“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,”– Philippians 1:3-5
Is it a coincidence that National Clergy Appreciation Month occurs during October – the same month that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation that forever changed Christianity?
Each October, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), as well as churches across the nation, celebrate Clergy and Church Worker Appreciation Month. Congregations and school communities are encouraged to use the month of October to demonstrate appreciation not only for their pastors but for all workers in the parish and schools. The LCMS alone has 14,647 faithful church workers.
Concordia Lutheran Ministries’ nine chaplains and three deaconesses faithfully share God’s truth and love, in tandem with 25 pastors and two vicars from our member churches.
In honor of this special observance, we asked them what set of circumstances led them to this calling; the “aha” moment in their journey to the ministry.
“The Lord chose me when I sat in a hospital with my dying father and listened to him wonder what would happen to him when he died,” he reminisced.
Concordia Director of Chaplaincy Services Rev. Jack Hartman came to the organization in 1996 at a time when just three chaplains worked together to meet the collective spiritual needs of residents, their families and staff members as well. He had previously been a Navy chaplain and spent much of his military career in Greece.
Chaplain Hartman explained that his father was a lifelong agnostic. In his final days, he saw his father move from fear to confidence through the words of a pastor who relayed Christ’s love to him: “My father came to his faith at the last possible moments of his life when he whispered his last words, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.’”
That pastor made a difference in Pastor Hartman’s life. “Bringing people to the love of Christ is a powerful thing. The Lord leads us and gets us where He wants us to go,” he said.
The most recent addition to the chaplaincy staff, Deaconess Zoë Huelsman, was commissioned and installed in March 2023, and doesn’t have one particular “aha” moment.
“God sometimes works through dramatic moments, but often he is at work through ordinary conversations and gradual shifts,” she explained. “I was encouraged to consider becoming a deaconess by the pastor who catechized me. It took a while for that seed of an idea to germinate and come to fruition. My experience shows that each of us can play a role in recognizing and encouraging the talents and aptitudes that God has given to others.”
Our longest tenured pastor, Rev. Roger Nuerge, served as a congregational pastor at two of our member churches before coming to Concordia in 2009. His pastoral studies started early when he and two classmates from a Lutheran day school entered prep-school as high school freshmen at Concordia College, Milwaukee.
“I was the only one of the three of us who eventually entered the ministry,” he noted.
But after four years of working in the ministry, he grew weary and resigned to join his brother in dairy farming.
“I enjoyed that until the market for milk was flooded and interest rates skyrocketed to around 20%” he said. “I thought it was better for me to spend the years God had for me in ministry.”
After another four years in the ministry, he added some units of clinical pastoral education at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital.
“It helped me use my weaknesses to connect with others and to apply the Good News of Jesus to their needs,” he said. “I do believe that the Lord of the church by the power of His Holy Spirit moves in the hearts and lives of His people to bring the message of salvation to all – ‘Aha,’” he quipped.
Rev. Lee Genter, who joined Concordia’s chaplaincy team in May 2022, first felt the calling to be a pastor when he was a senior in high school.
“It came as something of a surprise because I always thought I would be a farmer all my life,” he said.
He kept this nudge from the Holy Spirit to himself until he told Jane, who would later come become his wife, “I think God wants me to be a pastor.”
“Of course, I had no idea what that meant. I just went on with life, getting married, working at Campbell’s Soup and raising hogs,” Pastor Genter continued.
Then one day he read a poem in the Lutheran Layman’s League newsletter that grabbed his attention as nothing had before. It went something like this:
The Lord said, “Go!” And I said, “Who me?” And God said, “Yes you.” And I said, “I can’t! What will my family think? My friends will think I’m weird.” And God said, “Baloney!” I said, “I’m not cut out for this. I don’t have the right gifts. You must have the wrong person.” God said, “No, it’s you. I am sure.” I said, “Look, … I’m scared.” God said, “Where do you think I’ll be. Trust me and see.” The Lord said, “Go!” Sweetly surrendered I said, “Here am I, send me.”
Pastor Genter explained, “After I read that poem, I cried and do so still to this day. Why would God call a hog farmer from Ohio? But by His mercy and grace, He did. And that has meant great joy for both Jane and I over these past 45 years.”
Having served as a congregational pastor for 15 years, he followed his aspiration to specialize in chaplaincy ministry. He finished his three years of clinical pastoral education, and spent the next 20 years at what is now Genacross Lutheran Services in Napoleon, Ohio.
“Receiving the call to Concordia has been more life-giving and joy-filled than I could ever put into words,” he said.
“I have to thank my Pastor, Rev. Roger Abatie, of my home congregation, St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Muskegon, Michigan,” said Rev. Ron Cox. “He was a wonderful preacher and teacher who inspired me in confirmation and my youth.”
