Wrap Up & Look Ahead

Our Aug/Nov 2015 Covenant Quarterly issue offered articles calling chaplains to incarnational presence (Hubbard) – and for this to be an active presence through the healthy use of self in ministry (Jueckstock & Vlach). Authors considered additionally how the church can minister to families experiencing mental illness (Simpson) as well as how chaplains and congregations can provide spiritual care to those suffering from delusions related to spirituality (Fretheim).

Forum contributors engaged with and supplemented this content, addressing the church’s ministry to those grieving during holidays (Pierre), interaction with Amy Simpson’s article from a mother and Covenant pastor also speaking out about the church’s role in mental health (Thompson), how the Covenant’s Five-fold Test might inform chaplaincy ministry (Brooks & Pate), how art can facilitate visual prayer that challenges “icons” of expectation and brings light to darkness (Lindholm-Johnson).

wrap up

Paintings (c) Kari Lindholm-Johnson; click on image to link to post.

Special thanks to the Covenant Chaplains Association – and to its chairperson, Jeff Saville – for organizing and providing content for this issue. We hope that the practical theology engaged here will continue to spur conversation and reflection and that resources shared will further equip those serving in related ministry capacities/settings.


Our upcoming Quarterly issue (74:1, Feb 2016) engages congregational vitality in theory and in practice, with contributions from ECC director of Congregational Vitality, John Wenrich, as well as results from doctoral research on the impact of the Veritas workshop and the vitality pathway from Covenant pastors Ryan Eikenbary-Barber and Corey Johnsrud.

Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the theme of congregational vitality – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.


Resources: Chaplaincy & Mental Health

Our authors have recommended the following books and websites on chaplaincy ministry, the church & mental illness, and specific topics raised within Quarterly articles and Forum posts. What other resources would you suggest to those considering, or currently serving in, chaplaincy or mental health ministries?

Chaplaincy | Books & Websites

Mental Health | Books & Websites


Select the “comments” link under post title above to add your reviews and recommendations.


The Five-fold Test & Chaplaincy

Jeff Pate

Jeff Pate

The ECC’s Five-fold Test is a tool to assess and strengthen the Covenant’s progress in genuine diversity. The five dimensions outlined are population, participation, power, pace-setting, and purposeful narrative. Here we put one of these markers, power, in conversation with chaplaincy ministry – and consider how elements of chaplaincy ministry may in turn help all clergy as they seek to grow in authentic community.

Chaplains carry authority within the institutions they serve by virtue of their position, badge, dress, cultural background, etc. – with the power differential exacerbated when ministering to the sick and vulnerable. The core components of chaplaincy training – group learning, action/reflection, self-awareness – are designed to increase sensitivity to the reality of power dynamics. Core competencies required of board certified chaplains address power sharing and advocacy. Applicants must demonstrate their ability to “function pastorally in a manner that respects the physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries of others,” to “use pastoral authority appropriately,” and to “advocate for the persons in their care” (read all competencies of the Board of Certified Chaplains Inc. here).

Page Brooks

Page Brooks

One of the most effective ways a chaplain can share power is as one who “comes alongside.” Christ exercises his authority as one who comes alongside, walking with his grieving disciples as he opened Scripture to them on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Christ sends the Paraclete, “the one who comes alongside,” who empowers Christ’s followers. William E. Hume draws on the (initially!) silent presence of Job’s friends as an example of “sacramental silence” we would do well to imitate: “Most of us have had the experience of not knowing what to say when ministering to someone overcome with grief, and fortunately have had the good sense to say nothing. Our presence spoke for itself and was the basis for whatever words we may have said at a later time.” (Dialogue in Despair, p. 23).

Admittedly, one does not typically care from a place of total silence; there are times where talking is appropriate. But the words come out of a posture that is sensitive to the needs of the family. Eugene Peterson calls this “willed passivity,” which he connects to love. “We learn soon that love does not develop when we impose our will on the other, but only when we enter into sensitive responsiveness to the will of the other, what I am calling willed passivity” (The Contemplative Pastor, p. 108). We have experienced the power of presence in our respective ministry contexts:

  • Not infrequently when I (Jeff) ask a patient or family member how I can support them, they will say, “Just in being here you already have.” I remember being called to the Emergency Department for a family whose daughter was found with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In the midst of the trauma, fear, and in the face of death, all I could do was witness with my presence, and not my words, to the presence of Christ in their midst.
  • When I (Page) go out on maneuvers with my soldiers, I may speak a great deal or not much at all. But the point is that I am with and in the presence of my soldiers. When a situation does come along in their lives and they want to talk (such as in death), my simple presence has reminded them that they can come to me to speak when they are ready.

