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Lunch with a pastor and chaplain

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The Revs. Stan Mader and Basil Owen met through a mutual friend—Owen's wife, Sue. They watched the 2002 Major League Baseball All-Star game, and by the second inning, the Catholic pastor and Lutheran chaplain were so engrossed in conversation that it was like Sue wasn't even there. They are both baseball lovers.

Mader, Owen and other friends and family traditionally take a tour of Christmas lights, and they are dear friends who see the value in crossing over traditional denominational borders within Christianity.

"I'm Lutheran by training but here I'm a spiritual mutt," Owen said of his 11 years of work at Woodbury Senior Living.

Mader came to St. Ambrose Woodbury Catholic Community a little more than a year ago.

At the invitation of Woodbury Senior Living residents and staff, they shared lunch with the editor of the Woodbury Bulletin this month and took time to answer some questions.

Woodbury Bulletin: Where are the best places around here to see Christmas lights?

Stan Mader: Inver Grove Heights, Hastings. If you want big splashy displays, then look in the paper where they have them. Some are collections from garage sales.

Basil Owen: There was one with a 50-year-old Santa.

SM: Next to Tweety Bird. We applaud and critique them. Some collect money for charity.

BO: Follow the glow in the sky. Follow the limos.

SM: One was Star Wars themed, a Death Star in Woodbury. It had a Wookie with a Santa hat.

BO: We've seen the advent of inflatables and the improvement of LED lights, which I think fostered a rejuvenation of Christmas lights displays.

SM: In the suburbs, everything is kind of monochrome, and you go to these other places and icicle lights and LEDs are improved.

BO: Maybe that's our calling—we get to be the Mystery Science Theater 3000 of Christmas lights and everyone would follow behind us.

WB: You mentioned your calling. How does someone find their calling?

SM: My background is as a systems software specialist. I have a mathematics degree, and I spent 10 years in the computer field. I had thought of being a priest for a long time. What I do tell people is, 'What pushes your buttons?' God doesn't want you doing something you don't love. That's where God's probably leading you. Where are your talents, skills? Do people support you in it? At the end of the day, what were you most grateful for? That's probably what God's leading you to do.

BO: I come from a business background, and I sold business insurance. Since 13 years old, I was being called into the ministry. I spent decades running. When you find that calling, it energizes you, it recharges you.

WB: What are some of the challenges of your ministry?

SM: Personnel issues, budget issues, customer complaints—some of the same things I disliked about working in the private sector are the things I don't like about ministry. What I do appreciate is having a front-row seat as the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of people. It's a very rich life. Many of the conversations I get to have with people are some of the most important in their lives.

BO: I still get to preach and teach and lead. I get to be with people, and I get to work where they live. A chaplain is there as people experience powerful transitions: health issues, spouses dying, selling everything and moving to assisted living.

WB: How do you help people stay happy in a senior living facility? It's not like the nursing homes of old.

SM: There are locals here. Somebody might move in and know 15 people here.

BO: There are lots of East Siders, ex-3M people. While at some senior living facilities people might be there five to 10 years, three to six months is the typical stay at Woodbury Senior Estates (part of Woodbury Senior Living that offers services to people of high acuity and with complex health care needs, like Alzheimer's Disease). At, say, Stonecrest Senior Living (independent senior living), more people are ambulatory. They make friends but also might have lunch in their room. Assisted living residents, they're the ones that used to go to nursing homes. In general, they are staying at home longer. They have more money for a higher level of care. Multigenerational families in the home is becoming more the norm, which is good because wisdom is passed along with more contact. You know, it's no surprise when grandchildren have the best relationships with the residents.

SM: I'm seeing more people at church who are in their 70s and vibrant.

BO: Residents Facetime with their grandkids.

SM: We depend on the wisdom of people in their 80s. When there are troubles at church, they see that "this too shall pass."

BO: They've been there, done that. We have about 100 deaths a year on campus. I spend lots of time at the bedside. At the end of the day, I've made an impact on somebody's life. We have people who the things they used to do, they can't. We celebrate their past roles at church and elsewhere. We host turning-over ceremonies. Take the foundation that you have. Some of our residents are prayer warriors—the saints who've been through war. You remind them, you still have purpose just because you've gotten old doesn't mean you don't have purpose.

