Racing Reverend back in the news!

A Higher Calling

New residency program downtown prepares participants for careers in chaplaincy to provide more spiritual support for patients.

Following a surgery for pancreatic cancer, Carol S. learned that her pathology report that was less favorable than she had hoped. She told her caregivers she wanted to see a hospital chaplain — and that’s when she met the Rev. Randy Heinzeroth.He visited the 73-year-old patient in her room in Feinberg where they talked about her life, her faith and her diagnosis. “We prayed for healing, for strength and for recovery,” Rev. Heinzeroth says. “In times of suffering, many of us lean on our faith.”

Rev. Heinzeroth is one of five pastoral education residents in a new program on the downtown campus that trains future chaplains and benefits patients with additional staff available for spiritual support. As the program’s first year concludes in August, Pastoral Services prepares to welcome the next class of residents in September.

“It’s fairly typical for an academic medical center to have a clinical pastoral education, or CPE, residency program,” says Peter Strening, manager of Pastoral Services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “With residents on our team, we can provide more direct care to patients and their families.”

Pastoral care residents are considered members of the staff, explains the Rev. Mark Bradley, the staff chaplain who supervises the residency program. Assigned to areas where patients and families often request pastoral services — such as the Emergency Department, inpatient oncology and intensive care — they become part of the patient care team.

“Part of the curriculum is learning how to respond to people of different faith traditions,” Rev. Bradley says. “The great thing is that often these lessons are learned experientially. Our patients and their families become teachers of their own faith traditions.”

The five residents in the program’s inaugural year come from a variety of professional backgrounds and religious traditions. For example, the Rev. Allyson Talbert is a deacon in the United Methodist Church. Rev. Heinzeroth is a motor sports minister at the Byron Dragway near Rockford. But all share a common goal: to continue their pastoral education through the residency and potentially become full-time chaplains.

“After my church job was eliminated, I decided to see if chaplaincy was something I wanted to do,” Rev. Talbert says. “Many of the patients I see are dealing with end-of-life issues, but a lot of times, patients and I are laughing and joking. I hear about their families, their hopes and dreams. It’s not always dire, and that has been a real delight of the residency.”

Other members of the care team say the residents have been invaluable. For example, the ED frequently sees patients who request a chaplain, but the small, core group of staff chaplains isn’t always able to handle the volume, says Eileen Brassil, practice manager in the ED. With a resident chaplain assigned to the department, more patients can receive the personal, spiritual care they need.

After Rev. Heinzeroth’s initial visit with the patient being treated for pancreatic cancer, he came by her room the following day to see how she was feeling. Carol S., a registered nurse who teaches at a college in River Grove, told him about her family and how fortunate she felt to have met him when she did.

“I’ve built up my faith over the years,” she says. “But you’ve got to have someone to talk with who knows more than you.”

Weekday hospital chaplain, weekend racetrack reverend

Check out the publicity we continue to get from the Rockford Register Star! As a result, several churches have requested that I talk with them to see how they too can begin reaching out to people at the car shows and racetracks in order to show the love of Christ to the hot rod community. Please pray for our ministry to be a great resource for them as well as to possibly establish common support for one another.

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Weekday hospital chaplain, weekend racetrack rev

The Rev. Randy Heinzeroth is the resident chaplain

at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago during the week. But on weekends, he’s the reverend of the raceway at Byron Dragway.


The 42-year-old Rockford resident has been ministering at the track for the past eight years. He’s been associated the past three years with the Sanctuary of Speed Ministries, which provides services at several Midwest tracks.


“I pray with people,” he said. “A lot of people are going through tough times with things like cancer or divorce. People know they can pull me aside here and get some spiritual guidance.”


Heinzeroth also conducts a 20-minute Sunday morning service for the racers in front of his 38-foot travel trailer, which is always parking near the track’s entrance.


“We average about 40 people on Sundays.”


At the start of the racing day, Heinzeroth also delivers a prayer over the public address system, asking God to watch over the competitions.


And on certain days when the track’s staff has an early start and might have missed breakfast, Heinzeroth makes and distributes breakfast burritos.


“It doesn’t take much, but it fills a need and we are a need ministry.”


But being at the track is not just about his ministry: Heinzeroth competes in the Street division in his 1983 Monte Carlo Super Sport.


And last year, as a rookie, he won a race.

 Doug Goodman