Listening and Learning: All in a Day’s Chaplaincy Work

Chaplain Steve Streed has spent his career learning at the feet of the greatest professors in the world.

Those professors are the residents of Eventide Senior Living Communities, where Streed has worked for nearly three decades.

“I have so much to learn from each person,” he says. “They’ve lived through World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Depression, World War II, the Korean War … there’s so much wisdom to be shared.”

Streed serves as one of two chaplains at Eventide. He leads Sunday and Wednesday worship services plus weekly Bible studies. He makes calls to residents in hospitals and hosts family support group. He participates in pulpit exchanges, bringing the face of Eventide to area churches.

But Streed’s true ministry happens during day-to-day interactions as he builds relationships with residents, their families and staff.

“I’m always wondering how can I  walk beside a person, how can I support them best?” he says.

So, he listens, observes and learns – just as he does when he fly fishes in his spare time.

Streed never expected to be a pastor, much less a chaplain. He dreamed of becoming an artist, possibly following in the footsteps of his father, a commercial artist. Life took a twist in college and he found himself heading to seminary.

“God chose me,” he says.

After seminary, he served in a rural parish and a more urban one. When Eventide opened its search for a chaplain, Streed decided to apply. He never left.

Ministering to those in a senior living community setting has proven rewarding – even though time has led to changes. In recent years, the average length of stay for a resident has become shorter, meaning he has less time to get to know them. He now spends more time with families who may be working through guilt or grief.

There’s one down-side to the calling.

“We work with life and death,” he says. “I get close to people and they either die or leave.”

But that doesn’t mean his vocation is somber.

Instead, he encourages residents and those he works with to embrace their inner child. Curiosity and fun are important at every stage of life.

Proving his point, he collects books full of corny jokes and shares the contents freely. (Why did three pigs leave home? Their father was a real boar.) He releases his own inner kid when he tells staff in the hallway that their shoes are untied. (The punch line? Made you look.)

And he always wears a wacky tie – something like Donald Duck or Goofy – that captures the attention and imagination of residents. It’s usually the first thing residents at the breakfast table will ask to see when he arrives to the office.

A couple of years ago, Streed accepted the District C Caregiver of the Year award from LeadingAge Minnesota. The award honors those who enhance and enrich the quality of life of older adults in their care.

Streed is honored by the recognition but insists it is his life that has been enriched.

“I let people tell me their stories, “ he says. “I’ve been blessed by them and the connections we make.”