Serving her calling

Owen wants to make Friendship Haven residents feel seen, heard and valued

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Friendship Haven Chaplain Rev. Jennifer Owen visits with some of her congregation before the start of Sunday morning services.

The Rev. Jennifer Owen’s office at Friendship Haven is a much visited and calming place.

Residents stop by to chat, sometimes with her, sometimes with either Lincoln or Luther, her therapy certified yellow Labs.

“I can bring either dog,” she said.

Owen didn’t start out with ministering to seniors in mind. Instead, she was eventually called in that direction.

“I started seminary to be a youth director, not a pastor,” she said.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Friendship Haven Chaplain Rev. Jennifer Owen welcomes resident Wanda Clarke to her office for a chat. Owen’s therapy certified dog, Lincoln, was hanging out for the day. Her other therapy certified dog, Luther, also gets to visit.

Her education started on a secular note.

“I was originally a political science and German major,” she said.

She completed her pastoral studies at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. During the program, she was encouraged to ask questions.

“We were encouraged to ask questions and to challenge the church,” she said.

Owen was then called to several parishes in Oklahoma, including some time in Durant.

“It was known for Reba McEntire and Dennis Rodman before he got weird,” she said.

She then went to St. Louis to enter the church’s Clinical Pastoral Education program.

“I left, then became a student, then I came here,” she said.

June 1 marked her two-year anniversary with Friendship Haven.

She’s there to help.

“People want to be seen, heard and valued,” she said. “Many older adults often feel like they’re not valued. They want to be remembered for something.”

“I try to learn as much as I can about them,” she continued. “Some of the best parts of my job is often just visiting. Hearing about their lives, what they’ve done.”

There’s sometimes a down side to that.

“I hear the regret too,” she said. “Why am I still here? Why hasn’t He taken me?”

She doesn’t have all the answers, but she doesn’t resort to the common platitudes.

“Why did God take her?” she said. “I don’t know. It’s OK to wrestle with God, lament with God, rail at God. Life isn’t fair. Be mad at God. The more authentic we are with our feelings, the more authentic we are with others. I try to live into that every day.”

As chaplain, Owen conducts several weekly services, holds Bible study groups for residents and occasionally officiates at funerals.

Her services are moving. One Sunday found her answering the question of how to pray.

In it’s simple version: “Pray for others.”

Owen said she’s not the best theologian.

“I was good with Bible stories,” she said. “But not good with theology. I couldn’t tell you why bad things happen to good people. … I still can’t tell you.”

For Owen, it’s not a job.

“You’re called,” she said. “The community calls you; God calls you. I felt called to be a chaplain. I love to interact. You never know what somebody’s going to say.”

She feels at home there, as do the residents.

“This truly is their home and it becomes their faith community too,” she said. “We worship with about 80 to 90 each Sunday.”

Owen met her husband, D. Eric Owen, in 2004 — in a most modern way.

“We’re an eHarmony commercial in the making,” she said. “I was in Minnesota; Eric was in Connecticut. He said, ‘You must be Lutheran, what else would you be doing in Minnesota.”

The couple married in 2006 on June 10, which is also his birthday.

“We were married on his 40th birthday so he could remember our anniversary.”

During her free time, Owen is an avid photographer, hiker and reader.

“I also like to get out with family and friends,” she said.

She plans on staying on, because the calling is very rewarding for her.

“It really is,” she said. “Getting to hear people’s stories, getting to visit with people.”

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