Clay County clergy on call at CCF
SPENCER – They walk around the Clay County Fairgrounds in their red shirts or jackets, almost unnoticed.
But when a fair-goer has a medical emergency or is part of an otherwise frightening situation, they are there within moments.
They are part of the Clay County Fair Chaplaincy program – a group of ordained ministers covering the spiritual and emotional needs of people on the fairgrounds from 9 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. all nine days of the fair.
Their client base includes fair-goers, volunteers and paid fair staff.
The Rev. Wendy Van Tassell coordinates the chaplaincy program. She said it began in 2004 with the Rev. Gary Nims, of Grace United Methodist Church in Spencer.
“He said at some point when he was walking around the fairgrounds, he thought about the various people who attended the fair and their life situations they may be dealing with – including people who put in long days and those who might appreciate an encouraging word,” Van Tassell said. “He said when he saw the EMTs were on hand to provide medical assistance, he wondered if the presence of a chaplain might be helpful if there was an emergency.”
The role of the fairgrounds chaplain is to be available upon request in a health-related or other emergency situation, providing spiritual care and support.
Van Tassel said all ordained clergy in Clay County are invited to be part of the coverage. Throughout the fair’s run, there are 25 slots to fill, with three different three and a half-hour shifts daily, running between 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
This year there are 13 clergy people from 10 Clay County churches fulfilling this ministry.
“When a health crisis arises at the fairgrounds – especially when someone from the family is not nearby or even at the fairgrounds – it can seem chaotic and crazy,” Van Tassel said. “We’re here to give comfort, to walk alongside them or their family members and provide spiritual encouragement.
“We provide hospitality and pastoral care, bringing grace and the peace of Christ into a potential situation of stress and pain that can occur.”
They also offer worship services at the fairgrounds on weekends to all those who work at the fair every day, giving them a chance to worship if they choose.
The chaplains are based out of, and work with, the Clay County EMS staff, who are also on hand throughout each day of the fair.
They wear a two-way radio, and when EMS personnel are paged, they hear it and also respond to the situation.
“We’re there to be present to that person and/or their family, to stay with them, to pray with them and to offer comfort and support in whatever way we can do that,” Van Tassel said.
Steve Hopkins, Clay County Fair medic and manager of the EMS day crew, said the help of the ministers is invaluable to what they do for people on the fairgrounds.
“It depends on how critical the situation is, but if there is a cardiac event or other kind of trauma (such as if someone fell and broke something) that’s when it all comes together,” Hopkins said. “If it weren’t for the chaplains, some of our calls would be pretty tough in trying to handle everything.
“Our concern is to get the patient taken care of, and they see that the family is taken care of. It’s a great working relationship.
“They sometimes take the brunt of the moment in a trauma situation, easing the minds of family members.”
Van Tassel said they sometimes leave the fairgrounds to go to a local or regional hospital to be with a person or their family as further medical attention is sought.
They can either remain with someone until family arrives, or can remain with the family as long as they would like the presence of the chaplain. Their role is just to be with families in a time when life is out of order, and assist them in whatever ways they need it.
But not all of their work is health-related.
Sometimes they assist with lost children or lost parents, give encouragement to those who confide in them, and even performing ceremonies on the fairgrounds.
Van Tassell performed a renewal of wedding vows for a Rockwell couple on their 25th anniversary at this year’s fair. It was a surprise the man had planned for his wife.
“We’ve been attending the Clay County Fair for 25 or 26 years,” said Dan Bowers. “It’s a special place to us.
“I talked to Jeremy (Parsons, fair manager), and he told me to talk to (Van Tassell). I called her a few weeks ahead of time and we picked out a place and time. I told Donna that there was a best dressed fair-goers contest going on, so we should enter.”
Bowers pulled the event off. His wife had no idea until they met up with Van Tassell on the fairgrounds.
Van Tassell said that ceremony was the most unusual thing she has done as a fair chaplain.
There are a couple of ministers who are on call, 24/7 during the fair if need be.
“We are spiritual, physical and emotional beings,” she said. “God has woven all of those aspects into our lives, but in this world we pay attention mostly to the physical side.
“The spiritual side of who we are is just as important as the emotional, mental and physical parts of us.
“We step into these peoples’ lives for a short time, but hopefully we are a blessing. We hope we are a conduit of grace.”
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