While most local church pastors are not dealing with trauma every day, they do deal with it, and the posture of their presence will go far more in extending the love of Christ than anything they could say in the midst of the chaos. The ministry of chaplaincy can model the power of a flawed, grace-filled listening and a merciful, self-aware presence offered to anyone the Lord brings into our path for the sake of the Gospel.

Jeff Pate (MDiv, Regent College) is a board certified chaplain, serving in hospital chaplaincy in New Orleans and as assistant pastor of Canal Street Church: A Mosaic Community. He has previously written devotionals for the Covenant Home Altar and is studying the intersection of chaplaincy and parish ministry. Jeff teaches healthcare professionals about burnout, sustainability, family systems, and vicarious and secondary traumatic growth.

Page Brooks (MTh, University of Stellenbosch; PhD, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) is lead pastor of Canal Street Church: A Mosaic Community, New Orleans. He is also part-time assistant professor of theology and culture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches in the areas of theology and Islamic studies. An author of numerous journal articles, Page’s book Missional Mergers: A Guidebook for Churches That Don’t Want to Die is forthcoming. An army reserve chaplain, Page was deployed to Iraq in 2010.  

In-between the Icons

Three people in my family of four have AD/HD, and the fourth person has a non-verbal learning disorder in the presence of three very visual people. In seeking help and receiving diagnoses, we have lived in between the psychological images – or “icons” – of diagnostic definitions, while learning that those definitions do not define our personhood. We have lived in between the assumed religious “icons” of what “good” Christians are, knowing that we cannot live up to those images. We are learning what it means to live in the light and not remain in the shadows of reflections.


Isolation, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

painting of Mary icon

Painting of Mary Icon, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

Recently I have been introduced to using icons as visual prayer through Paul DeNeui‘s course, “Rethinking Mission: Lessons in Christian Art, History, and Practice.” Our class took a trip to St Gregory the Great Church in Chicago to see the beautiful icon writing of artist in residence Joseph Malham. I continue to contemplate this experience that is helping me look further into the Light. Christian icons are not stopping places but tools to lead one into prayerful seeking of God’s presence. They are visual prayers.

Like many visual artists, I’ll get images in my head that I must paint. Years ago I painted Struggle and Isolation, inspired by images that appeared to me. I have recently begun painting icons (and I say “painting” because I am not using traditional methods of “writing” icons). When I held two of these icon paintings next to the earlier works, I was struck at how they seemed to be speaking to one another. I feel as though the Spirit is whispering peace and grace within the reflective space of these visual conversations. These four pieces are part of what I hope will be a larger show, In-between the Icons.


Struggle, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

Painting of Icon of Christ Pantokrator

Painting of Icon, Christ Pantocrator, © Kari Lindholm-Johnson

Using art as a tool for visual prayer and visceral expression can be powerful. We have found in art groups at Swedish Covenant Hospital that the very act of doing art can open up discussion and allow people to view and express their feelings in new ways. For instance, throwing paint at a canvas can help people visualize their anger, helping them turn anger from a force “against” into a tool of expression. We have also found that finding and painting colors in shadows can help people enter into places that feel dark and see that the darkness does not overcome the light – that even in shadows there can be color.

I was invited to share from my experience as artist in residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. I decided to take the risk of sharing these personal paintings and stories in the hope that they would connect with others and generate conversation. Our story with AD/HD includes struggles of disorganization, feelings of isolation, fatigue, anxiety, depression and sometimes writhing in societal boxes that do not fit. It also includes the joys of creativity, humor, serendipity, wonder, and imagination. I decided to share my personal story because I didn’t think it would be fair to name others’ struggles without being willing to name my own. At the same time, it is my hope that sharing this will be a window of grace for others in the camaraderie of the question, “How goes your walk?” – as I know I often stumble along.

When we use art as a meditation tool, we can ask, What do you see? How do you feel? What happens when you make these lines? What happens when you paint this way? We can use art as a prayer. It is in this spirit I offer these pieces to you.

