Clergy Appreciation Month 2020: How Spiritual Care Looks Different During the Pandemic

Clergy App Month 2020

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” – I Timothy 5:17 ESV

The second Sunday of October is set aside to remind us to recognize the work of our pastors and deaconesses at Concordia as well as those who serve in the ministry of our member churches. The national day also falls in National Clergy Month, which is observed each October. Although the observance officially began in 1992, the concept could be found in St. Paul’s letters to Timothy and the people of Thessalonica.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than ever before, Concordia Lutheran Ministries gives thanks for our spiritual leadership as they have adapted and created new ways to bring the Gospel to the Concordia family.  Director of Concordia’s Chaplaincy Services, Rev. Jack Hartman noted, “There’s not enough praise for the beautiful way everyone has been working together.”

Scheduling, finding new places to conduct services and Bible studies, increasing visits and calls, wearing masks when preaching and teaching, learning how to use social media to facilitate online services – flexibility has become fundamental to the chaplaincy department.

Deaconess Pam Voorman talked about what that looks like. “In place of one gathering, I have shared Bible study in several smaller groups at our facilities. We have changed times, locations and length BUT we still are allowed to be present,” she emphasized. “Over and over I hear from residents, ‘Oh! You still get to come!’”

In times that have prevented residents and loved ones from visiting, the continued presence of the pastoral staff has been a great blessing.

Recently commissioned Deaconess Sara Scungio detailed a similar situation. Originally, Bible study at Lund Care Center’s Skilled Nursing facility was held in one of the corner lounges using the lounge TV to give everyone a visual. Her solution to the shut down was to follow the protocol for worship services – meet in the larger space of the dining room to allow for social distancing with the closed doors so residents can understand her through the mask.

“In the corner lounge, I was only reaching residents on one hall,” she said. “I’ve switched my Bible study around because now I am working with different groups from week to week.”

Providing spiritual care for residents and staff meant donning extra PPE and learning new ways of connecting with isolated residents who all of a sudden only saw people in masks, gowns and gloves. Deaconess Heather Wathall reworked her Bible studies on select Psalms and made them into devotional packets to be delivered with meal trays to the residents’ rooms.

Bible study at Highpointe at Rebecca in Allison Park utilized Zoom video conferencing and connected with one couple living in Florida. A new initiative that was born of the success of this Highpointe Bible study is a Bible study opportunity open to the public. Deaconess Heather meets with this group on Tuesdays at 10 a.m.

Rev. Larry Loree, who began to serve the residents at Concordia Lutheran Ministries on a part-time basis this past March, sees a lot of positives during this time. He loves the pure ministry aspect of the chaplaincy work.

“Sharing Jesus, talking with people in front of me – it’s fantastic and confirms my calling,” he said.

On the other hand, Chaplain Ron Cox revealed the ramifications that unforeseen stress can cause.  

“In my former life as a Navy Chaplain, I always felt prepared for the hardships of deployments and other military commitments because of the support, resources and constant training that was provided,” Chaplain Cox said.

He came to Concordia carrying a sense that anything he now faced would be a piece of cake.

”The pandemic had so many unknowns it just goes to show we never know what life holds and where the Lord will lead us,” he said.

Rev. Roger Nuerge has pastored since 1974. One of the remarkable changes he has experienced is the increase in the number of worship services – from 30 to 50.  

“Sometimes we worshiped in the hallways and invited the people to come outside their room and join us,” he said. “We ended up having more people attend that way than in our chapel and worship centers.”

He compared the circumstances to St. Paul’s experience when he was in prison. He proclaimed Christ as Lord and prisoners and guards and others came to Christ.

“It looks like God has used this pandemic to help us proclaim Christ to more of our residents than before. Paul had chains and a prison cell to deal with, we have had a pandemic and social distancing to deal with, but in both of these cases more people have come to hear about Jesus and given him glory,” he said.

The celebration of Easter was Rev. Robert Wacker’s greatest challenge. He met this challenge at Franklin Park and Wexford by singing in the hallways – a new venue that was so well received that it has become part of their Sunday routine.

Concordia Visiting Nurses Spiritual Care Director Pastor Ben Oesterling explained how the agency adapted to the changes caused by the pandemic.

“Concordia Visiting Nurses initially moved to a temporary phone visit system since people were uncomfortable allowing even family into their homes,” he said. “We attempted to call every patient in each territory every week to check on them and offer them a chance to talk.”

Chaplain Duane Voorman used an identical practice, phoning patients and reaching out to their families to spend time in prayer and conversation.  

Additionally, Pastor Ben realized that the added burdens and apprehension from the pandemic caused both the office and field staff to be overwhelmed at times.

He created office time for each field chaplain, with the hope of having a calming spiritual presence in each CVN office as well as to provide someone right there to talk to when needed.

This month, we recognize our chaplaincy staff members and thank them for all they do to share the Lord’s love with our residents, patients and staff each day. 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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