We are thrilled to welcome you to our Q&A series, where we will be shining a spotlight on our extraordinary chaplains at Cassia. Through their unwavering support and compassionate presence, our chaplains provide comfort and guidance to our residents, their families and our staff.
In this installment, we are honored to feature Sarah Ciavarri, Vice President of Spiritual Life at the Cassia Home Office. Join us as we delve into Pastor Ciavarri’s approach to chaplaincy and explore the vital importance of spiritual care in our communities.
Q: What inspired you to become a chaplain? Tell us a little about yourself.
A: “God set me on this course of serving as a chaplain while I was in college. My hometown care center invited me to serve as the chaplain over the summer. I fell in love with it. I fell in love with hearing elder’s stories of how God was working in their lives and also my faith grew so much as I trusted the Holy Spirit to bring me to the residents who most needed a visit that day. I was a chaplain there for 3 summers and it confirmed for me a sense that God was calling me to go to seminary which I did at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
Q: What led you to become a chaplain at Cassia?
A: I have been with Cassia for 16 years. Dave Shaw, Campus Administrator, invited me to serve as Director of Spiritual Care at the Apple Valley campus. I began there in October of 2007 and moved into the role as VP of Spiritual Life in February of 2022.
Q: How do you provide spiritual and emotional support to residents at Apple Valley?
A: I had a very unique opportunity serving at the Apple Valley campus because that campus hadn’t had a chaplain before I started. This provided the task and responsibility to shepherd the question of “what does it mean to be a faith-based organization?’ We built upon ministry that was already happening like local clergy leading worship services and added Bible study, hymn sings, memorial services, confirmation student visits, starting a BeFriender Ministry and also trained staff to be Bedside Service Leaders offering prayers for family and fellow staff when a resident passed. Providing spiritual and emotional support took a different shape during COVID but the foundation of that, morning daily prayer together as a staff, continued.
Q: What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
A: John 10:10b is my favorite verse. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” What Jesus says here has continually given me inspiration and joy. Jesus comes into the broken and hardest parts of our lives to not only be with us but to work in ways that aren’t always comprehensible to our human though to bring life out of death. This verse also reminds me that Jesus knits our hearts together, abundant connection.
Q: In what ways do you help residents stay connected to their religious or spiritual communities?
A: Moving to a skilled nursing facility is one of life’s big changes and keeping as many connections as possible helps with the transition. That is why, best practice for chaplains is to help someone remain connected to their home faith community. With the resident’s permission we’ll call their home faith community to make sure they know the resident has moved in.
Q: How do you provide support to residents who may not have a specific religious or spiritual belief system?
A: Now in my role as VP of Spiritual Life, David Juve, also VP of Spiritual Life, and I serve as chaplains to our home office team. We get to support the people who support the people! In this role, I listen a lot and pray with staff who sometimes just need a listening ear, or need to lay down for a while a burden they are carrying. Jesus models for us how to listen someone into life; how to deeply listen not just to the words but to the heart and soul. Modeling that is something I try to do in caring for our caregivers.
Q: Can you share a particularly memorable experience you’ve had as a chaplain?
A: Opportunities to create something beautiful are all around us – the challenge is to slow down long enough to see and hear what the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do. Several years ago I was leading a hymn sing. One woman always asked to sing “Amazing Grace” – it was her favorite song. I asked her to share why she loved it so much and she told an incredible story of faith. It was a blessing to hear and I thought, “there are so many stories right here that tell how God has worked in someone’s life. What if there was a way to gather them together?” Out of that wondering came a collection of resident responses to the question, “How has God worked in your life?” that we put into a book and made available to residents, staff and family.”
Thank you, Pastor Ciavarri, for everything you have done for our residents, their families and our staff!