LeRae Kuperus works closely with staff who are on the front lines responding to the needs of troubled young people at Wedgwood Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Mich.
As spiritual director of Wedgwood, Kuperus focuses on helping staff—including chaplains—with the difficult and challenging job of reaching out to young people in pain. Many of them are victims of physical abuse, neglect, and/or sexual abuse.
Wedgwood, one of the largest facilities of its kind in West Michigan, provides more than 20 prevention, education, and residential treatment services and programs.
“What we are doing is offering an incarnational ministry to people,” says Kuperus, who served for several years as a residential chaplain working with clients and families before assuming her current role.
“It is Christ’s love that will ultimately bring hope and healing to people who desperately need it. We are armed with his simple assurance, ‘I am with you.’”
Being with people dealing with trouble and crisis is what the Christian Reformed Church’s endorsed chaplains such as Kuperus are asked to do, said Ron Klimp, director of the CRC’s Office of Chaplaincy & Care.
These 130-plus chaplains are sometimes referred to as “spiritual first responders,” “critical incident care-givers,” “religious EMTs,” or “specialists in institutional pastoral care,” says Klimp.
CRC chaplains have a theological education and ordination, plus at least 800 hours of additional training in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) or equivalent, and then complete an application and interview process with the Office of Chaplaincy & Care.
“They then commit themselves to a life of being with, and caring for, people in crisis,” said Klimp.
Chaplains serve in a variety of settings—from the prison to the Pentagon; from a cruise ship to the corporate boardroom—serving the emotional and spiritual needs of thousands of individuals and families in crisis every week.
Klimp said the Walcott family helps to tell the story of the ministry.
“They are three in one—not the Trinity, but a family of chaplains,” he said.
Tom Walcott has been a Navy chaplain since 1996. He has worked in the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains and earned the rank of captain (O-6) while serving the Coast Guard in Miami and now the Naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.
“The youngest of his three sons, Caleb, decided to enter seminary after finishing college,” Klimp said. “He then chose to become invested in CPE courses—basic training for chaplains —and became an endorsed chaplain in June, 2014.”
He is now serving at Holland Hospice in Holland, Mich. Along the way, Tom’s wife, Jaci, also became interested in chaplaincy and began taking CPE through a local hospice provider.
She hopes to complete her fourth unit this summer and seek ordination/endorsement as a chaplain, possibly continuing to serve in a hospice or hospital setting.
“Our chaplains have the heart to serve people in many different situations,” said Klimp. “They provide a ministry of presence in which they reach out to others and can get so much in return.”
When she thinks of her many years working with Wedgwood clients, Kuperus says the word “courage” comes to mind.
She says she appreciates how much courage she sees in the lives of clients and feels grateful she has had a chance to walk with them through their pain.
“Our clients learn from us,” she said. “But we also learn from our clients. It takes courage to think differently about God, to ask hard questions of faith, and believe that trust and hope in him are possible.”
Quick Facts about Chaplaincy & Care
- CRC chaplains make up more than 10 percent of the denomination’s ordained clergy.
- They provide $10 million of ministry to individuals and families in crisis—all paid for by other agencies, employers, and institutions.
Please pray for the more than 130-plus men and women who bring the love and grace of Christ to those in crisis day after day, month after month, year after year.
Pray that they will be protected from harm, uplifted by grace, and that many will follow them into this specialized and growing arena of ministry outside of the local church.
About the Author
Chris Meehan is a freelance writer and commissioned pastor at Coit Community Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.