The APSE Story

The APSE Story

HISTORY of apse

On Friday the 29th of February 2008, at the Carlton Highland Hotel in Edinburgh, the idea of APSE was conceived with its birth on the 17th of October 2008 at the NHS Education for Scotland Offices, Glasgow.

During 2007 and 2008 Healthcare Chaplaincy bodies (The Chaplaincy Academic and Accreditation Board – CAAB – and Chaplaincy Training & Development

NHS Education for Scotland) along with UKCPE (UK Clinical Pastoral Education, which had a few members in England and Scotland trying to develop CPE) were having conversations about the development of forms of supervision, in the first instance for Healthcare Chaplains, but also for others engaged in pastoral ministries.  In Scotland, certainly, there was a growing recognition of the need for an educational and supportive process for healthcare chaplains which would advance their professional standing and competencies.  CPE, an established USA programme of pastoral education and formation, was happening at The South Maudsley Hospital in London and there were attempts to get something off the ground in Scotland.  (In reality, however, CPE, never took off in the UK: perhaps because the model was for a student context; perhaps it was ‘too American.’)  What was being looked for was a method of supervision for people who worked with people, who wanted to reflect, be supported and develop but with a faith, values or philosophical element.

The invitation to attend the consultation in Edinburgh, on the 29th of February 2008, said: “The purpose of the day is to gather interested persons and organisations across the spectrum of pastoral care and pastoral education cultures to find a way forward towards common agreement on the future development of pastoral supervision in the UK.”

Two papers had been prepared for the consultation and were discussed by those attending.  One, a draft on the formation of a national association for pastoral supervision setting out a structure and process for recognition of pastoral supervisors. The second, a CAAB discussion paper on supervision reflecting background work relating to the development of supervision within health care chaplaincy.

One of the outcomes of the consultation was that a working group consisting of Cecelia Clegg, Derek Fraser, Jane Leach, Michael Paterson, Mark Sutherland and Robin McGlashan was set up. They met in Cambridge to discuss definitions and the potential structure and remit of an organisation – the Association of Pastoral Supervisors and Educators (APSE). (Note in passing that the name has changed since then!). These people were all experienced and respected in the fields of healthcare chaplaincy, theological education, counselling and therapy.

The collaborative thinking of these six led to the meeting in Glasgow on the 17th of October 2008 which was attended by 17 people: mainly healthcare chaplains from around the UK, and theological educators.

An important part of the meeting was the presentation and discussion of a paper by Michael Paterson titled ‘Towards a Definition of Pastoral Supervision.’   The minute of the meeting records that the group raised the following issues in response:

  1. The language used throughout the paper should be amended to exclude words such as ‘mission’, ‘ministry’, ‘theological(ly)’ and ‘Church’ and make the definition more inclusive and less dominated by a Christian understanding. It was agreed by the whole group that the language used should be inclusive and reflect that this will also be used by faiths other than Christian.
  2. It must be made clear who the definition is for – is it for supervisors or supervisees? It was agreed that the definition can be for both, but it is primarily for the supervisor and how they approach supervision.
  3. Some concern was expressed that the theological / spiritual aspect of the definition would be lost if the language is changed.

Later in the day a revised definition was agreed.  It is clear, however, that the nature, aims and methods of pastoral supervision are still discussed and an awareness of the issues current at the birth of APSE is informative.

This meeting also recognised that there were others involved in varied forms of supervision who would be interested in this development and that some form of ‘grandparenting’ would be useful.  Membership, associate membership and institutional membership were discussed along with how to award accreditation.  More practically, it was agreed that the bank account in the name of UKCPE would be transferred into a newly born APSE account!  Another, smaller, working group agreed to take forward matters such as a code of ethics, a constitution and ‘grandparenting.’

Finally, the minutes record that “APSE was formally constituted and the group became the first members.”

The following year, in 2009, the inaugural meeting of APSE took place in Cambridge, attended by over 70 people, and the accreditation scheme became active. 

2010 saw the first annual conference, and in 2014 two regional groups were started in London/South East and the Midlands. International links began to be forged during this time and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Australian supervision association, “Transforming Practices”.

Growth was slow in the early years, particularly after the “grand-parenting” pathway to accreditation was discontinued after only 1 year. There was an interest in the concept of pastoral supervision, but it did not form a major part of most people’s work, so meeting the criteria for accreditation was beyond the reach of most. Alongside the emphasis on accreditation, work was needed in publicising and promoting pastoral supervision beyond a chaplaincy context to local ministers across denominations, for whom the term “supervision” often did not generally sit comfortably. Hence an effort was put into having an APSE presence in the shape of a manned stall at as many annual gatherings/conferences of ministers as possible.

In 2015 the AGM voted to a slight but significant change to the name of the Association; from the original Association of Pastoral Supervisors and Educators to the present namethe Association forPastoral Supervision and Education. To quote from the autumn edition of APSICAL that year explaining this change; “Thus the shorthand “APSE” remains the same, but the full title indicates a broader base and more inclusive perspective……. The change in no way diminishes APSE’s commitment to promote good practice and set high standards. The rigorous accreditation system remains testimony to that. We will continue to encourage and facilitate members to become accredited. However… APSE welcomes members who are at an early stage in their development as pastoral supervisors and seeks to nurture that interest and help develop skills …..The association seeks to accommodate a membership that represents a range of stages of professional development, from novice to master craftsman……. This broader base puts APSE in a stronger position to grow and flourish”.

And from then on APSE has flourished and grown, aided by an increase in training courses available, as well as national church bodies, starting with the Methodist Church, making pastoral supervision a requirement of ongoing ordained ministry. 

APSE finally became a Registered charity in 2019. APSE continue to develop accreditation pathways and look for new ways of working to support the growing membership. APSE has members across the UK and beyond. The value of pastoral supervision is increasingly recognised by many Christian denominations, other faith groups and organisations.

It cannot be denied that since its birth, APSE has grown, learned to walk unaided and even passed successfully through any adolescent phase!  It is a mature organisation with a solid constitution, effective leadership, a growing membership and a rigorous accreditation process.  Training in pastoral supervision is now delivered by a number of bodies, each with their own emphases and programmes.


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.