KariKari Lindholm-Johnson (MDiv, North Park Seminary) is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church, currently serving as artist in residence at Swedish Covenant Hospital. She has served in various ministry settings, in a pastoral role of local churches and chaplain in various Covenant institutions. Kari is married to Timothy “Yak” Johnson. They have two children, Gabriel and Chloe. View more of her art at www.karilindholm-johnson.com.

How can the church be supportive? A response to Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson’s article, “Supporting Families Living with Mental Illness,” resonates deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence – a journey with which I am all too familiar. I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), and while I do not currently serve in a pastoral position, I do have a ministry. My family’s journey with our child who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder has opened my eyes to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.

  • Offer compassion. During any given Sunday morning, the parents are faced with no shortage of awkward situations involving the affected individual, from physical and emotional confrontations to withdrawal. For parents of children struggling in the areas of mental health, engagement in a public venue brings a cringe factor along with a host of questions. How will other children be affected if my child utters a socially inappropriatecomment? Will I be judged about my parenting skills? How will others perceive my child or sibling? Simple explanations to others (while being sensitive to confidentiality), modeling unconditional love, and communicating with the parents/family go a long way.
  • Educate. Become aware of organizations that provide information about various mental health conditions. Ministry staff may wonder, How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual or family members? Since symptoms fall on a large spectrum, individuals have different needs. Some churches have a Sunday school class that caters to children with special concerns. We give practical suggestions to teachers when they encounter cues indicating frustration or anger.
  • Understand the impact on the entire family. As Simpson notes, “behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted – perhaps even devastated – by that illness” (p. 42). Time, energy, and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected. One idea that has been welcoming to us is when families invite our other children to play at their homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they too are special. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family. 

A note on a theology of suffering. Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches that “life should be easy and happy” (p. 49). While I agree with her, I would want to warn against the opposite error that views medication and other treatment as a diversion from embracing the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they regard their illness as a “cross to bear” – a view not generally held by those suffering from diabetes or heart conditions. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision with a misguided theology of suffering is not helpful. I believe God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore brain processes and give those affected a better quality of life.

The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together. We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other. My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks. When she was younger, she placed communion cups in trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café that follows our Sunday worship service. Children crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian. We are responsible for our response to people in need” (p. 48).

Stephanie Thompson is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Stephanie attends Hope Covenant Church in Orland Park, Illinois, with her husband Scott and their three children. She has a passion for encouraging and empowering people toward finding purpose, healing, and identity through the Holy Spirit as they pursue life in an imperfect world. Stephanie holds a special desire to help families journeying with a child with a medical/mental illness.  A speaker at various venues, she blogs at http://stephaniejthompson.com/ and can be followed on Twitter @s2thomp.

Comment: CQ 74:3-4 (2015)

The Covenant has a rich legacy of chaplaincy. Even before the Covenant’s official organization in 1885, Mission Friends supported chaplains who offered practical and spiritual care to Swedish immigrants arriving in a strange land. Currently approximately 10% of the Covenant Ministerium serves in chaplaincy roles in locations as diverse as military, hospitals, correctional facilities, hospice, universities, corporate workplaces, and retirement communities.

In the August/November 2015 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, several of our chaplains reflect theologically on the distinct opportunities and challenges they experience in chaplaincy ministry. In doing so they offer practical insight to all pastoral caregivers.

  • Drawing from thirty years as a U.S. Navy chaplain and thirty-six as professor of Old Testament (Denver Seminary and North Park Theological Seminary), Robert L. Hubbard Jr. explores the incarnational nature of chaplaincy. He traces God’s long journey toward humanity, from tabernacle, to temple and prophets, culminating in God’s assuming flesh in the incarnation. Chaplains too have a ministry of incarnation, giving “skin” to God’s presence in the world – going out to people who may never step into a church. (Read article here.)
  • Tim Fretheim, chaplain at Vancouver’s Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, considers the particular difficulty of providing spiritual care for those suffering from delusions of grandiosity with religious content. When a pathology manifests in religious forms, how does the chaplain nurture genuine religious experience while not inhibiting the healing of pathological experience? Fretheim offers an accessible introduction to grandiose delusion with religious content – its definition, diagnosis, and origin – and offers practical tools for the chaplain’s unique role in the care of persons suffering from such delusions. (Read article here.)
  • Joel Jueckstock and Kyle Vlach, both chaplains and Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors in the Twin Cities, call pastoral caregivers beyond a passive notion of “presence” to an active use of self in providing pastoral care. They affirm the agency of caregivers in “co-creating” healing narratives with the subject of care and the Holy Spirit. Jueckstock and Vlach provide specific resources for pastoral caregivers to assume responsibility for the healthy use of self in ministry and the constant growth in self-knowledge this requires. (Read article here.)
  • Finally, Amy Simpson, senior editor of Leadership Journal, addresses how the church body can support families struggling with mental illness, in a paper originating in North Park University & Theological Seminary’s symposium, “Being Present: A Faithful Response to Mental Illness” (November 8, 2014), sponsored by the Good Shepherd Initiative and Covenant Ministries of Benevolence. Drawing from research and her own family’s experience with schizophrenia, Simpson offers practical ways for the whole church to walk alongside families struggling with mental illness. (Read article here.)