Pastor Cox noticed a poster for Concordia University Ann Arbor in his church. Curious and without much direction for his future, he asked his pastor about the school: “He encouraged me and helped me apply to college in my senior year of high school.”
As a very young man, it set him on the path to the pre-seminary program at Concordia College and later on to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
A retired Army Chaplain piqued his interest in chaplaincy ministry when a friend suggested they attend a campus lunch meeting to hear about his experience.
“I put that lunch meeting aside for several years until I received a letter from a Navy Recruiter about becoming a Navy Chaplain,” he said. Serving a parish in South Dakota, he found himself petitioning the Lord and eventually heading to the Navy Chaplain School in Newport, Rhode Island.
“I served 25 years as a Navy Chaplain until I was called to serve Concordia in January 2018,” he said.
Concordia’s newest Chaplain, Rev. Joel Dieterichs, began his chronicle in 1998. “I was working at Concordia Publishing House as an intern in the editing department,” he remembered. “A professor at the seminary was walking past my cubicle toward the end of my time there. He quipped, ‘Dieterichs, go to seminary!’ I returned a comment that was something like, ‘Well, don’t you have to learn biblical languages…? And it takes four years?’”
The professor was ready with a response: “If you hate it, you can leave.” Rev. Dieterichs thanked him for the compliment, but stewed about it for a while. He thought it would be safer and more predictable to be an editor.
A week later he was fact-checking a simple manuscript, just one Bible passage—one he will never forget.
“It was the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark,” he recalled. “And when I read the words ‘Go and make straight paths for the Lord,’ God’s Spirit literally opened my eyes and showed me that my life up to that point had been preparing me for ministry. I began to cry at my desk.”
A coworker walked in and asked what happened.
“Actually, these are happy tears,” he said. He then enrolled for summer Greek 1999 the next day.
“We call it ‘Greek bootcamp,’” he laughed. And his servanthood voyage has been as incredible as you might guess, all praise to our compassionate and merciful God.
“My sainted grandmother Joan Schlueter told everyone that I was going to be a pastor when I was only two years old,” stated Rev. Adam Salinas. “She knew at that age that I had love for people and a servant heart in caring for others.”
By fifth grade he had a desire to become a pastor: “My mother, my grandfather, and numerous family members and friends knew that I loved sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others and they also influenced me in my pursuit to ministry.”
He graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin in 2006 and received a Masters of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne in 2010.
His first call led him to Nebraska, where he served for over seven years. It was during this time that his wife, BethAnn, suggested specializing in chaplaincy. After placements in Montana and South Dakota, Pastor Salinas went to Tennessee.
“I served at a Level I trauma center at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, and I learned how to be present with people in listening to them and supporting them with a loving and caring heart,” he said. “This was my “aha” moment to pursue chaplaincy full-time.”
He listened to people of diversity tell their life stories and whatever they wanted to discuss, responding to comfort care calls, trauma calls, end-of-life decisions and situations, those who requested to talk to a chaplain and those who wanted to hear scriptures, prayers and hymns.
“I was pastorally present in my care for others in times they experienced deep grief, pain and sadness as I comforted them with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, helping them understand that He is with them always and forever comforting them with His love and peace,” he said.
Two years ago, he was called to Concordia: “I dreamed about being here later in my life as a chaplain but God brought me to this place much sooner than I expected to minister to His precious children with great joy and happiness.”
He credits his wife and three children family with the inspiration to serve others with genuine love and care.
Rev. Duane and Deaconess Voorman came to Concordia in December 2016 after serving a congregation in Nebraska for 27 years. Having been educated in Lutheran grade school and high school in Michigan, it seemed a natural progression for Pastor Duane to serve as a pastor.
“I knew in high school that was to be my career path,” he said.
The couple met at Concordia College, Ann Arbor. Deaconess Pam earned her certification in 2012 and continued to lead Bible studies and prayer groups at the same church in addition to community outreach, Stephen Ministry and the LCC Comfort dog ministry.
Answering God’s call, Concordia’s Chaplaincy Team is set apart to serve, and one of the ways we can show our gratitude is by praying for them. “Lord, we enter your courts with praise and thanksgiving. Thank you for choosing our pastors and deaconesses to shepherd Concordia and our member churches and schools. Thank you for helping them to walk in the counsel of the Godly. May you continue strengthening then so that they can lead us to you our true living God. Remove anything in their lives that may hinder them from fulfilling the calling you have placed in their hearts. May they hide under your wings all the days of their lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This month, we recognize our chaplaincy team and thank them for sharing 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 Us 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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