Every workday, John Luth cycles the route to his ministry job in Edmonton, Alta. Each downward pedal is a steady pulse propelling him into the day ahead. He enjoys the time to think, reflect, and prepare his heart to extend unconditional welcome to whoever may cross his path.
Luth’s work as a chaplain at the Salvation Army-Edmonton Centre of Hope puts him in daily contact with people in transition: individuals fighting addiction, navigating mental health struggles, escaping human trafficking, or reckoning with the long-term impacts of residential school experience. The common thread in each story is trauma. The common goal of Luth’s chaplain team is to provide emotional and spiritual support to those on the path to stability.
Recently, Luth worked with an individual whose life has been severely impacted by alcohol use. The person described his childhood in an extremely rigid fundamentalist sect in which he and his siblings would be beaten after religious services if they had moved a muscle or perhaps fallen asleep even for a moment. This same community, including his parents and family, was now shunning him for leaving the sect. Others had told him simply to be thankful he got out of such a high-control environment. But Luth said his work in that moment “was to honor that the experience at present [was] also a deep experience of loss of family and community.”
That person also shared that one of his parents was taken from home at the age of four and put in an Indian residential school where they were beaten for speaking their mother tongue. They came home ten years later having lost both language and childhood. This is an iteration of generational trauma Luth sees often in his line of work, and he was able to connect this person with trauma therapy resources and share with him how God sees people with compassion and uses God’s power only to empower.
With 166 beds in two transitional houses and a short-term stabilization program, the Salvation Army-Edmonton Centre of Hope allows Luth to bear witness to these stories and lived experiences regularly.
“Probably the most difficult thing in my role is to decenter myself and to find the center in the other person and in God's work in them,” Luth notes. “I only have so much capacity to keep my heart and self open to others, so I am intentional to maintain a boundary between my work and personal life, see a therapist, stay physically active, and practice prayer alone and communally to attend to my holistic well-being. I really love my work and feel honored to be where I am.”
In the Christian Reformed Church in North America, chaplains are well-equipped commissioned pastors or ministers of the Word who serve in specialized ministries outside the church. Chaplains are specially trained, called, and ordained by the church, and they are sent by Jesus Christ to provide spiritual care to people in pain or spiritual distress. They provide pastoral ministry in specialized settings to people who are hurting or in crisis, uprooted or dislocated. Through the very presence of chaplains, the settings in which they minister become places of surprising grace.
Thrive supports chaplains by bringing them together for fellowship, training, and networking. It also provides pastors with emotional and spiritual support so they can serve others.
“I love to bear witness to the change that is possible when another human feels welcomed, supported, and included,” Luth said. “I am convinced that this is one of the manifestations of the Spirit. So many of those who come to stay with us briefly or for longer periods of time have been marginalized, demonized, and rejected by society. I love to welcome people and see light and hope restored to their eyes.”
About the Author
Kristyn DeNooyer is a freelance communications specialist and seminary student living in Grand Rapids, Mich. Her favorite things include hospitality, storytelling, and exploring the intersection of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.