Michelle Koop grew up going to Vineland (Ont.) United Mennonite Church, next to the Vineland Mennonite Home. She worked at the Home and helped care for the father of Ed Janzen, chaplain at Conrad Grebel University College (CGUC). In part, it was her stories of that care that convinced Janzen of Koop’s “heart for the aged and seniors—living out the love of God.”
Koop is a fourth-year health studies and gerontology student at the University of Waterloo. She has lived in residence at CGUC, where she had been very involved in the chapel program. Janzen has been encouraging her to think about ministry of some kind.
In the meantime, Waldo Pauls, the newest member of the pastoral team at Tabor Manor, a full-spectrum seniors’ complex in St. Catharines, Ont., had been hired with a job description that included mentoring potential new chaplains. This aspect of the job interested him very much as he had mentored many potential pastors through his many years as pastor in both Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada congregations. Tabor Manor is owned and operated by the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
Pauls and Janzen had a conversation that resulted in Koop spending the summer at Tabor Manor, learning the ropes of chaplaincy. Pauls notes that she took part in all parts of the ministry. She was involved in visiting all the levels of residency, from those who lived in apartments to supportive living and those in the long-term-care facility. She also did hospital visitation, led Bible studies, preached and travelled on outings with residents. Koop received very positive feedback from both staff and residents on all her involvements.
Koop has learned a lot about dealing with older people with their different levels of cognition and different abilities, but has also learned that many of them have a vibrant and growing faith. She has found that they are willing to learn from a young person. She heard many stories of the challenges which seniors have overcome.
The work also has a downside, with the many losses common to this type of ministry—sicknesses, hospitalizations, deaths and funerals. She very much appreciated the focus on the whole picture of health—social, spiritual, physical and mental/emotional—that is different from what she has seen in some hospital settings or other seniors’ facilities.
In spite of the encouragement, Koop does not see herself going into chaplaincy in the near future. She expects that what she has learned will help her in a future congregation to carry out ministry and to help the congregation formulate what they will do in ministry with seniors.
Koop was paid a stipend as the internship was funded by CGUC, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Mennonite Church Canada, Vineland United Mennonite Church, and Tabor Manor.