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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Pastor does ministries through accompanying people

by Kaye Hult

Grant MacLean worked for justice most of his life, beginning with helping at a Chicago family center with his high school youth group and culminating in his role as spiritual care coordinator with Hospice of North Idaho (HONI) in Hayden.

Grant Maclean
Grant MacLean retires soon from Hospice of North Idaho

He will retire from HONI on Nov. 1.

For Grant, his calling to justice through the Peace Corps, seminary studies, a church in Mendocino, Calif., Faith Presbyterian in Hayden, ecumenical involvement and in hospice ministry has been about accompanying people along their way in life.

He has ministered in the Hayden area since he came in 1984 to serve Faith Presbyterian Church, a church that started in 1980.

When Grant arrived, they were meeting in Yates Funeral Home in Hayden.  He soon befriended Bob Newcomb, pastor at St Mark’s Lutheran Church, and they began discussing having the two churches share a building.

In keeping with Grant’s focus on accompaniment, the two congregations asked Richard Caemmerer, director of Grunewald Guild near Leavenworth, Wash., to design a building for them.  They hammered out bylaws and understandings about finances.  They created Hayden United Ministries, the entity that built and maintained the new church building.

The project forced them to think theologically and practically.  One example was whether to use a Presbyterian communion table, which was lower, or a Lutheran altar.  They compromised on a “taltar,” which stands midway in height.

For more than 20 years, the congregations were enriched by their theologies, traditions and friendship.  Grant collaborated with several pastors of St Mark’s Church over those years.

During a 1999 sabbatical, he earned a doctor of ministry degree at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, writing a dissertation on evangelism as a two-way conversation. 

He said Christianity is always affected by the culture to which it is being offered, because the Gospel is incarnated in a shared conversation between Christian and non-Christian cultures. 

“It fits with my commitment to accompaniment.  Evangelical models in Christian scriptures are about people who met people along the way and offered, but did not impose their faith as they traveled together,” he said.

His involvement with the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest’s partnership with the K’ekchi Presbytery in Guatemala in three visits from 1998 to 2004 was modeled on that approach as he found how “Mayan indigenous spiritual strands inspired North American postmodern Christians.”

His ministry of accompaniment in North Idaho developed further through his friendship with Fr. Bill Wassmuth, the priest at St Pius Catholic Church.

When the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations was formed, Bill became its director.  Grant became the person victims of prejudice came to for support.

While police dealt with property damage and assaults, Grant supported victims of malicious harassment in their isolation.  He let them know the task force and neighbors were committed to their safety.

“It was mostly moral support, someone to listen to their story, support them in their feelings and let them know they were not alone,” Grant said.  “The task force provided legal support by developing a malicious harassment law to address the sorts of intimidation that people of color were subjected to by Aryan Nations members and those who identified with them.”

Bill’s sister, Sr. Carol Ann Wassmuth, facilitated an ecumenical association until she returned to the Monastery of St Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho.

“We shared CROP walks.  We had a Good Friday walk through town that ended in a service at a downtown church.  On Christian Unity Sunday, we would swap pulpits,” Grant said.

Through Bill, Grant also became involved with Hospice of North Idaho (HONI) as a volunteer.  In the 1990s, he was on the board of directors for four years.

In 2005, executive director Paul Weil asked him to become HONI’s spiritual care coordinator.  Grant said no.  He still felt he had ministry to do with Faith Church.

In 2007, he said yes.  Knowing staff from serving as a volunteer made the transition into hospice work easy and rewarding.

Grant sees hospice ministry as three-tiered: direct care with patients and families, support of staff and support to the community through workshops, filling pulpits and the network of friendships he developed.

Those friendships have included pastoral relations with area churches, worshiping in different settings, interacting with pastors with viewpoints different from his and accompanying them in their ministries and helping them learn to accompany those in hospice.

When patients don’t identify with religious language or are unable to express their spiritual needs, he walks beside them through music.  He helped create HONI Singers, a group who sing at clients’ bedsides and in assisted-living facilities.

Grant considers his overall ministry in Hayden an extension of his call to do justice, even though he followed his Chicago mentor’s advice to express that call in counseling rather than organizing.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in California in 1967, he chose the Peace Corps over going to Viet Nam and spent 14 months from 1967 to 1968 in northeastern Brazil doing rural community development in a town of 10,000.

“It was a place with cotton and cattle that had a drought every seven years.  The young people left to go to the cities,” he said.

Grant was assigned to accompany the people in a favela-—shanty town—by helping them find a project that would encourage them to work together. 

There were nearly 80 houses and families, he said. People had few skills.  For water, they sent their boys with donkeys to an irrigation ditch two miles away.  The water was not clean.  Many became ill from drinking it.

They decided to petition the mayor to extend city water lines to their favela. 

“Going to the mayor was huge,” Grant said. “The mayor stalled, saying he would help after the next election, but a corporation happened to build a development on the other side of the favela, so the city had to bring water and power through it, and they put in a water spigot.

Grant offered to teach English if the school district would add a sixth grade teacher at the favela’s one-room schoolhouse.  Until then, most children studied only through the fourth grade.

When a Peace Corps friend in Brazil was drafted into the military, Grant enrolled at McCormick Seminary in Chicago, a Presbyterian school, married and began studies in January 1969.

During seminary, Grant studied again in Latin America, as well as interning as a counselor at a family service and mental health center in Chicago.  He continued his interest in Latin America.

After graduating with a master of divinity degree in pastoral counseling in 1972, Grant, his wife and another couple decided to start a camp in rural California to provide respite for inner city children and their parents.

In 1976, they moved onto the undeveloped land.  Grant asked a church in Mendocino to help support their work by hiring him.  Ordained in that church in 1978, he practiced his ministry of accompaniment through leading Bible studies and a youth group, plus providing a ministry of hospitality to people passing through.  The senior minister was skilled at bringing together people with long hair and bare feet singing Jesus songs and older women in their pillbox hats.

“It was a wonderful mix of culture, generations and faith styles,” he said.

Reflecting on his ministry of accompaniment with HONI, Grant said hospice is peace and justice work in that it encourages and supports those who have been marginalized by the label, “terminal.”

As spiritual care coordinator, he has not imposed his faith, but encouraged people struggling with end-of-life concerns to know that they are not alone as they come to terms with their death, and that there may well be something yet for them to teach or contribute.

“I listen as they dig into their past, their history and their memories to locate something that provides meaning.  Sometimes it’s faith in a religious sense, and often it’s a profound gratitude for the gift of time,” he said.

Sometimes dementia, a stroke or anxiety impedes that reflection, so he may ask what song or hymn they would like to hear him sing to connect them with meaning.

Modeling his theme of accompaniment, when Grant signs his correspondence, he says, “With you on the way.”

For information on Hospice of North Idaho, call 208-772-7994 or visit

Copyright © October 2013 - The Fig Tree