Barnabas Ministers: A Heart Connection

Eye on LSSI, Fall 2006 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

Don Northrup, a Barnabas minister, takes his special person, Roy Stone, for a walk around P. A. Peterson’s grounds. Participating in the Barnabas Ministry '… just felt like something that would be a worthwhile thing to do,' he says.“[The Barnabas Ministry] is such a great opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Rockford resident Jim Baker. “A lot of [programs] that you can get involved in may have age limitations or physical restrictions. The Barnabas Ministry is open to anyone.”

The Barnabas Ministry, developed by the Rev. Dr. Charles “Chuck” Olson, chaplain at P.A. Peterson Center for Health in Rockford, a program of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), provides a listening ear and friendship to those facing loneliness, health problems and other difficulties related to aging.

Olson gives two reasons why he started “Barnabas.” “First, I realized that one pastor couldn’t meet all the caregiving needs,” he says, “and second, I had a ‘heart longing’ to minister with people rather than to people.”

Volunteers who complete a six-week training and commit to visiting one “special person” per month can become commissioned Barnabas ministers. There are three levels of Barnabas ministers: board of directors; shepherds, who keep in touch and work with six or seven ministers — functioning as their support person; and the ministers themselves.

The Barnabas Ministry is “one more way to have a practical impact on someone else,” says Karen Holmes, program coordinator. She took the Barnabas training three years ago, when she was doing visitation work with another organization. Because she was already involved in visitation, she became a shepherd. In May 2006, she stepped into the brand-new role as coordinator.

“The ministry had grown enough that it needed someone to handle the administrative work, especially since Pastor’s goal is to have at least one minister for every resident at P.A. Peterson who would like one,” she says.

While the program has about 157 commissioned ministers, the number of people actively involved at this time at P.A. Peterson is around 60. Another 15 are needed to reach Pr. Olson’s goal.

Ann Honer, Rockford resident, learned about the Barnabas Ministry through her church. “It seemed like something I would like to do,” she says.

Ann, who also serves as associate director of the ministry, was commissioned in March 2003 and visits three residents — two women and one man. Basically, she says, she listens and talks with her special people. “Sometimes they want to talk about things that they don’t want to — or can’t — talk to family members about,” she notes. “They want someone they are comfortable [with] to talk to.”

“[The Barnabas Ministry] is very rewarding,” she adds. “I feel as though I get as much out of it as they do. It just makes you feel good.”

For Jim Baker, the Barnabas Ministry answered his desire to become involved in ministry. “With five kids, I couldn’t take the time off to go to seminary,” he says. “The [Barnabas ministry] has been a good fit for me.”

Jim currently visits one person at P.A. Peterson, his third “special person” since he joined the group a year ago. He also is involved in the worship services in the Alzheimer’s unit.

“I receive much more than I give,” he says. “These people have a story to tell, and to be a part of lives — and [have them] confide in us, [makes] me feel great. The [residents’] stories of the past and their friendships are what I take [away from being a Barnabas minister]. They give me so much more back for my time.”

Connie LaFontaine joined the Barnabas Ministry after having experienced its outreach firsthand. Her mother was very ill and lived at P.A. Peterson for a time. “A woman invited me to an Alzheimer’s support group,” she says. “I didn’t realize that she was a Barnabas minister. Her care and support touched me so deeply; she was my first angel — Barb Manning.”

Then, because “the Barnabas people had been so good to us, I wanted to give something back,” Connie says. She got involved, both as a Barnabas minister and as a shepherd. “I wanted to be a shepherd because so many people have been helpful to me.”

Currently, Connie visits three Alzheimer’s clients and Romona Meyers, who came to live at P.A. after suffering two broken legs. “This ministry is Christ in action by way of people serving him,” Connie says.

Nate Gustafson, 17, is the youngest Barnabas minister. “My mom [Christine Gustafson] is a director [of the Barnabas Ministry], and [I was] thinking about studying social work in college,” he says, adding that she suggested that he become a Barnabas minister to get a taste of it.

“I do enjoy it,” he says.

His special friend is Becky Glenn, a resident of the third-floor Alzheimer’s unit. “We talk about her kids and her grandchildren, and she repeats herself but I can handle that,” he says.

Don Northrop initially came to P.A. Peterson as a patient, recovering from knee replacement surgery. He stayed in the rehab unit and noticed that some of the residents seemed to be despondent and didn’t have a lot of visitors. After he finished rehab, Don decided to advantage of the wellness program at P.A. — and to visit people after his workout.

Don’s special person is 99-year-old Roy Stone, who was actually at the rehab facility at the same time he was. “I first met him as another resident at the dining room table,” he says. “It just felt like something that would be a worthwhile thing to do,” he says of the Barnabas Ministry. Don also visits some of the rehab patients.

Lois Foster became a Barnabas Minister in November 2003. “I was very drawn to the idea of [visiting] people in later years who didn’t have anyone in their lives,” she says.

Elsa Borchardt, who has Alzheimer’s, is Lois’s special person. “I feel that we share some things in common,” she says, noting that Elsa is very bright, strong, proud and independent.

Lois appreciates Elsa because [Elsa] is “able to focus in on where a person is and not lament what [she] can’t do [anymore]. She still reads and goes about her life.

“I love reinforcing her memories. She is really positive, and I appreciate that about her.”

For more information on the Barnabas Ministry, call Pastor Chuck Olson at 815/399-8832, ext. 4142.