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January 21, 2019

Long-time Beverly minister takes on new role
The Salem News

BEVERLY — For nearly 30 years, the Rev. Beth Loughhead ministered to the familiar flock at First Baptist Church in Beverly. She is still offering support and hope to people, but in a new role as a hospice chaplain for Care Dimensions.

Loughhead, 61, resigned from First Baptist Church earlier this month to take the job with the Danvers-based  agency. As one of the nonprofit's 18 chaplains, she will provide spiritual care and support for people in long-term care facilities and group homes.

The Salem News spoke with Loughhead about her long tenure at First Baptist and what's in store with her new role. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Why did you decide to leave the First Baptist Church?

I felt like the church itself was in a really healthy place and really poised to move into its next chapter, and so if ever there was going to be a time to do something different before I retired, this was the time. The church has an incredible history of community service, and it is so fulfilling and exciting to be part of that. It continues to put both its human and financial resources towards addressing human needs in the best way possible.

Why is the church in such good shape now?

We have a lot of new families in the church. Mainline Protestant churches don't always get to say that. We created what we call a "pray-ground" where we took out the first few rows of pews. It's got a bookshelf and some toys. Instead of "Kids, be quiet. We don't want to notice you," kids can be right up front. We wanted to be as welcoming to families as we can be. If you don't have the noise of little kids in the church, then there's not much future for the church.

What were some of the highlights of your 30 years there?

One of the things that I really felt good about in my ministry there was writing the first community development block grant proposal so we could open up a food pantry at the church. It went from that little food pantry in the basement of the church to Beverly Bootstraps Community Services and all that it does today.

There had been a couple of mission trips before I started, but once I got there we started doing them pretty much every other year. We've been from Alaska to Louisiana a couple of times after the hurricane; Montana, South Dakota, all around the country doing these mission trips. One of the unique parts of them is we make it so that children can be part of them. There was one time where we had a toddler and people in their 80s on the same trip.

If you asked me what was the most meaningful part of my work, it would be being with families as they faced illnesses, difficult diagnoses, terminal illness and death. Those are such tender and sacred and vulnerable moments, and to be invited into people's lives at those times was really incredible. It was a true privilege.

Is there anything you won't miss about being a church minister?

If I'm honest, sermon preparation is one of the things I was ready to be done with after 29 1/2 years. I was really committed to not being repetitive. Wednesdays was supposed to be my day off, but if I was preaching that week I would spend a lot of Wednesday doing research to try to come up with fresh materials or new ways to make a point about a passage of scripture. But I was also always amazed about how a passage of scripture would touch me in a different way and have a different message. 

What's been the hardest part about leaving?

When my letter of resignation went out, I came face to face with the fact that I was going to be breaking a lot of relationships. That's been the hardest part, saying good-bye to so many people who I've spent 29 1/2 years with — marrying, burying, walking through difficult times with them, celebrations, weddings. That shift in relationships of so many was hard.

How did you end up at Care Dimensions?

People from my congregation would be at the Kaplan House or receiving services from Care Dimensions at home, so I would meet chaplains or music therapists or nurses and was just very impressed by their compassionate treatment of not just the patient, but of the entire family. On a personal level, my mom ended up on service with Care Dimensions, so I also experienced it as a daughter and could not have been more impressed with the attention, the care, the compassion.

Tell me about your new job and what it entails.

What I've been very impressed about so far is how much orientation there is. This organization wants to make sure its staff knows what they're doing before sending us out into the world on our own. That has been very comforting to me. I feel pretty confident about being able to go and visit people who are in a long-term care facility.

But how you approach that as a hospice chaplain is different than how you do it as a local church pastor, because I will be relating to people of all faiths or no faith and learning their stories, hearing what their background is. After 29 years (at First Baptist), when I walked into a room I usually knew what that person had been through, how they had handled a loss in the past, or what losses they had. So this is all new.

Also, when I would walk into a situation with someone from my congregation, it was usually about offering them words of affirmation of a shared faith that we had. But I cannot assume that now, so it's helping that person be in touch with their own faith and how that faith can be helpful to them in this time. 

Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@gloucestertimes.com


Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 95 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.