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Pastor Yonney bids farewell

Churchgoers recently filled the sanctuary at Heidelberg United Church of Christ to celebrate the final service of the Rev. Karen Yonney, who retired after 15 years as pastor.

Before joining Heidelberg UCC, she also served as a minister at First United Church of Christ, Hellertown.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be welcoming you here this morning on my last Sunday, and a joy, so let us celebrate our God this morning,” Yonney said, as she greeted attendees at her March 1 service.

Several musical performances from the church handbell choir and praise band to individual songs from sisters Sonia Fink of Germansville and Roberta George of Red Hill, and Jack Snyder of New Tripoli, were featured.

During the service, Yonney offered a prayer about the changing phases of life.

“Just like the seasons change, our lives change, too,” Yonney said. “Sometimes we go from hope to joy, sometimes we go from sadness to fear; life doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. When that happens where do we turn to?

“After a bit of panic, maybe even a sleepless night, go to God in prayer; as we enter this time of transition, I want to share a prayer with you.”

She called the congregation’s young children forward to uncover five objects - eyedrops, eardrops, mouthwash, nose spray and chocolates - and explained how each was symbolic of God’s guidance and wisdom to respect one another and see beauty in the world.

“My brothers and my sisters, when our eyes are open to see God, when our ears can hear the still-speaking goodness of God, when our words from our mouth are words that would please our God, then we can allow others to see, to hear, to speak and inhale the goodness of God’s love through us,” Yonney said. “This is my prayer for you, for me, for us, and thank you for the memories and the gift of love you’ve given to me.”

Holy Communion was then served, during which “Be Still My Soul” quietly played in the background, a special request from Yonney.

Afterward, Consistory President Colleen Andrews presented Yonney with four special gifts on behalf of the church and its members.

The gifts were a bouquet of 15 roses, “one for every year you were with us and amongst us,” a photo album “so that you can look upon us whenever you miss us,” a videotape “so that you can watch us whenever you like,” and a blanket, “a gift of comfort ... that you can wrap yourself in and know that we’ll always love you.”

The Rev. Bonnie Bates, conference minister for the Penn Northeast Conference of the United Church of Christ, led the service of farewell.

“Our church family changes constantly; people come and go,” Bates said. “It is important and right that we recognize these times of passage, these endings and beginnings.”

She noted that in 2005, “this local church called the then-licensed, now ordained, the Rev. Karen Yonney to serve as its pastor,” and she asked the congregation to offer their encouragement “for Karen’s ministry as it unfolds in new ways.”

Attendees affirmed their support with a wholehearted, “We do, with the help of God.”

Bates also asked Yonney if she would release the church from turning and depending on her, and if she offered her encouragement for Heidelberg’s continued ministry and relationship with a future pastor.

To both questions, Yonney answered, “I do, with the help of God.”

“On behalf of the Penn Northeast Conference of the United Church of Christ, as I witnessed to the words that you have spoken, and the words you have not yet spoken to one another, we pledge our support to you and to Pastor Karen as she goes on to do more things, in more places, in more ways, than she can yet imagine or you can dream of,” Bates said in closing.

At the end of the service, Yonney offered her final, emotional sending forth to the congregation.

“Our worship has now ended, but now our service truly begins,” Yonney said. “Go from this place as the Body of Christ, for the whole world awaits each and every one of us.

“So live passionately, and love faithfully, and celebrate each and every moment of your life from now until the finale, for the God of relentless love, and grace and joy goes with each and every one of us.”

After the service, attendees gathered for a lunch reception in the fellowship hall. Church members also signed the photo album and shared hugs and well-wishes with Yonney as the memorial video played in the background.

Several attendees and members of the consistory shared their praise of Yonney’s guidance and service.

“Rev. Karen, known as ‘P.K.’ here, played an instrumental part in the lives of so many in our church, and we wish her well moving into the next chapter of life,” consistory member and Heidelberg resident Brian Lenhart said while reminiscing on the service.

“She’s a big part of our hearts, and she’ll always be with us here every Sunday,” Andrews said.

“Pastor Karen has been a great blessing to our church; it’s been a wonderful 15 years,” consistory member Amy Peters, of Walnutport, added.

Janet Snyder of New Tripoli said although the service was bittersweet, she was grateful for the time spent with Yonney as pastor.

“It’s sad, but we’ve been honored to have her for as many years as we did, and for us to go with her, as we do every Sunday,” she said.

Sonia Fink added her own kudos.

“Pastor Karen is a pastor you hope to have in every church; a good listener, someone who will always be there for you, in good times and bad,” Fink said.

Jacqueline Jochim, of Selfridge, N.D., grew up as a member of Heidelberg UCC and said Yonney’s work as pastor has been a lasting, positive experience.

“She’s been a part of our lives for so many years, even when we are thousands of miles away.”

Yonney, who was joined at the service and reception by her children and grandchildren, said she was grateful for the chance to serve as Heidelberg’s pastor.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve God here at Heidelberg with all these wonderful people,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Yonney said she plans to take time to relax, heal and recharge.

She said her next chapter looks bright and full of opportunity, and plans to enjoy the journey, living life one day at a time.

“One never knows what God has in store for us,” she said with a smile.

“Every day, every moment, is a gift from God to unwrap, cherish and live to the fullest.”

PRESS PHOTOS BY SARIT LASCHINSKYTerry Fritzinger of Germansville, Robin Koch and Charlene Bergstresser, both of Slatington, enjoy some cake during the after-service reception and send their love, support and best wishes to retiring pastor, the Rev. Karen Yonney.