SM: Our ministries have different flavors. St. Ambrose is a parish with lots of families. In some ways, the teaching is broader.

BO: They are complementary ministries.

SM: Yes. I do mass and communion for Catholics here, say rosaries, give last rites and anointing, and the litany of saints, anointing of the sick. You get to know their names, greet them with a sign of peace, say bye when they leave, and physically touch them two or three times.

WB: I suppose you partner with other churches and pastors in Woodbury, as well.

BO: The churches are phenomenal. They really do get it.

SM: I thought it was just me.

BO: You're the most phenomenal. You're here the most.

WB: In your minds, what is the state of the church in Woodbury?

SM: There are a lot of churches and a lot of big churches. You think people are connected. It's an affluent area and most things are shiny and new. Most families are too busy with good things—arts, advanced classes, sports. Everybody's kind of tired. And the danger there is you can worship a lot of things other than God. We are always trying to live up to your income.

BO: Each church, everybody's trying to do something to make a difference. There are a lot of good people in this community. Churches are not in competition. We've got an active Woodbury Area Clergy Organization (WACO). We still do an interdenominational Thanksgiving Eve service.

SM: We learn from each other. There are some things you can't do alone. I could imagine doing a summer concert, splitting the cost for a main act—$20,000 or $30,000 that one church couldn't afford.

BO: We get to focus on the things we have in common. As a church community, if we could just do—what was it Jesus said?—love one another. Sometimes we lose sight of what really matters.

WB: How do you talk about death?

SM: That's a great part of the job. You have to reflect on life and death every few days. With WACO, we figure out how to cover Woodwinds Health Campus. We have a rule not to proselytize, just to comfort.

BO: These are spiritual Band-Aids. Let them grieve and mourn.

SM: We tell people it's not God's plan to have them die. What does Jesus do at the tomb of Lazarus? He weeps. We're doing the same thing.

BO: We live in a time and place where people don't like suffering. You don't take life for granted. Those are also powerful ministry times.

SM: Here, you can think about death. So much of society is you want to control everything, but when it comes to death, just wake me up when it's over.

BO: People receive prayers and blessings, and they leave with dignity.

SM: Residents may not be able to get to the funerals of other residents.

BO: We have All Saints Day. We remember the dead all the time in Catholic tradition. We lit 150 candles last year. People are so touched by it.

SM: At funerals, there are people that haven't been there in 10 or 20 years. It's an opportunity to show care, concern and mercy.

BO: While planning a funeral, families that have been splintered and estranged have to collaborate. We foster that ability to come together and heal. People who are passing away tend to linger long enough to make sure that the kids are all okay. We do whatever we can to make their years here as good as possible. We remind them—especially our people in memory care—that God hasn't forgotten them.

SM: The "Our Father" and communion, they'll understand that. Often the rosary and other traditions will be the last thing to leave them, and contrary to what some might think, older people are witty and they like to have a good time.

WB: Has your ministry changed as generations pass away and the next generation ages?

SM: The music. It used to be polka, not anymore. Now, we're listening to "Blue Suede Shoes."

BO: They hosted an Elvis impersonator in the skyway.

SM: For veterans, we have Korean War vets now.

BO: I'm revisiting and reworking our songbook. Younger people who enjoyed Peter, Paul and Mary attend chapel services here, people who listened to 1980s and '90s praise music, who didn't open a hymnal. They looked at words on an overhead projector.

WB: As you age, how do you find hope?

SM: How do you find hope? That is difficult. And I don't know how you do this, but you change the mentality of people coming in. You offer reading sessions, activities, help people stay active, a few of them still drive.

BO: Hope isn't something that you're going to be looking for when you walk in the door. First, you let them grieve. Eventually they're going to come to love the 2:30 ice cream, but not at first.

WB: Thank you for taking the time to eat and talk with me.

BO: I could talk for days about what I do here. We don't have enough shrimp for that.

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