Introducing Chaplain Pete
Sept 30, 2008
To the Leadership of Christ Community Church
Hi, I’m Pete VanderBeek, newly part of the clinical addiction treatment team at E d g e w o o d, just up Northfield and left down Boxwood from Christ Community Church. My job title is “Chaplain/Spiritual Director.” Thank you for your agreement to be my calling church. In this report, written as part of my calling church arrangement with CCC, my main aim is to describe what my job activity looks like.
But to get to that I like to describe the journey God has led me on to get here.
Growing up in Canada and the Netherlands as the oldest child of a pastor I was never interested in following in my father’s vocational track. After Highschool I was drawn to work that had physically measurable results instead of the academics our subculture had pushed us towards. After about 12 years in such work — during which I got married and we began raising a family — I began to get comments from customers about how they thought I’d be a good pastor. At the time I was in a struggle about work/church/evangelism/life balance and began to hear God calling me in those remarks and a few other things that were going on in this time of my “spiritual awakening.”
We sold our home we had planned to live in until our kids moved out and left for Edmonton, where I attended King’s College. I thoroughly enjoyed earning my undergraduate degree in Social Sciences while working part time for the John Howard Society. That work greatly multiplied the value of my learning and opened my naive, blindered eyes to a lot.
We next journeyed to Grand Rapids so I could attend Calvin Seminary. By then we were a family of seven. Seminary was a very rough ride for us, especially the last year. Why it was is a story for another time. Let me merely say I have had a longtime concern about the church not being connected enough with it’s surrounding society and it being more about preserving comfortable patterns for it’s adherents than becoming a spiritual home for the seeking and lost. So I reveled in courses on “domestic missiology” — our culture as a mission field — and rebelled in most of the rest.
After graduating I took a call to a small church in Ontario, where I served for 8 years, then to Mundy Park Christian Fellowship in Coquitlam in 2003.
In the winter of 2006 my wife and I separated to work on sorting out issues in our relationship, and a month later my relationship with my leadership team became untenable and I agreed to step out of my call there via Article 17.
I entered a wilderness time where I did my best to deal with the shock of likely losing my marriage and along with it the ability to pursue my calling. In that time, I found great comfort in some spiritual tools I had picked up along life’s journey, and I relied on the reassurance I discerned with them that God would eventually — once my patience had been well tested — bring me to my “next thing.”
It might be helpful to know that in my ministry years I have had a “knack” for connecting with people on the edges or outside of church life. One significant episode of that occurred in Coquitlam, where an active addict walked into one of our services, and afterward someone from church helped him get into treatment at Union Gospel Mission, where he found God seeking him and he entered sobriety. He asked me to mentor him, and we met weekly one-on-one for over a year, during which I believe I learned more from him than he did from me. I attended 12 step meetings/worship events with him in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, and would participate and see that this was probably closer to what New Testament worship was like than anything we do in the church today. The honesty about failings I found there, the willingness to struggle publicly with them, mixed with exuberant authentic praise of God, all had me stunned and mourning what the church was missing out on. This November 8th my friend will be four years into his new life. It has been a huge thrill to be walking alongside in his journey. For a longer version of this story click this link.
Given such experiences — and that I was unlikely to obtain a position in a church while separated from my wife — I began applying for work at places where I could work with the marginalized and addicted.
One of the places I applied for work at was E d g e w o o d. Though reading the job posting and description excited me greatly, I felt my chances were slim. Yet they invited me for an interview, and afterward offered me a position.
So here’s a bit about E d g e w o o d itself followed by some info about my work there. I hear from our patients that it is one of the top 4 addiction treatment facilities in North America. It is modeled after one called Hazelden in the US. It’s approach is strongly based on the Alcholics Anonymous‘ 12 step program. At E d g e w o o d we view addiction as a disease, not a moral failure. Recent research is showing how an addict’s brain chemistry is diseased. We are trained to speak of the people in treatment as “terminal patients” meaning that if they continue acting on their addiction they will surely end up dead soon. The facility is not locked, so patients remain in treatment by choice. As terminal patients we do them no favours by helping protect them from their powerful disease and it’s denial and delusion.
There are about 80 inpatients in treatment at any particular time, and people are literally dying on the waiting list. Another 40 or so are in the Extended Care program. Treatment is, from an average person’s perspective, very expensive. It costs $300 a day and most are in treatment for a minimum of two months. However, I’ve already met patients who find that to be a bargain compared to the miserable life of their $500-a-day drug habit. I’ve already talked to one for whom blowing $1000 a day in cocaine binges was not unusual. Many, when they do a tally, have spent well over $300,000 on their substance of choice over their lifetime including those who use “just” alcohol. And that of course does not count peripheral costs such as poor work performance and so on.
E d g e w o o d employs about 120 staff. There is a kitchen crew, a maintenance crew and a medical team which consists of a medical doctor, two psychiatrists, and 24 hour nursing staff. I am part of the clinical team of a bevy of counsellors and four chaplains.
The 12 step approach to treating addiction is a spiritual approach. Yet E d g e w o o d is not a “religious” program. We use the language of “Higher Power” in order that even those of other religions or of no religion, or resistant to religion, can reach out beyond themselves. This is amazing to see at work and to be part of, and I see it as “unboxing” God to allow God to be who God needs to be in the situation. A component of the value of that approach is also to teach the addict that they are NOT themselves the highest power in the universe. So we emphasize the power of “we” and the need for accountability.
It has been an astounding learning for me how frequently, in their delusion and denial, addicts believe themselves to be “unique,” “exceptional,” “Better than everyone else,” “misunderstood,” and so forth, all to give themselves mental permission to keep using and abusing anything and everything in their reach to be able to use their drug of choice. It is a tough journey for such a person to admit they are not the highest power and to reach out beyond themselves. E d g e w o o d knows that getting patients helping patients is a way of getting them to help themselves without knowing it. When a patient tells their story, other addicts are astonished to find out their behaviours are all the same.
The main work of chaplains besides general support and facilitating group therapy is assisting patients in completing their 4th and 5th Steps of the 12 step journey. In steps 1 to 3 they have admitted their powerlessness over their addiction, that a power greater than them could restore them to sanity, and they have made a decision to turn their lives over a Higher Power or to “the care of God as we understand Him.”
In step 4 they make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves. At E d g e w o o d that consists of 28 categories of reflecting on their character and discerning, with the help of chaplains, on which of their common behaviours are “liabilities” leading to unhappiness and which are “assets” leading to healthier relationships and intimacy. Patients write a page of reflection on each of these categories, sharing examples from three phases of life for each. They also write a list of Resentments they are holding on to, a list of things they feel Guilt for, a Fear list, and a list of things they have Put Off in life. You can imagine we hear some hard stuff in a 5th step. But we get to be agents of grace and renewal, and for some patients a transformation and insight moment comes during their 5th, and they lose a load of guilt and shame.
In all this, I’m having to learn a lot, and I know I’m growing in personal insight along with knowledge. All that together has me feeling tremendously lucky and blessed to be in this position, doing God’s restorative work with people and their families who have suffered much.
That’s all for now.
By the way, if you are wondering why I put spaces in when typing the name of my employer, I don’t want people searching the internet for it by it’s name to be brought to my blog.