Louise Britts on parish ministry, chaplaincy, knowing God’s love
Louise Britts (2002, MDiv) couldn’t figure out why a team of doctors and nurses and her own father were talking to her “down there on that table” when it was clear that she was above them, in a place of perfect serenity, surrounded by God’s love. She was vaguely aware that she had coded. She saw the medical team working on her. She saw her father crying, “You can’t go now! I’m not ready for you to go!” And then, as she remembers, “Zhoom. I was back in my body.” The infection that had almost taken her life had given Britts something else: an opportunity to reaffirm what she already knew to be true about divine love, God, and the nature of life.
It was the second time in her life she had found herself, as she says, “surrounded by a blanket of love and care and wonder.” And after that experience, she says, “I knew from then on life was going to be OK.” What’s more, she dedicated her life to ensuring that other people know that too.
LSTC is awarding her the “Excellence in Parish Ministry” Award during LSTC’s Homecoming, but her vocation has also included chaplaincy. In both practices, Britts encourages and mentors other faith leaders to reach out into their communities, foster community in faith, and, as she says, “actually see the kingdom of God breaking in” to people’s lives.
Britts’ first taste of how crucial it is to have a supportive community came when she transferred to LSTC for her MDiv, after first having been enrolled in a different seminary where people actually got up and moved to another seat in the classroom rather than sit next to a Black woman. Her experience at LSTC could not have been more different.
“It was the best year of my life,” she recalls—learning in a community where diversity is celebrated. “I loved listening to all the different voices. We had people who were Black, Hispanic, Muslim…” she trails off, but the memory of intersectionality in practice and inclusivity in action makes her smile.
That experience was transformative. So too was her experience doing Clinical Pastoral Education in Kennewick, Wash., where she was assigned to the hospice house. “Hospice is my heart,” Britts says fondly. “The minute I got to the hospice house I thought, ‘I know this is me.’” For someone who self-identifies as a natural caretaker and who has experienced firsthand that there is nothing to fear from death, Britts felt at home. That experience drew her to a bi-vocational professional practice that has always included hospice alongside parish ministry.
Today, Britts works as pastor emeritus at Messiah Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and as a swat supervisor/hospice chaplain at Optage Hospice in Roseville, Minn. Though the work at Messiah and Optage may seem significantly different, one core element is largely the same: walking alongside people in a beloved community, assuring them that they can, as she says, “trust in God’s providence and God’s care and in God bringing God’s miracles for things to happen.” For Britts, building community is foundational to the expression of faith, because, as she says, “I actually see God’s grace rain down. I see God’s miracles. I can name God’s miracles, so I know that God is.”
To those contemplating ministry, Britts has some advice: “Develop a keen spiritual life so that you can hear God calling you and see God working through you. But also, always develop community around you. Find a group of peers who can support you. We were meant to do this with people.”
By Rhiannon Koehler, a writer, editor and content director in Chicago.