View from the Pew
Much as we'd like to know a kindly, patient minister whose pipeline to God or personal state of wisdom can help resolve all our problems, that's a fantasy figure. It's not a fair yardstick to use for those beleaguered folks who chose to take a spiritual path and take on huge responsibility to guide others along it, too.
"Oftentimes clergy don't realize their own limitations or boundaries. We encourage them to refer people to counseling. We want to make clear we are not in competition, we are not trying to steal their flock."
—The Rev. Jonipher Kwong
Executive director, Counseling and Spiritual Care Center of Hawaii
So it's a relief to live in the 21st century where there are professionals who address the state of our mind as a science. We discover that our anger, fear, sadness, resentment, distrust, compulsion, addiction, longing to escape and inability to connect with others are not a curse from the divine, a failure in the quest for enlightenment, signs of a stained soul.
So hurray for psychology. But alas for the tendency in that social science to keep mental health separate from the spiritual dimension of clients.
"Psychologists shy away from spirituality. The whole issue is avoided. Whether it's seen as scientific approach or political correctness, I don't know," said the Rev. Jonipher Kwong.
Kwong is the recently appointed executive director of a business that has offered psychological counseling and social work services with sensitivity to the client's faith for 17 years. Last week, supporters from a dozen religious organizations joined Kwong and the staff of the former Samaritan Counseling Center to celebrate its new name, the Counseling and Spiritual Care Center of Hawaii.
The former name referring to a Christian parable "can no longer hold who we are," he said at the dedication attended by Gov. Linda Lingle. "We are inclusive and diverse, with Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu as well as Christian backing." There are Christian counseling services, but this one is unique in its interfaith support. And Kwong said that the "inter-everything" sensitivity applies to people who do not have a religious belief.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Supporters from a dozen religious organizations joined the Rev. Jonipher Kwong, Gov. Linda Lingle and the staff of the former Samaritan Counseling Center last week to celebrate the center's new name, the Counseling and Spiritual Care Center of Hawaii. Kwong is the recently appointed executive director of a business that has offered psychological counseling and social work services with sensitivity to the client's faith f or 17 years.
"All of our spiritual roots call on us to practice compassion," said Kwong, who came to Hawaii two years ago as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, a congregation particularly ministering to gay, lesbian and transgender people. He earned a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Claremont School of Theology in California. He grew up in the Philippines in a fundamentalist Christian family.
"We see ourselves as an extended ministry," said Kwong. "We will work to increase vitality within church organizations and congregations." Board members said they see his youth and energy as a force to forward the center's goal to offer educational services to clergy, congregations and the broader community in addition to meshing behavioral science and religious traditions in treating individuals, couples and families.
Kwong organized a "charrette" -- French for bringing everything together in one place -- of the leaders of several local churches and temples last year. "We asked them, 'What do you need? What do your parishioners need?' They responded with ideas for services and programs," he said.
Workshops on Relationships
The Counseling and Spiritual Care Center of Hawaii will present "Matters of the Heart," a three-part series of workshops about personal relationships.
Sessions will be presented at four island churches and be led by a man-woman team of professional counselors.
The first workshop, "Open to Possibilities," will explore the contemporary dating scene and red flags to watch for. Topics will include "lust, love or alcohol," negotiating boundaries and nurturing health progression of a relationship.
Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Temple Emanu-El, upstairs classroom, 2550 Pali Highway
Feb. 23, 7 p.m., Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, temple annex, 1727 Pali Highway
Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 1403-A California Ave., Wahiawa
Feb. 27, 7 p.m., Central Union Church, 1660 S. Beretania St.
The series will continue in March on the topic of "Nurturing Relationships," exploring topics such as children, household chores, adultery, infidelity and other issues that can threaten a relationship. The final session in April, "Letting Go and Rebuilding," will look at the process of moving forward after a relationship ends because of incompatibility or death.
The cost is $10. To register, call 545-2740.
A series of workshops starting later this month on "Matters of the Heart" is one such result.
In another, an organization whose staff serves and interacts daily with homeless people has asked for help from the professionals. "They are good-hearted people who need to learn how to establish boundaries," Kwong said.
"Oftentimes clergy don't realize their own limitations or boundaries," he said. "We encourage them to refer people to counseling. We want to make clear we are not in competition, we are not trying to steal their flock."
The center is also equipped to be counselor to clergy: "Being separate from denominations, we offer a sense of neutrality and confidentiality, that what they say won't go back to headquarters and bite them."
The Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple, a United Methodist Church minister for 25 years, said: "I learned long ago that there are times when the pastor isn't the best one to do, for example, long-term counseling. When someone is talking to me, I might see this needs something more than I can give.
"Or I might be in conflict with what I can give," said Ripple, who sits on the center's board of directors. "Ideally in marital problems, I would work with both together. But if there has been abuse, betrayal, some dishonesty," she would refer the parties to separate counselors.
"I have always tried to have good referral sources," she said. "I check them out. I want to know that I can trust whoever I refer someone to. Knowing excellent referral services ... is an important part of ministry."
It is only in the last generation or two that religion has accepted psychology. Nowadays, a psychological screening is part of the process of picking a new pastor or naming a new bishop. Seminarians are not allowed to proceed to ordination without psychological testing. If only that had been done 50 years ago, think how many youngsters might have lived free of sexual abuse by clergy who could have been culled from the calling early on.
"A lot of stuff went on where people could hide out in churches," said Ripple. "You would not have screened them at all because how could you refuse someone's call? The Catholic Church is being pointed out, but it has gone on in all other denominations. We are finally doing psychological testing.
"Some denominations still have trouble with the idea of psychological counseling. There are still faith perspectives, such as in Eastern religions, where you do not share your problems with anyone. Others see psychology as in contradiction with religion.
"In my German and English upbringing, you didn't talk about your problems, you kept family matters in the family," she said. "We have come to understand the wisdom of being able to talk about problems."