Farm to Faith
By Gary VanDeWalker
Meet Mercy Mount Shasta's Chaplain, Ray HorstStory by Gary VanDeWalker Photo by Taryn Burkleo
Beneath the snowy peaks of Colorado, a young boy moved his tractor over farm fields, transforming them for harvest. But Ray Horst’s childhood ambition to be a farmer changed directions. Today, he works in the shadow of the snow-capped Cascades, walking the corridors of Mercy Medical Center of Mount Shasta as chaplain.
“I was born and raised on a farm,” Horst says. “I never planned to go to college or leave the farm.” But others saw more in the young farm boy and began to push him in other directions. “Others knew I could be more outgoing,” he says. “I became a judge at a Future Farmers of America event. Next I found myself in college, and then in Germany serving with the military.”
The speakers overhead come to life in the hospital as Horst says the morning prayer. His duties will take him throughout the community in a day. He will make rounds to encourage patients, interface with staff and provide transportation. He even takes time to build a ramp to help a patient who needs better access into her home. With a contagious enthusiasm, Horst touches lives.
“I returned from Germany, no longer a farm boy,” Horst says. His time off touring eight European countries gained him a larger view of the world. An FFA teacher encouraged him to be involved with Youth for Christ, leading to seminary and a church plant in Nebraska. In 1985, the Evangelical Free Church in Northern California called him to serve, and Horst moved his family to Mount Shasta.
In 2005, Horst served on the advisory board of the hospital. Three part-time chaplains covered the hospital and a vacancy opened. Horst volunteered, received training, and began working 10 hours a week. His hours grew. He went to additional training at Rogue Valley Medical in Medford. As his skill and personality began to show exceptional abilities, his job became full-time.
“My job as chaplain is different from most chaplains,” Horst says. “I recognized there were many other needs I could meet and created a niche for myself using my gifts.” Horst leads financial counseling seminars, counsels the dying, phones distressed patients and even leads memorial services. His hours are anytime and anywhere. When called at odd hours for emergencies, his response is always, “I’ll be there.”
“We are a spiritually based hospital, with the goal of treating the whole person,” Horst says. “I’m able to listen patients, communicate with their doctors and make sure people are heard.”
Talk to anyone who works with the chaplain and they will tell you he brings a unique atmosphere to the hospital. He sings in a barbershop quartet, singing for patients on Valentine’s Day. He rides motorcycles with the Christian Motorcycle Association. He finds places for pets, hotel rooms for travelers and counsels staff whenever they need him.
The farm boy has never disappeared. In his yard are three antique tractors Horst has restored. During his training at Rogue Valley, he met an instructor who owned farm land. “I lease 600 acres in Tulelake and grow oats and barley. It’s my spring vacation,” Horst says.
The chaplain instigates smiles and exhibits a can-do attitude and a deep spirituality that brings comfort and reassures. The boy who once plowed fields now tills the soils of hearts. Sister Anne Chester, who oversees Horst, says, “If all of us had the same attitude, we would transform the world.”