Pastor Roger Nuerge, who is responsible for the spiritual care of residents at Concordia at Cabot, Concordia of Cranberry, Concordia at the Orchard, Concordia at Ridgewood Place and Concordia at Villa St. Joseph, is somewhat philosophical in his answer. “Life and ministry are so big that one can never learn it all, and it all keeps changing and staying the same at the same time,” he perceived. Having been a pastor for more than 40 years, he speaks from experience. “What challenges me is what I keep learning about myself as one gifted by God for ministry and forgiven by God for ministry at the same time.”
More specific about his challenge was Pastor Robert Wacker, fresh from the seminary in his second year at Concordia. He believes the generation gap causes misunderstanding in communication, but it is a cultural function that can’t be learned in a classroom. And it can be bridged only through God’s Word and His love for all, Pastor Wacker contends. Rev. Wacker has duties at Concordia at Cabot, Concordia of Franklin Park and Concordia of Wexford.
That generation gap, however, has some commonalities according to what Deaconess Pam Voorman has learned since she and her husband Rev. Duane Voorman arrived at Concordia in December 2016. She calls attention to the great deal of publicity about the rising numbers of individuals who claim no religious affiliation in America today. She said that while most of the concentration has been focused on millennials in this regard, what has been most surprising to her is the rising number of people expressing that sentiment in our elderly population. “Among both our residents and hospice patients, we frequently hear, ‘I used to belong to a church, but I haven’t gone in years.’” The answer is the same – the Gospel message is for all people, all the time.
The challenge for Rev. Ron Cox is more personal. His ministry has taken him to a diversity of locations. Adapting to new places and building relationships in each of those communities is a continual task. “I started as a pastor in small country churches in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota,” he explained. “My time as a Navy Chaplain brought me all over the U.S., including Hawaii as well as overseas to Japan, Korea, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Now since I joined Concordia I encounter senior and end-of-life issues as well as institutional ministry and the clinical aspects of caring for this population.”
He and Deaconess Carole King agree that dealing with a great amount of sickness and the dying process were not familiar to them before coming to Concordia. They have learned not only about those issues but also how to use the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to reach the most vulnerable. Pastor Cox cares for those who receive care at Concordia Hospice of Washington, Concordia at Rebecca Residence and Concordia of the South Hills.
Chaplain Charlie Lentner at Concordia at Sumner calls this challenge, “taking the bare substance of Faith and relating it to the modern world.”
Sometimes the darkest challenges hold the greatest gems of light. So what are the rewards of ministry to the chaplains and deaconesses at Concordia?
- Rev. Wacker said the reward doesn’t come in physical ways, but rather the reward is realizing the joy someone experiences when they hear and are reminded of the sweetness of God’s Gospel.
- Pastor Cox said his reward is that he gets to see that the Gospel really matters to many people – how it encourages them and gives them hope.
- Deaconess Pam is concise and forthright, “The joy is the honor and privilege to serve.”
- Pastor Nuerge said he is pleased to witness how God’s word comforts people in their struggles and losses and gives hope for what God has planned for them eternally.
- Seeing people light up in their beings when they know that they are loved by God provides Chaplain Charlie great satisfaction.
- Deaconess Carole concludes for the group that their reward is that they are permitted to serve so many here at Concordia.
Concordia’s Chaplaincy Department currently consists of nine full-time and nine part-time spiritual care workers. Its leader, Director of Chaplaincy Services Rev. Jack Hartman harkens back to Concordia’s Vision – Serving the Triune God by providing for the needs of His people. “We strive to care for each of our patients and residents in mind, body and spirit.”