FACES: A light in the storm
NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- Death and disaster don't daunt the Rev. Mark Ellingson. While Ellingson would never wish either of things on people, he seeks out those who are grappling with them. Ellingson, a Methodist minister, is a Hospice of the Red River...
NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- Death and disaster don't daunt the Rev. Mark Ellingson.
While Ellingson would never wish either of things on people, he seeks out those who are grappling with them. Ellingson, a Methodist minister, is a Hospice of the Red River Valley chaplain and works with Red River Resilience, a group of organizations that help people deal with disaster. He also is an early response team trainer.
Ellingson will talk about keeping a positive attitude in the face of disaster at the North Dakota Agri-Women Harvest of Knowledge annual convention on Oct. 28 at the Ramada Inn in Grand Forks. His talk, "Keeping a Bounce in Your Step" will be about how to stay upbeat when bad things happen.
Ellingson discovered his gift for helping disaster victims when he helped out after the Aug. 27, 2007, F4 tornado that hit Northwood. Ellingson, a longtime pastor at Holmes United Methodist Church, near Reynolds, N.D., got a call from Northwood City Auditor Marcy Douglas the day after the tornado, requesting him to come and help.
He not only volunteered that first post-tornado day, but for the next three months. He didn't have any damage at his own home parsonage at Holmes, so he could devote all of his time to assisting Northwood people whose houses did, he said.
"I could come here and work and not have to worry about my own things." While Ellingson helped with physical rebuilding projects, his biggest contribution was listening to people, he said.
"The things I do best are, I'm willing to listen and I can be non-judgmental.
"My favorite thing, at the end of the day I would get on my son's bike and ride around and see what was going on. People just need that connection with one another. As long as they can get reassurance, they can hang in there. I think I did a little of that (reassurance)."
During those three months he spent volunteering in Northwood, Ellingson discovered that he had a gift for helping people affected by disaster.
Though the tornado never hit his home, it changed his life, he said.
Ellingson enjoyed being pastor of Holmes United Methodist and at neighboring Beaver Creek and Trinity rural Lutheran churches, but after his experience in Northwood, he decided he would like to help people who are in the midst of difficult situations.
"I didn't mind being around when people were at the hospital or in their deathbeds or in a disaster."
Before he began his volunteer work in Northwood, Ellingson had begun taking classes in clinical pastoral education.
"They helped me to process what was going on here," he said.
About a year ago, Ellingson began working as a chaplain for Hospice of the Red River Valley, ministering to people in Grand Forks and northwest Minnesota. He finished his work as a church pastor at Holmes United Methodist Church this past July and moved with his wife, Betty, to Northwood.
As a hospice chaplain, Ellingson works as part of a hospice team, which also is made up of a nurse, certified nursing assistant and a social worker.
The chaplain's role is to help the person who is dying to find out what his or her source of spiritual strength is and then support him or her after they find it, he said. The hospice chaplain also provides spiritual support to the person's family.
Ellingson considers it a privilege to be part of the hospice team. People who are dying are void of pretenses and have many interesting stories to tell, he said.
"There are so many unique people in the world. I get invited into their lives at very personal and holy times."
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