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Clergy Appreciation Month 2021: Concordia’s Current Chaplaincy Staff Reflects on Concordia History

October 12, 2021

With this being Clergy Appreciation Month during Concordia’s 140th Anniversary year, we wanted to take a look at our history through the lens of our Chaplaincy Department. This month especially, we recognize our spiritual care staff members and thank them for all they do to share the Lord’s love with our residents, patients and staff each day. Enjoy!

A century plus four decades – that’s a whole lot of history – a history that was initiated by pastors searching for a solution to care for children who had lost one or both parents. An orphanage was the obvious remedy, but “where” and “how” were the questions that troubled the Evangelical Lutheran churches located in Pittsburgh. That answer came through a couple who deeded their farm in Marwood to pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Synod of Pennsylvania and Other States - a document that included provisions for the care of “aged and indigent men and women.”

Clergy Appreciation 2021 2Throughout these 140 years, Concordia’s foundation was built on the faith of these eight pastors that God would provide and the love of Jesus would prevail. They saw a need and trusted that the Almighty would answer it, even if they, in their human weakness, could not see how.

The first orphanage superintendents were pastors (Henquist and Detzer) each serving less than a year until the 1930s, when, under the leadership of Rev. Christopher Merkel, men’s and women’s cottages were built for seniors – a decision inspired by God, since by the 1950s, no applications would be received for entrance by orphans.

The 1950s ushered in significant changes for the Home under the leadership of Rev. Herbert Neitzel who, unlike his predecessors, was trained and well prepared for his role. He would be the last pastor/superintendent.

“You could say that Concordia’s history is all about problems,” observed Pastor Roger Nuerge, who has been part of the Concordia chaplaincy group since 2009. “Concordia has encountered and solved many problems since its inception.”

But the real story is about God, Pastor Nuerge reminds us. God has never taken his eye off Concordia. God blessed Concordia with people who not only experienced the problems but faced them with faith and perseverance – especially its chaplaincy staff.

Two current members of the department are Deaconess Pam Voorman and her husband, Rev. Duane Voorman, who were installed in early 2017. When reflecting on Concordia’s 140 years of history, her thoughts went immediately to two of her favorite chapters in the New Testament – Hebrews, chapters 11 and 12.

“Concordia has added to the list in Hebrews 11 of saints who ‘by faith’ have followed and trusted God,” Deaconess Voorman said. “It is truly only ‘by faith’ that all God’s servants before us and all who will follow after us can fulfill the calling to ‘serve the least of these.’”

She sees not only the faithful caring but the challenges, and calls on Hebrews 12:1,2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Chaplain Ron Cox recognized the legacy “the Concordia fathers of the past” demonstrated – they literally showed the true religion mentioned in the Epistle of James - “caring for orphans and widows.” In his words, “As we celebrate Concordia Lutheran Ministries 140th Anniversary, we share a bond of kinship that binds generation to generation.” 

Beginning his ministry in 2018, Pastor Cox covers Concordia Hospice of Washington, Monroeville and South Hills.

“Caring is not a quick project,” according to Zoe Huelsman, a deaconess intern at Concordia who is also a staff member for PALM (Pittsburgh Area Lutheran Ministries). “While it can be given in individual moments of kindness, it is a long-term undertaking.”

Concordia’s extensive history shows a sustained commitment to caring for people for the long haul. This legacy of caring energizes the way the Chaplaincy staff engages with people today and tomorrow.

“We are able take the long view as we consider how to best shepherd those in our care,” Deaconess Intern Huelsman explained.

Chaplain Robert Wacker, installed in 2017 from Concordia seminary, said, “It provides daily inspiration to me knowing that I am part of a long line of pastors who have served the people living in Concordia’s care by bringing them Jesus.”

As Pastor Wacker walks the halls visiting residents, staff and families, he tells of Jesus - in His Word, the Sacraments, prayer, blessing, anointing, teaching and Worship.

“When I first started here at Concordia, my eldest son had asked what I did, as I was not going to a church as a Pastor normally would,” Pastor Wacker said. “My answer to him was simple: ‘I am bringing the people at Concordia Jesus.’”

Deaconess Sara Scungio expounds on that “simple” answer and the core of the work of the chaplaincy staff. While much has changed since the 1880s, there is one constant that will never change: Jesus.

We can all hang onto our Lord’s promises when times are changing and we need that extra boost of love, joy, peace, hope and comfort - promises that Concordia’s chaplaincy team continues to repeat to those they serve.

“I’m sure many of the orphans and elderly throughout Concordia’s history felt fear, loneliness, and despair at some point, but pastors were there to reiterate to them that they were never alone, that there was hope and joy to come, far greater than could ever be imagined,” said Deaconess Scungio, who completed her internship and was installed last summer.

She continued, “We still address these feelings today, and we still remind others, and even ourselves along the way, that we cling to the hope we have in the resurrection.”

Pastor Adam Salinas, the newest pastor on the Chaplaincy staff, came on board last month and is magnetized by the family feel of Concordia.

“I love being a chaplain here, surrounded by people who love and care for one another, looking out for one another,” Pastor Salinas said. “It’s a place where all can come and feel welcomed and treated as part of the family. It is a place of caring, healing and a place where people feel comfortable. It is a place where people rejoice and celebrate together in receiving God’s loving and gracious gifts in Word and Sacrament. It is a place where we come together in celebrating the gift of eternal life in heaven that God has given to us through His Son Jesus Christ. It is a place where love is put into action and that action continues throughout all of the facilities as you see the smiles on the faces of staff and residents. We truly are a family here in this place bounded together by the greatest gift of all, which is love.”

Concordia’s longest-tenured deaconess, Deaconess Heather Wathall, appreciates how the governance structure of Concordia has endured nearly a century and a half.

“CLM maintains its ties to member congregations and draws board members from them. So many ministries following this model have not survived,” she said.

She sees her ministry as an extension of the love and care shown by the member congregations, beginning with the founders.

“I’ve loved the stories of families taking the train up to Marwood from Pittsburgh with picnic food and gifts for the orphans and residents,” Deaconess Wathall said. “I’ve heard of the ladies’ groups in church basements making bed pads for use with nursing patients.”

And still today she revels with gratitude as every resident is ‘adopted’ at Christmas.

“Here I am as hands and voice, feet and heart, called to continue that work of our Lord’s mercy and Gospel,” she said. “It’s a humbling thought that our God has counted me worthy to stand in this line behind names like Oertel and Gehr (whom I haven’t known this side of eternity), as well as Schwalm and Blankenbuehler (two ladies I had the privilege of knowing in their later years).”

Referring to 3 John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear my children are walking in the truth,” Pastor Cox reminds us that “in each age we share the truth of salvation with our service to His kingdom and love for one another. It is an honor to keep on the path Lutheran pastors began and supported through many years, and to see the ways that Concordia continues to grow its ministry.”

“As Concordia chaplains, it’s our turn today to be steadfast in the truth of Christ for the care of others,” said Rev. Jack Hartman, Director of Chaplaincy Services for 20 years.

“May our heritage as Lutherans confessing Christ in the world, continue to guide all our care and life together until that day when all generations of the church will be gathered together in our eternal home,” he prayed.

To learn more about Concordia’s Mission, Vision and Values, visit the About section of our website. You can also message us through our contact form or call our administrative headquarters at 724-352-1571.

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