We are thrilled to welcome you to our Q&A series, where we will be shining a spotlight on our extraordinary chaplains at Cassia. Through their unwavering support and compassionate presence, our chaplains provide comfort and guidance to our residents, their families and our staff.
In this installment, we are honored to feature Rev. Julie Ryan, Chaplain at Apple Valley Village in Apple Valley, MN. Join us as we delve into Rev. Julie’s approach to chaplaincy and explore the vital importance of spiritual care in our communities.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: “I hold many titles such as wife, mother of four, step-mother of two, grandmother of 13, daughter, sister, dog lover, quilter, writer, artist, down-sizer, reader, fisherperson, fountain pen collector and one who has an unquenchable, adventurous zest for life.
Q: What inspired you to become a chaplain?
A: Having served many years as a minister in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), I consistently found myself drawn to the ministries of visitation, older adults and end-of-life care. Over the years, I began to feel burnout serving as a pastor leading congregations. Chaplaincy kept coming up as the next step for me, a nudge from the Holy Spirit. It affords me the opportunity to continue in the type of ministry I love the most in a setting where I create and witness “church” among us every day.
Q: What led you to become a chaplain at Apple Valley Village?
A: It was truly a Spirit-led event. I was contacted by a senior recruiter at Cassia to consider the possibility of working as a chaplain at Apple Valley Village. I did some research online regarding both Cassia and Apple Valley Village. Reading tag lines like “Serving all by following One” and their mission to “foster fullness of life in older adults in the spirit of Christ’s love” I knew this was the place for me. I interviewed with Dave Shaw, the administrator, and two of the Spiritual Care staff, and accepted an offer within 24 hours.
Q: How do you provide spiritual and emotional support to residents at Apple Valley Village?
- Provide 1:1 visits to include supportive listening, prayer, etc.
- Bring in speakers, like our latest speaker from NAMI of MN (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to talk on important topics such as “Understanding Depression in Older Adults.”
- Lead weekly worship services.
- Create resources, such as booklets like “Bible Verses…to provide encouragement, comfort, direction and purpose” handouts like “Tips for Caring for Self and Others in Difficult Times.”
- Offering special worship services, such as the annual Blessing of the Animals and quarterly memorial services where we remember all residents and patients who have died in the previous three months.
Q: What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
A: John 14:27. Words of Jesus; “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled and neither let them be afraid.”
In our world, in our lives, in our families, in our workplaces, in our hearts and minds we long for peace. It is a peace we can never and will never find in the world, but rather a peace that is possible from Jesus, even amongst times and situations that are turbulent, jarring, fearful and unimaginably awful; Jesus offers peace.
Hearing these words from Jesus, every time I read them, I hear Jesus say them to me, and it encourages me to pause, take a few deep breaths and let those words sink in. When I do, I am reminded again that the peace of Christ which “surpasses all understanding” is not something I’ve got to search or strive for, but to allow in to my thoughts, my days, my prayers.
Q: Can you share an example of how you have helped a resident find peace and comfort during a difficult time?
I received a phone call from a 7-year resident in our assisted living apartments, requesting I come by for a visit. This woman had been on kidney dialysis for quite a number of years. She also had cancer, which had been in remission for quite a few years and had just found out it was back with a vengeance.
She was a woman of strong faith and asked me to visit her to talk about the possibility of discontinuing her dialysis. She needed to talk through what she was thinking about, her doubts and her fears. Speaking her thoughts out loud to me, a supportive listening presence, helped her to lay it all out and begin to work through her choices, her relationship to her family and friends and mainly to God.
We visited on three different occasions. I had encouraged her to talk with her family, friends and doctors and speak her true thoughts. By our third visit she had had those very important and meaningful conversations and found support and love from all of them.
She was a woman who went from confusion, sadness and uncertainty in dealing with her health challenges to a woman who realized how much she was loved and supported by her family and friends, and that she could and would allow them along on her end of life journey.
The last month of her life happened to be over the Christmas holiday season. She and her family mentioned to me that it was their best, closest, most meaningful family and friend Christmas ever. She died peacefully in her apartment surrounded by her loved ones in January.
Q: Can you share a particularly memorable experience you’ve had as a chaplain at Apple Valley Village?
A: I was asked to visit a woman who had recently been admitted to our Transitional Care Unit. She was in a very difficult and troubling stage of dementia. She had become nonverbal. She was restless and anxious in a way that we and her family were concerned for her safety.
Her caregivers, including her family, considered her mostly unreachable. They shared that her faith had always been important to her, so they hoped she might be comforted by a visit from the chaplain. I gently entered her room while calmly speaking her name and introducing myself. She did not respond nor even acknowledge my presence. She was nervously rocking back and forth at the edge of her bed.
I offered her several readings from the Bible that I assumed she might know or at least have heard (I.e. the 23rd Psalm, John 3:16, etc.) There were no changes in her demeanor…yet. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” and “How Great Thou Art” As I began praying the Lord’s Prayer she began to speak as she rocked.
I had to listen carefully, but once I did I realized she was saying, “He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.” And she was saying this with a big smile on her face while hugging herself with her arms. Instant happy tears flooded my eyes and I gave thanks to the Spirit of God who was able to reach this woman in her time of need. She was much calmer after this visit. I was able to share the result of this visit with her family and her caregivers. There was joy in this day for all of us.
Q: How has your work as a chaplain at Apple Valley Village impacted your own spiritual and personal growth?
A: I am very frequently out-ministered by the residents and patients I serve. What I mean by this is that I spend time ministering to these precious folks in their times of joy and celebration, need and distress, fear and pain and I offer comfort and direction.
Ultimately I find that in their faith-filled words to me, their gentle way of being in their living spaces, the stories of gratitude they share, the courage they exude, the love they give to so many, the compassion and kindness they show to so many…these are the things that humble me and make me strive to be a better person, give me courage to face things I need to face, and do as they do… Trust God.”
Thank you, Rev. Julie, for everything you have done for our residents, their families and our staff at Apple Valley Village!