Living Branches names pastoral care & service team

Russ Mast

When visionary leaders from Franconia Mennonite Conference founded Souderton Mennonite Homes and Dock Woods Community, serving older adults and families in the name of Jesus was at the heart of their mission. When the Boards of these two ministries came together to form Living Branches in 2008, we again affirmed that the vision and vitality of our shared ministry is rooted in and guided by Jesus. “Recognizing the importance of our faith heritage to our mission, we wanted to ensure that pastoral care played a prominent role in Living Branches,” explains Edward Brubaker, President/CEO. “We also felt that service to others was core to our Anabaptist Christian identity.”

This past fall, Living Branches combined Pastoral Care and Volunteer Coordination across the three campuses to create a unified Pastoral Care and Service Team. After interaction with a number of good candidates, the Pastors, Volunteer Coordinator and Living Branches leadership unanimously decided to call Ray Hurst to serve as our first Director of Pastoral Care and Service. Ray leads a gifted new team, which includes Jim Derstine, Pastor at Dock Meadows (Zion Mennonite); Lorene Derstine, Pastor at Dock Woods (Plains); Mark Derstine, Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Homes (Blooming Glen); and Lynne Allebach, our Volunteer Coordinator (Methacton).

Ray brings more than 20 years of ministry, pastoral care and social service experience to Living Branches. He began his ministry in Kansas, where he served as Co-Pastor of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton for 11 years. Ray then became Lead Pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for a decade. Both were larger, multi-staff congregations. Ray moved to the Philadelphia area three years ago when his wife, Brenda, accepted a call to serve as Pastor of Frazer (Pa) Mennonite Church. Since moving to Pennsylvania, Ray has served autistic youth and adults living with mental illness. He also worked for a year as Executive Director of Good Samaritan Shelter in Phoenixville.
Ray earned a Master of Divinity Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Trinity College. He is an avid gardener and is passionate about the Christian call to work for peace and justice.

“We have a strong interest in nurturing the ongoing faith development of older adults,” says Ray. “Our faith isn’t finalized when we reach a certain age; rather, we can always continue to mature in our faith journey.” Ray and his team are creating spaces to talk about questions of life and faith in the context of community. Ray recently started a column in a monthly resident newsletter titled “Roast Preacher” where he invites conversation with residents around an aspect of faith that he is pondering.

With these changes, the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows chaplains are now referred to as pastors, which had already been the tradition on the Souderton Mennonite Homes campus. As Ray explains, “For some, the term ‘chaplain’ can signify a shorter-term ministry to an individual. At Living Branches, however, we’re looking to form meaningful relationships for the balance of a person’s life, and we’re also tending to the wider faith community on all three campuses. We feel this new language embraces our Anabaptist heritage of faith in the context of community.”

Another way we’re embracing our Anabaptist approach to spirituality is including Volunteer Coordination in the Pastoral Care and Service Team. “Serving others is at the heart of the Gospel,” added Ray. “By including Volunteer Coordination in our vision for Pastoral Care, we are helping others connect more fully with service as a wonderful, life-giving spiritual discipline.”
In addition to engaging our residents, their families and staff members around issues of spirituality, our Pastoral Care and Service Team strives to be a resource for area pastors and coordinators of congregational health ministries. One way we do this is through annual Pastoral Care to Seniors seminars.

As Ray summarizes, “We are here to be expressions of Christ’s love, as we minister to the needs of the whole person—mind, body and spirit.”