastoral supervision education.


Our Launch on June 19, 2009 marked the beginning of the fulfilment of those purposes and the opening of the doors to receive applications for accreditation. We hope that in order to establish a national network of peer-reviewed supervisors, many will want to take that route in due course.