We are indebted to our chaplains for ministering to diverse communities beyond the walls of the church – and to the reflections they offer here that invite and equip the whole church to mediate Christ to those suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally in our pews and in our communities.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll feature related content, including original art from Kari Lindholm-Johnson, a response to Amy Simpson’s article by Covenant pastor Stephanie Thompson, additional resources, and more. Be sure to subscribe in order not to miss content and conversation.  


An Interview with Chaplain Jeff Saville


Jeff Saville

Jeff Saville has served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-three years around the globe. As chairperson of the Covenant Chaplains Association, Jeff’s leadership has been seminal to our upcoming Quarterly issue. He shares with us here some of the challenges, rewards, and lessons of chaplaincy ministry.

What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about chaplaincy ministry?

A chaplain works with people of every faith and none. When I was with the national parks ministry, I spent time with students and school administrators from over forty Christian denominations. To be effective, I had to learn to understand mindsets that were very different from my own evangelical background. Over time I learned not to judge but to appreciate and learn from the variety of Christian expression in the United States – from the Assemblies of God to the United Church of Christ, from Roman Catholics to Quakers. As a Navy chaplain, I learned to minister to people of every confession.

How do chaplains contribute to the larger church?

The chaplain belongs to two entities simultaneously—the church that endorsed them, and the secular institution that hired them. Chaplains serve institutions, many of which are secular (hospitals, military, correctional institutions, corporate workplaces, campuses, retirement communities, and more). Chaplains extend the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ into places of deep need for spiritual insight, care, and compassion. Continue Reading

Not So Happy Holidays? Ministering to the Grieving in a Season of Joy

With generous support from the Good Shepherd Initiative, North Park Theological Seminary has inaugurated a series of webinars to provide resources for students and pastoral practitioners alike.

Elizabeth Pierre

Elizabeth Pierre

On November 16, Elizabeth Pierre offered a workshop titled, “Not So Happy Holidays? Depression, Grief and Hope in the Festive Season.” Pierre is an experienced pastor and clinical counselor who teaches in pastoral care and counseling at the seminary. 

Professor Pierre discussed how the expectation of joy during holiday seasons can be particularly difficult for those enduring grief, loss, and significant illness. Moreover, the focus on family can exacerbate new or existing feelings of anxiety, depression, and trauma. In light of this, she offered practical suggestions for supporting parishioners, lay leaders, and clergy during these busy, and often stressful, seasons.

According to Pierre, acknowledging these emotions is the first step towards healing. Professor Pierre recommended careseekers and caregivers to practice self care and spiritual disciplines that encourage holistic health. Additionally, she advised pastors and church leaders to connect with local support networks such as shelters, hotlines, and other social services to ensure that care is as comprehensive as possible.

Professor Pierre recommended several excellent resources for providing pastoral care to those grieving during holiday seasons.

  • “Blue Christmas” services provide a safe space for acknowledging losses and receiving prayer and pastoral care. Models are available for liturgy, prayers, and meditations for those who are grieving. See, for example, resources provided by the United Methodist Church and the Clergy Leadership Institute.
  • All Our Losses, All Our Griefs by Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson is an essential tool for engaging sorrow and pain and providing care and safe spaces for ministry. Mitchell and Anderson’s text is required reading for Professor Pierre’s pastoral care and counseling class and is suited to all types of grief and loss.

Nearly fifty people joined the students and faculty in attendance via livestream, participating actively in Q&A and discussion. In reflecting on the event, Pierre says,

“One question I was asked was, ‘Where’s the hope?’ Good question. The hope is ultimately in our Immanuel, Christ who journeys with us. And we offer this hope when we journey with others, right where they are.”

