The Rev. Joan Jones is chaplain at She began March 1, 1998, having moved from the east coast and parish ministry in churches in New York and Pennsylvania. “I was geared for the parish,” Jones said. “This was all new.”
Emmaus Homes is a place of the spirit. Its stated mission is, in part, “to enhance the quality of life for adults of all beliefs who have cognitive, intellectual and other developmental disabilities.”
The first Emmaus campus, founded in 1893, used the former seminary of the Evangelical Synod of the West in Marthasville, MO. That location is Emmaus Homes West. Emmaus Homes in St. Charles or Emmaus Homes East, began in 1901. That is 110 years in the St. Charles community. Both places continue the same mission and ministry of compassionate care.
Jones is full-time chaplain and provides weekly worship and Bible study. These are tasks we might expect, but there are differences from parish ministry.
She describes her ministry as a call to “enjoy the people here in all settings, loving them in all conditions because that is what they teach me.”
This “unconditionality is what Jesus did,” said Jones.
I would call this a ministry of presence. Jones visits residents in the group homes on the campus and in the community.
She interacts with the people on a daily basis. Not only the residents, but the direct support staff and the administrative staff, too. Jones might stop by the dining hall and chat with residents and staff, or attend the many activities and social functions planned throughout the month. There are birthdays to celebrate, and deaths to grieve, and lives to remember. When needed, Jones makes hospital calls on residents. She is involved in the holistic care plan for each resident with input on spiritual nurture.
As chaplain, Jones is one member of the executive team at Emmaus Homes helping to make decisions about the agency. This would not be the first duty that comes to mind when we think of a chaplain, yet Jones is able to provide a perspective of the mission from the eyes of those served. Jones told me that she will speak up in meetings and say, “I have a people story,” and share that story so that all of the decision-makers are reminded to ask if the decision we are about to make fits the mission. In Jones’ words, “the people come first.”
Jones is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and Emmaus Homes is a mission of the United Church of Christ and its Council for Health & Human Service Ministries (CHHSM). Emmaus Homes serves people of all faiths, and Jones makes the effort to connect residents with the faith community of their choice. Catholic Mass is offered regularly in the chapel. A local rabbi assists when a Jewish resident’s spiritual needs make that appropriate.
There is a chapel on the campus. It is a classic building, red brick with a white and metalic steeple. The inside is large, painted in cool tones to complement the windows of blues and lavenders. The glorious stained glass window of Jesus and the two friends walking on the road to Emmaus is the centerpiece of the room. A few years ago, chairs replaced the front pews. It is easier to get around for those in wheelchairs or using walkers. It also provides options for Bible study or special services since the chairs can be moved into a circle, semi-circle, or rows, if desired.
I attended a Sunday worship service in the chapel in early August. Residents came in walking or using walkers. Some powered in with motorized wheelchairs or rolled-in manually. There were hugs and waves among the 40 or so residents and staff attending. We were of all ages, races and abilities. The order of worship was traditional, yet the tone and style of the worship Jones set was conversational, open, inviting and just plain happy. I observed and joined in the Wednesday Bible study. Fifteen or more of us prayed, read and asked questions of the scripture, and enjoyed fellowship which included some singing. Again, the atmosphere was welcoming and easy-going. All felt comfortable to speak up or make a joyful noise when singing.
Two banners have prominent places in the chapel. One says “O How He Loves You and Me,” and the other reads “And I’ve Got Joy In the Lord.” These are recent additions to the chapel but they sum up for me the ministry that springs forth from the care and compassion of Jones – love and joy.
Full disclosure: Currently, I have contracted with Emmaus Homes to provide pulpit supply for the chapel at Emmaus Homes West in Marthasville, MO.