Chaplains enrich daily life at senior living with God's love

It’s early on a Wednesday, and Pastor Mark Bartsch is in his office reading correspondence and gathering his thoughts for the day ahead. Soon it will be time for daily devotion in the dining room, then the popular Wednesday worship service he leads at Heritage Homes in Watertown, Wis., where he
is the full-time chaplain.

Pastor Mark served WELS churches in Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin for 33 years before his call to chaplaincy with The Lutheran Home Association (TLHA) last April. Now he is “all things to all people” as he works to share God’s word where it’s needed most.

blog_pastorB.jpgOn Wednesdays, Pastor Mark makes a point to individually invite residents to the Christian worship service, in case they need a reminder. “I think people just appreciate hearing what the word of God  says to them,” he said.

He also leads hymn sing on Fridays for all residents. The music strikes a special chord with those in memory care.

“A lot of them have, as we all do, a better memory for music than just for speaking. When we sing things, the words come more easily,” Pastor Mark said.

It’s Pastor Mark’s one-on-one visits that fill perhaps the deepest need and make the chaplaincy program uniquely suited to the challenges of aging.

“There’s always something to talk about,” said Pastor Mark, whether family, the presidency of John F. Kennedy or matters of faith.

“You sometimes assume people of this generation have a connection to Jesus, but that’s not always the case. Chaplains can get to know people where they’re at. At other facilities, you can’t do that, and I’m so happy I have the opportunity here at Heritage Homes,” Pastor Mark said.

When a resident diagnosed with Alzheimer’s passed away earlier this summer, Pastor Mark was there. He prayed with the resident even when he was unable to communicate and had rich conversations with the resident’s wife. She relied on Pastor Mark to shepherd her husband in his final days, despite a connection with another hospice.

“It is rare to see a senior living community of our size with a full-time chaplain, so we are very blessed to have Pastor Mark here to serve our residents, families and team members,” said Heritage Homes Independent Living Administrator Laurie Rehm. “He is a vital part of our care team, serving the spiritual needs of the residents.”

Several residents who have fallen away from the church for different reasons have also expressed
interest to Pastor Mark in hearing what God has to say.

“I make it a point to seek out people to talk to them, to share the Word of God as they come closer to the end of their lives and they are more receptive to hearing that,” he said. “I can help renew their spirit if they’re becoming weak or if their faith is fading away.”

The chaplaincy program at each TLHA facility relies completely on charitable support. Consider a gift to fund our chaplains — faithful listeners who offer the solace of God’s love and the comfort of His wisdom amid life’s challenges.