A spring webinar is planned through a continued partnership between North Park Seminary and the Good Shepherd Initiative.

View Pierre’s webinar, “Not So Happy Holidays?here, through the ECC‘s YouTube channel.


Sneak Peek: CQ 73:3-4 | Chaplaincy & Mental Health

Chaplains comprise approximately 10% of the Covenant Ministerium, serving in diverse institutional contexts from hospitals to corporate offices. In the upcoming issue of the Covenant Quarterly, due for publication November 30, 2015, four Covenant chaplains offer theological reflection on their ministry, with relevance for all pastoral caregivers. The issue features articles from Robert L. Hubbard, Tim Fretheim, Joel Jueckstock, and Kyle Vlach. An additional piece from author & editor Amy Simpson considers the church’s role in caring for families suffering from mental illness. Here’s a sneak peek.


Robert Hubbard, Jr.

Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (PhD, Clarmont Graduate School) is emeritus professor of biblical literature at North Park Theological Seminary. Ordained by the Evangelical Free Church of America, Hubbard served four years active duty as a U.S. Navy chaplain, including a tour in Vietnam, followed by twenty-six years in the Naval Reserve. He and his wife Pam live in Denver, Colorado, are the parents of two grown sons, and have one grandson.

“Further, the incarnation reminds us that we must be people living in genuine communion with God. To represent God to humans (and humans to God, too) we must intimately know God. Through that relationship, cultivated by worship, Scripture, and prayer, our understanding of who God is grows. It’s the only way that we, like angels and prophets, can be on intimate terms with God….A chaplain’s representing the living God effectively – demonstrating God’s love and mercy, or speaking or acting on God’s behalf – requires an ongoing relationship with our Lord that profoundly shapes our outlook, our attitudes, and our very personhood.”

From “Chaplaincy: Incarnation in Action


Tim Fretheim

Tim Fretheim has served for twenty-three years as chaplain at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital of Vancouver, British Columbia. Prior to chaplaincy ministry, he served for fifteen years as a Covenant minister in various capacities, including parish minister, church planter (whose plant only grew two feet tall), and Teamster (in good standing!). He and his wife Marcia, a spiritual director, live in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, and have three adult children.

“The challenge for chaplains is to learn how to reach out to people that have delusions with religious content, both in the hospital and in the community. These persons can be behaviorally difficult and disruptive. They may require a great deal of time from the pastor. A congregation might be apprehensive and fearful about such a person. Thoughtful preparation will need to be given to ministering to a person with these needs. But the studies mentioned above indicate that positive spiritual coping benefited these people, allowing them to live a richer life.”

From “Many Will Come in My Name: Spiritual Care for Persons with a Delusion of Grandiosity with Religious Content


Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is the award-winning author of Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also a personal and professional coach, senior editor of Leadership Journal, and a frequent speaker. You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter @aresimpson.

“Individuals and families affected by mental illness need help and support. They routinely find themselves on their own in the dark, unsure of how to get the help they need. Many often find themselves in crisis, and when they do reach out for help, they run into stigma and fear that alienate others from getting involved. Many people believe there is nothing churches can do to help. They are wrong.”

From “Supporting Families Living with Mental Illness


Joel Jueckstock

Joel Jueckstock (MDiv, Bethel Seminary) is a Covenant pastor serving as supervisor of Spiritual Care Maple Grove Hospital and adjunct professor at Bethel Seminary while in the final stages of doctoral work at Luther Seminary. Joel and his family live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and worship at Salem Covenant Church.


Kyle Vlach

Kyle Vlach (MDiv, Bethel Seminary) is a Covenant pastor, licensed marriage and family therapist, chaplain, and Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor at United Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and daughter and is a member of First Covenant Church.

“Effective pastoral care requires that the caregiver recognize not only the priority of divine agency but also one’s own agency, seeking to align oneself with God’s work. The task of reimagining a ministry of active presence is not necessarily concerned with the ‘what’ of incarnational ministry but with the ‘how,’ specifically the ways in which the pastor’s agency can be best aligned with God….If the pastor is without a sense of agency, self-awareness, and capacities for ministry, her potential will not be fully actualized. Pastors may better partner with the ministry of the Triune God through increased awareness of the self in ministry.”

From “Claiming a Substantive View of Presence: The Significance of the Pastor’s Self