Member Spotlight: The Rev. Rosemarie Newberry

The Rev. Rosemarie Newberry is one of the Division’s recently certified Spiritual Supports Professionals and also the Division’s representative to the Congress on Ministries in Specialized Settings (COMMISS), a collaborative network bringing pastoral care and counseling networks, faith groups that endorse chaplains, and others.


The Rev. Rosemarie Newberry is one of the Division’s recently certified Spiritual Supports Professionals and also the Division’s representative to the Congress on Ministries in Specialized Settings (COMMISS), a collaborative network bringing pastoral care and counseling networks, faith groups that endorse chaplains, and others.

The Rev. Rosemarie Newberry is the chaplain for the New Lisbon Developmental Center. NLDC, a New Jersey State residential facility founded in 1914, offers comprehensive services and training to approximately 400 persons with developmental disabilities. Located on 1,900 acres NLDC has more than 30 major buildings, 15 living units and 1,200 employees. It is one of 5 remaining developmental centers in NJ.

As a chaplain Rosemarie provides a wide variety of services: memorial services, funerals and burial rites, bereavement, emotional and spiritual counseling, spiritual assessments, chaplain discharge notes, personal requests documentation (what the person wishes to happen to their body and personal effects after their death, non-binding), chaplain chats in residential units, support the Bible Study Club. Rosemarie does not teach doctrine, so she does not provide Sunday services nor lead any religious education classes.

If the above sounds so dry, Rosemarie believes she has the best job on the planet. One great thing is that she has long-term relationship with the residents, since she has been working at NLDC for 8 years. This affords the opportunity to know people’s likes and dislikes, history and have many shared experiences together. Every day is a delight, because one never knows what might happen. There are many planned activities at NLDC, and sometimes it is the unplanned activities that are the more meaningful. Here are just a few examples of peeking into her day.

Last New Year’s Eve, Rosemarie was leading one of her “chaplain chats” groups. (Chaplain Chats are mostly check in, prayer, hymn sing and discussion of a reading or Bible quote. The goal of Chaplain Chats is to develop common human values: generosity, gratitude, love, friendship, etc.) The discussion that day was obviously was about what people do on New Year’s Eve. She ended up teaching about “resolutions,” since the participants had no knowledge of the meaning of word or that it was a traditional thing done on that day. They knew about the ball drop, the fireworks and a few knew “Auld Lang Syne”. Resolutions were new to them. Developing a definition on the fly and working with each person to develop their New Year’s resolution required quick thinking and patience. In the end, the group came up with resolutions about eating healthier, praying more, exercising more and walking away when you get angry. Steven took it to heart and quit eating cakes, cookies, candy and ice cream. He has lost some significant weight, so that now he needs new pants and a new belt. Rosemarie gave up ice cream for Lent and hasn’t been so successful.

NLDC has BINGO every Friday night in their community center. The winnings can be from $3-$18. It is exciting, fun and brings together the various living units. There are several residents that can walk around the campus without staff supervision. Unfortunately, they do not know their numbers, so they need an aide. A group of men appreciate it when Rosemarie is there and able to help them play BINGO. She points and they mark the spot. Several have won the jackpot ($18) when she has helped them. One person calls her “Lady Luck” and likes to shake her hand each time he sees her – for luck. BINGO is more than the game, the taunting, the laughter. It’s about relationships. One resident, who is a consistent BINGO player, unfortunately now has terminal cancer. That doesn’t stop his face from lighting up when he sees Rosemarie. That BINGO relationship has been helpful, when she has visited him in the hospital and will be helpful during his final days.

Rosemarie does a walk and talk with some of the folks. During one of those Robert asked about where he was going to be buried and if she would be presiding over the funeral. He stated that he wanted to be buried at NLDC (there is a cemetery on site). Another man, while she was visiting his residential unit stated that he wanted to be cremated and that a particular person should have his ashes. And when Fred was declining, Rosemarie asked him if he would be OK with being buried on site, since there might not be enough funds to have him buried where his relatives are buried. He said that was OK, and that is where he is buried.

Several residents attended Rosemarie’s ordination. What an honor to have them there in 2008. Several talk about how great the food was and how they want to go again. Rosemarie has hosted a group to her church to sing songs during services that she leads. It is a blessing for all.

The staff person that leads the Bible Study Club (active now for 15 years) says that he doesn’t understand why the residents like Rosemarie so much. That is an easy one. She values them as human beings, listen to them no matter, always lets them say “no” to speaking with her, and she has fun with them.

Some frequent questions asked by the residents are: Will you be there? Where were you? and Did you see me? With long-term relationships, there are expectations for sharing the events of our lives. Rosemarie attends picnics, talent shows, volleyball, basketball, softball games, dances, trips to church fairs, and many other events. A chaplain blesses an event, just by showing up. She has become a part of their lives, seeing them in their home, at their work and at their leisure activities. A chaplain is not just about providing religious services. It is about sharing moments; from the mundane to the significant. It is about laughter and tears. It is about listening, love and deep gratitude.

The Rev. Rosemarie is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, a representative to COMISS for AAIDD/R&S Division, a member of Unitarian Universalist’s Equual Access, NJ certified Disaster Recovery Crisis Councilor and Chaplain, and also a member of the board of New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Ministries (not functioning at this time, but we have high hopes). In addition to working for NLDC, she is a chaplain for Season Hospice and Palliative Care, Hamilton, NJ. She lives in Shrewsbury NJ with her daughter Danielle and her 75-pound American Bulldog Jax.

(Member Spotlight: A new newsletter feature. If you would like to write on your own ministry, contact Shelly Christensen, President of the Division)

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