Pastor John Peterson, front left, with Lores Vlaminck, Ecumen of Litchfield’s previous Home Care and Hospice Director.  Hospice staff from left to right in rear are Alex Reimer, Kelsey Osterberg, Angie Kinsella, Amanda Becker, Brittany Dobson, Nicole Larson, Sandy Dougherty, Shelly Hank, Jill Johnson, and Judy Loecken.

By Sandra Dougherty, Director, Ecumen Home Care & Hospice-Litchfield

For the past 13 years, Pastor John Peterson was our hospice chaplain at Ecumen Home Care & Hospice-Litchfield.  We deeply miss him since he retired a couple of months ago.

We had a party in his honor on October 11.  About 75 people attended to celebrate his dedication to the hospice program.  Friends, family members he had touched and past workers were in the group, and we reminisced about his time with us.

One of Pastor John’s most lovable traits is his ability to minister without judgment. He meets people where theyare and affirms — no matter what their beliefs — that they are loved and their life has purpose.

Once a Buddhist attended his ecumenical service. He offered her communion, and she asked him to visit her again because she could “feel his loving concern for her being.”

Once when he visited a Jewish client, she bluntly asked him why he was there. “We share the Old Testament,” he responded.  She asked him to officiate at her burial.

He has an ongoing relationship with a self-professed atheist, who continues to welcome Pastor John’s visits and their discussions about scripture.

Pastor John has a special way being where he is needed, when he is needed. He once drove 30 miles one way to pick up the spouse of a client so she could be with him in his final hours.

On another occasion, one of our nurses was with a client and realized he was in his final hours.  The family wanted to call the primary pastor, but knew it would be a while before she could get there. As a discussion about what to do ensued, there was a knock on the door.  There was Pastor John ready to minister to this family.

Judy Loecken, our Social Worker, puts it this way: He’s been our Chaplain, reminding us of God’s love, and presence in every word and deed….He’s been our teacher, teaching kindness and compassion for every life…He’s been our confidant — listening to our accomplishments, our struggles and our fears…He’s been our calm in every storm…He’s been our cheerleader, encouraging and pushing us to be our best self…But most of all, he’s been our friend.”

Every other Friday, we hold a hospice staff meeting. Often we would start with Pastor John saying a prayer, then move on to discussion and updates on each hospice client.  Sometimes tears could be seen around the room as he would explain how clients were struggling with their end of life journey or having a spiritual crisis.

Pastor John also has an amazing laugh and a wonderful sense of humor.  Many times he would have all of us laughing.  If we had clients whose families didn’t visit often enough, he would say things like: “I’m going to give them a call and jack them up.”

During Pastor John’s 13 years as hospice chaplain, he served approximately 260 clients, and their spouses, children and families. His wife Lynda has also served as a hospice volunteer, and they will both continue to serve in their “retirement.”

At the retirement party, the hospice team presented Pastor John with a plaque for his years of service, with the following quote engraved on it:

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go.

Some stay awhile,

leave footprints on our hearts,

and we are never the same.”  —Flavia Weedn

Our hospice team will miss him deeply, and we will always remember the care and compassion he provided not only to our clients, but to us as staff.  Thank you, Pastor John, for being with us and best wishes in your “retirement.”