Chaplaincy Ministry for Health Care Centers

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Rev. Tom Fleischmann, Current Chaplain

40 Years Seems Like a Short Time. Compared to many of our churches in Sheboygan County, quite a number of them have celebrated 100+ years serving their parishioners in their local communities bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Over the past 40 years the Chaplaincy Program has been through a lot of changes. Chaplains retire, nursing homes close (or change ownership), administrators come and go, and the faces of the residents often change. But one thing remains constant – the need to bring Christ to the elderly, infirmed or developmentally disabled residents of these facilities. Folks who actively worshipped in their home church before they came to a health care facility, and those who have not darkened the doorway of a church for years, or even at all, will find spiritual care through the Chaplaincy Ministry. Baptisms, wedding vow renewals and funerals have been performed by the Chaplain. All residents, their families and staff are children of God needing to hear of His love for them.

In 1972, the American Luther Association of Sheboygan and local LCMS Churches asked the South Wisconsin District to issue a call for a full-time Chaplain for the County nursing homes – Sunny Ridge in Sheboygan, The County Hospital [Comprehensive Health Care Center] in Waldo and the Rocky Knoll facility the town of Plymouth. The Rev. Lester Bischoff of Zion Lutheran Church in Glenbeulah was called to serve as Chaplain. Through his time of service, Sunny Ridge and Rocky Knoll under went expansion, thus increasing the number of residents. After Rev. Bischoff’s retirement in 1982, Rev. Richard Matthies was called as the second Chaplain. During Rev. Matthies’ tenure, more expansion of the ministry came in the form of local private nursing homes requesting pastoral services. Rev. Matthies recruited local LCMS pastors to lead a few chapel services per year in each of those private centers. The Chaplaincy Committee was formed of pastors and laymen to assist and support the ministry.

Pastor Matthies retired in in the fall of 1996. After a brief assessment of the need to continue pastoral care for the facilities, the SWD (along with the Chaplaincy Committee’s recommendations) called the current Chaplain, Rev. Tom Fleischmann in July, 1997.

In 1998, Pastor Tom completed formal chaplain training meeting the requirements of Clinical Pastoral Education [CPE]. During that year many changes occurred in the ministry. With the guidance and cooperation of the Activity Directors of many area nursing homes and assisted living centers, as well as the participating volunteer LCMS pastors, weekly Chapel Services were established. Our annual Chapel attendance went from 1,100 to over 9,000 annually. We were blessed by the conviction of Activity Staff and Pastors and God’s grace to accomplish such an undertaking.

Over the past 15 years community organizations, local churches and their schools have been involved with the Chaplaincy Ministry. Chapel volunteers, assistance with special services and events, school children visiting Sunny Ridge, Rocky Knoll and Libby’s House hosting “Reverse VBS” – all have brought many hours of joy to our residents over the years.

Along with the work of the Chaplain in health-care centers, much development and awareness of the Ministry must be carried out. The Chaplain regularly visits Churches, Christian Day Schools, as well as civic and business organizations telling of the importance of spiritual care in health care centers and seeks their prayerful and financial support.

Another change over the years is how this ministry is funded. Prior to 2004, 85% of funding came from the South Wisconsin District with 15% from local LCMS Churches. Because of a financial crisis within the SWD in 2004, many missions were affected with the SWD withdrawing their financial support from them – including the Chaplaincy program. A compromise was accomplished with the SWD and the Chaplaincy Board of Directors to keep this vital mission ministry going. For three years we were gradually weaned from the SWD with all District funds coming to an end on January 31, 2007.

Since then we are totally dependent on funds from LCMS churches, private donors, business partners and church groups. We receive no funds from the healthcare centers we visit, nor from County agencies.

The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, Ladies Aid Societies, Lutheran Laymen’s League and Mission Circles also send regular donations. A few local non-LCMS churches also contribute on a regular basis. The Chaplaincy picnics in the past had been our major fundraiser event. All of these means of financial support help us reach our annual budget of nearly $124, 000. By God’s grace working through His people like you, we have met our financial needs these past 5 years. During these recent troubling financial years, we have made cutbacks as many churches, businesses and individuals have done the same. Health Care costs and gasoline prices have risen dramatically along with other costs. The number of elderly in need of care is growing as folks are living 10, 20, even 30+ years past retirement age. Who will provide for their spiritual care in the years ahead? Many LCMS Districts are no longer calling Chaplains for healthcare centers. Ours is one of them. God’s people need to embrace this ministry that affects so many residents, their families and facility staff, or it will be in jeopardy. The Chaplaincy Board of Directors is working on that challenge. The Board is in the process of procuring 501[c]3 Non-Profit status. That will allow the Chaplaincy Board of Directors to directly call a Chaplain. That status also allows us to apply for grants and to accept bequests from trust funds and private gifts.

Pray for us that the Lord bless our efforts. May it be His Will that this Mission Ministry should continue in the years ahead to bring Spiritual Care to our residents, their families and the facility staff.

Join us in celebrating 40 years in service to Our Lord on July 15, 2012. Visit the “Events” page on our website,

                          40 Years! – To God Alone Be The Glory! Amen!