SALT LAKE CITY — Diane Kunz sees how much a simple visit can mean to someone in an assisted living facility.
But some visitors have an especially profound influence for good on the residents at Carrington Court assisted living center in South Jordan.
"Everybody sort of lights up when they see our chaplains," said Kunz, the center's activities director. "They're just such caring and loving people."
While a desire to love and serve others is a universal trait among chaplains, an increasing number of people joining Utah's chaplaincy come from myriad occupations and religious backgrounds.
Mark Allison, a colonel and senior chaplain with the Army National Guard, is the president and founder of the World Spiritual Health Organization, Utah's only non-collegiate chaplaincy training program. From among the hundreds of chaplains Allison has trained, a group that graduated from the program in July seemed especially unique, he said.
"It's interesting to see the diversity, not so much on the religious or cultural front, although it's there. What was more interesting than those was the work background from whence they came," Allison said.
A grocery retail manager, a pharmacy technician, a law firm legal aid, a mortuary associate, a hospital volunteer, a business owner, and a drug and alcohol counselor were among Utah's newest chaplains in a graduation ceremony this summer.
Allison says those who join the chaplaincy training seek an opportunity to go beyond the services they render in a 9-to-5 occupation.
"They basically have gone from the perspective of making a buck to making a difference," he said. "They've had a shift of careers. They want to serve God, country and fellow man."
For Shawna Lovejoy, faith in Jesus Christ brought a "focus and drive" to do more to serve those in need. But the prospect of leaving a steady-paying job at Whole Foods Market and starting a new career at age 59 was "pretty intimidating."
"It was an excellent career. I was able to take care of myself and kids very well," Lovejoy said. "To leave that not knowing a future and how secure I would be, it was a leap of faith."
Lovejoy is now the chaplain coordinator for Canyons Home Care & Hospice, where she administers to an area ranging from Ogden to Payson, often visiting hospice patients in their home.
"Being able to hear the whispers of God direct me in how to serve, to be able to sit with the dying as they leave this existence. It's an honor and a privilege," she said.
Lindsay Peterson said she knew she wanted to be a chaplain after the death of her baby niece in 2008. Peterson works as a legal aid for a credit repair law firm, but her newfound passion presents another way to serve those she meets.
"I wanted to be with grieving people to help them," Peterson said. "For me, personally, it's just a calling from God."
But there were other elements to chaplaincy training in addition to learning to care for the grieving — elements that reached Peterson on a more personal level.
"I did not even have a clue that the journey to becoming a chaplain would be self-healing, and looking at myself in ways that I had never seen myself before," she said. "It's a whole new journey of introspection, and it helps you become a better chaplain. It's been awesome for me."
Allison says chaplaincy training gives people the tools to serve with "competent compassion" in a variety of capacities, such as the military, veterans affairs, hospice care, police departments, prisons and homeless shelters.
"They have compassion when I get them. But what they don't have is the competence to do it in a skillful way," Allison said. "We train our interfaith chaplains to be competent in times of crisis, to be expert listeners. I think they have an interest to up their skill set to care for people."
Such skills are in high demand in places such as Carrington Court, where caregivers struggle to find interfaith spiritual support for many residents, according to Kunz.
"We have a branch here for LDS people, and they're served very well. We also have a Eucharistic minister that comes and serves our Catholic residents," Kunz said. "And then there's the people with different religions, or maybe were really never religious, but they all have spiritual needs. So that's kind of a void."
Some residents just want someone to talk to, someone with whom to share a burden in their final stages of life, Kunz said. Visitors can be plentiful at the care center, but chaplains have a "knack" for filling the niches that sometimes go overlooked, she said.
"The chaplains are so great because they totally get these people," Kunz said. "That's why everybody loves seeing them. They're already so loving, giving and great listeners that they just meet a volunteer need that nobody else can."
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