In the early 1980s, Lutheran pastor Rev. Gene Grant recognized that visiting patients in Saskatoon’s three hospitals was becoming an overwhelming task for Lutheran pastors in the city, compounded by the fact that many patients were coming from out of town.
In 1981, Grant rallied fellow pastors Lowell Guebert, Lorne Lissel and Oscar Johnson to organize the Lutheran Care Society Inc. of Saskatoon. Its focus was to create a hospital visitation and chaplaincy group that would draw support from Lutheran churches of all stripes in the city and surrounding area. Eventually it came to involve churches further afield, as well.
The organization retained the name Lutheran Care Society Inc. of Saskatoon until a few years ago when a complication arose following the death of a longtime board member who had moved into LutherCare Communities. When he passed away, there was some question about whether designated memorials were meant to go to the Lutheran Care Society or LutherCare Communities. As a result, a name change seemed a good idea and the organization was renamed LuMinHoS for Lutheran Ministry in Hospitals of Saskatoon.
The purpose of the organization then and now, says Gord Martens, chair of the LuMinHoS board, is to visit Lutheran patients in Saskatoon hospitals.
“Our mission is to share the love of God with current and former Lutherans,” says Chaplain Ron Bestvater. “We do this through hospital visits from a chaplain, a volunteer or both. We offer support to patients and family members, and make the connection between congregations and the hospital in times of crisis. We bring the sacraments. Newborns in crisis can be baptized in the hospital by one of our ministers, and Holy Communion is a comfort to many. For people who are dying, we let the home church know when the end is near, what arrangements need to be made and prayers offered.”
Ron Bestvater the LuMinHoS’s official chaplain, and has a group of nine other pastors who can fill in when he isn’t available. A team of about 12 trained volunteers also provide ministry.
Volunteers are trained to be sensitive listeners and a caring presence. They listen for faith connections and urge people to find encouragement in their faith. They are ready to pray with people, and will determine when to call the chaplain. They do not go into ICU, CCU or the Dubé Unit.
Patient referrals come to LuMinHoS in three ways. “Most are from the Saskatoon Health Region which has embedded spiritual care in its overall core vision of patient care,” Bestvater says. “When they’re taking a patient’s history, they will ask if the person has a religious or denominational preference. Lutherans are referred to us.
“Pastors of Lutheran congregations will also call us asking if we will check on a particular patient and let them know how the person is doing. Or it may be family members calling to ask us to visit.”
Bestvater and his team work in all three hospitals and make an average of 2,000 visits per year.
LuMinHoS is governed by a nine- to 12-member board which sets policy, deals with budgeting and the like. The organization is funded by donations, grants, bequests, endowments and the proceeds from four annual fundraiser events. These include a dinner and silent auction, a coffee house, an appreciation breakfast for pastors, volunteers, lay members, and the many others involved; and Musical Mosaic.
Ron Bestvater is in his 10th year as a chaplain. He says, “It is an incredible privilege to be involved like this in people’s lives in times of crisis, when they’re seeking some spiritual perspective, and to be sharing the love of God this way. And it’s wonderful to be supported by the Lutheran churches and my fellow chaplains. There’s a great collegiality among chaplains of the different denominations and faiths.”
“This work has caused me to grow in my own faith and character,” he adds. “It has challenged me to reach much deeper into my faith than I ever knew I could.”
Gord Martens has seen firsthand the impact of Bestvater’s ministry. “A friend of mine was in palliative care, and the visits he got from Ron meant so much. Ron gives out little wooden ‘holding crosses,’ and when my friend passed away, he had a death grip on his holding cross. It gave him peace in his final moments.”
Martens says LuMinHoS is bringing together different Lutheran parishes in a common cause. “That unifies us. Builds relationships. The organization involves all the Lutheran congregations in Saskatoon and the northern half of the province. That’s close to 100 churches. Our goal as a board is to develop volunteers in as many of those congregations as possible. It would make communication with and between congregations very effective.”