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Pastor Appreciation Month 2019: How Concordia Chaplaincy Staff Touches Lives

October 22, 2019

The month of October ushers in the brilliant hues of autumn, the anticipation of the coming holidays, warm sunny days and cool moonlit nights, pumpkin flavored lattes and our favorite sweaters, so much about life we appreciate.

At Concordia, the month also reminds us to recognize a special group of caregivers who look after the spiritual needs of our residents. October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and who better to tell their story than those who receive the fruits of their labor.

Deaconess intern Sara welcome 2019Concordia of the South Hills resident Miriam Kelly believes it’s great to have a pastor in her home. Currently, Miriam is in the short-term rehabilitation unit after suffering from an unfortunate fall.

“Every week now Pastor Cox prays with me and talks to me about our faith and walking with the Lord,” she said. “He has a gentleness and kindness that’s calming.”

The native of Mt. Lebanon finds much comfort in having someone here who she can call on. A former professor at Point Park College, she taught voice and speech and performed in Europe.  She has found that her life’s career has a place at Concordia playing the piano and singing in the newly formed choir. She leads the weekly hymn sing and has uncovered the rewards that hymns offer those who reside in the memory care unit.  

Miriam calls the chaplaincy department “a wonderful Christian opportunity that provides solace and contentment even for those who aren’t Christians.”

 “This is my church now,” Doris McMahon-Bassett tells everyone. Originally from Apollo, she arrived at Haven I two years ago after living most of her married life in Johnstown. “It’s wonderful here,” she said.  I don’t drive, I don’t have a car, I don’t have a husband, so having services right here in the chapel makes it so convenient. It gives me a feeling of home where I could walk to church.”

Her daughter is a nurse at the Lund Care Center and lives in Sarver, so Concordia was an obvious choice for Doris once her husband passed away. Doris knew that if she couldn’t stay in Johnstown, it was time to come back to her roots, and Concordia was the best place for her.

She first met Deaconess Carole King at Bible Study on Wednesday mornings. “We are studying the Book of Matthew,” she explained. She enjoys the regular hymn sings and tries to attend regularly each week.  

“I just had a knee replacement and the pastors were always available,” she noted.

Vonnie-Kay Brough, a resident at Concordia at Rebecca Residence, has met most of the chaplains and deaconesses at Concordia. She is a professional storyteller and besides her career as an elementary school teacher, served as a parish visitor for a Presbyterian church.

Born into a Baptist family in Ellwood City, Vonnie is a victim of spinal stenosis. After an intensive medical journey, she was determined to walk again. She chose Concordia at Rebecca Residence since her son lives nearby in West Deer Township and she liked what she saw.  

“This place is lovely and there’s nothing the staff won’t do for you,” she said.

But this woman of faith admits she fell apart once she arrived.

“If it hadn’t been for Chaplain Bob Wacker who sat by my bed, I am not sure I would still be here. He didn’t preach but just held my hand for three days. He saved my life.”  

“Now,” she continued, “every time he is in this building, he comes to see me. You will never know how much it meant to me.”

The 81-year old widow who met her husband of 53 years at church while they were attending Slippery Rock State College (now SRU) faithfully attended the Bible study led by Deaconess Heather Wathall.

“No one is like Heather,” she said.” “Her Bible study is a hoot.”  When her brother and his wife came to visit from Harrisburg, she even invited them to attend the class she was so impressed with her style.

But Vonnie was still asking God why she was unable to walk and she was resolute in her search for an answer. For years she was told her stenosis was inoperable, but Vonnie still had hope and discovered a surgeon who was known for his work with her symptoms.  

“I had 50 staples in my back, more therapy and a healing time of a year or more,” she said after her surgery.

She returned to Rebecca personal care and met Deaconess Carole King at the summer carnival. She continued her Bible Study participation with Carole and Deaconess Intern Sara Scungio. Currently she is busy creating a kitchen praise and worship band with other residents. She has convinced the administrator to purchase kazoos for all who are interested and she’s added a tambourine and cow bells.

Vonnie also talks about her adoration of Pastor Hartman who preaches a Tuesday afternoon worship service she enjoys.

“I am not much of a morning person, so chapel time with him was perfect,” she said. “He is a barrel of chuckles and that voice of his – well, I love to sing along with him.”

Chaplain Ron Cox has been a special blessing to her during this last stay at Rebecca. He has gone out of his way to visit her and has actually been the catalyst to building a new friendship with a bedridden resident who is in skilled nursing there.   

Just the mention of the Deaconess Pam Voorman to Sister Genevieve Martinek elicits an instant reply: “I love her; she’s wonderful,” the resident of Concordia at Villa St. Joseph answered.

Two years ago she moved to the Villa after working with individuals with intellectual disabilities for 30 years. She was sick with the flu and fell in her apartment in Ebensburg.  

“I wouldn’t miss Thursday Bible study if I was on my deathbed,” Sister Genevieve said.  “(Deaconess Pam’s) interactions make you come alive. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love her.”

Cleone Schultz has been a resident at Concordia at Ridgewood Place for the past six years.  She lived for 17 years in her home in Logan’s Ferry Heights after her husband passed away.  She is a diabetic and her health problems brought her to Concordia.  

“My sister-in-law and a close friend lived here and they were happy,” she said.  Her two daughters also live I the area and get her to Sunday worship each week.

Still a member of First United Methodist Church in New Kensington where she was raised, Cleone met Pastor Nuerge at Concordia. “He is just wonderful,” she said. “I get so much out of his services.”

She especially likes that he greets everyone and makes them feel welcome. “And if I miss a Thursday service he knows I am not there.”

Concordia’s Chaplaincy staff also includes Reverends David Haara, Charles Lentner, Ben Oesterling,  Dan Strussenberg and Duane Voorman; Sisters Janice Campbell, Bernadette Carlow and Mary Clark; Anthony Giammarco and Linda Scrofani.

Our Concordia spiritual care family also includes our member churches and the leadership of those pastors – Pastors Andrae, Ash, Berteau, Bickel, Breight, Gandy, Grimenstein, Greenway, Hahn, Hardy, Keurulainen, Kuntz, Litke, Loree, McCanless, McCants, Niermann, D. Oester, J. Oester, Panzigrau, Ruppert, Schmidt, Schumacher, Seaver, Spittel, Walters, Week and Westgate. Concordia’s work is the fruit of their faith.  

The Lord has made them such great partners in His service, combining each of their unique gifts to form a strong and vital ministry. This month, we recognize them and thank them for all that they do individually and together to share His love and spread the Good News.  

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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