Chapel Hill Chaplain Retires After 16 Years

For 16 years, she has been the chaplain at Chapel Hill Community, a United Church Homes life plan community in Canal Fulton, Ohio, where she has officiated three weddings, six baptisms, 190 funerals and more than 800 Sunday worship services and Bible studies.

Sandy’s last day as chaplain was June 30. She plans to spend time with her family, possibly go to school with younger people and continue her years-long connection to United Church Homes and the United Church of Christ, which is in covenant with UCH.

“There’s always been some way I have been involved with United Church Homes. It’s such a strong ministry in Ohio. It’s a ministry that I’ve always felt connected with. I’m sure that will continue in some capacity,” Sandy said. “A significant part of my life is going to change. But since I set the date and turned in the letter, there’s been a calm assurance this is a good time to retire.”

During a recent retirement celebration at Chapel Hill, Sandy thanked UCH staff, residents, her family and others for their support during her years as chaplain, but said she will miss the friendships she’s developed with residents and their families.

“I’m a person who values relationships. I’ll miss the relationships and not being with the people,” Sandy said.

The families she’s comforted say she will be missed.

Rev. Mark Frey, who recently retired from Bath United Church of Christ, has known Sandy for 20 years. He said he was “delighted” when she became chaplain at Chapel Hill.

“It was an excellent choice by United Church Homes. She’s a people person. She also has a great connection with mature adults. She understands their concerns and needs,” Mark said.

Five members of Mark’s extended family lived at Chapel Hill during Sandy’s time as chaplain, including his parents and his wife’s parents. All five of them died in the last five years.

“She helped us through that. She has a loving spirit. She has words for the heart. She knows when to be available and when to back away,” he said.

Mark said they enjoyed chapel services where Sandy displayed her sense of humor and at times sang, despite pleas for her to stop. “Sandy cannot sing. They would all laugh about that. But her messages are good,” he joked.

Rev. Kenneth Daniel, president and CEO of United Church Homes, said UCH was blessed to have Sandy as one of its chaplains. He said she has proven she has the competence and compassion to do the job.

“She has the consideration, concern, empathy and the total capacity to feel what it is like to be in someone else’s skin,” Rev. Daniel said.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, executive director of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging, said Sandy mentored her more than 30 years ago while she was in seminary and in the process of completing the requirements for ordination.

Beth described Sandy as a chaplain who is dedicated to the church and faithful to her calling.

“She is a wonderful pastor,” Beth said. “Her deep connections to the church and the history of United Church Homes, which goes back to her experience as a local church pastor long before she took the chaplain position at Chapel Hill, will be missed.”

Chapel Hill Administrator Debra Durbin also said Sandy will be missed.

“I think there’s going to be a huge void to fill. She has built so many relationships with family members, staff, residents as well as within the United Church of Christ. Those are all things that we’re really going to miss — the connections she has in the community,” Debra said.

But Sandy said there’s no doubt it’s time for her to retire.

“I had that inner sense that God was saying, ‘You’ve had a good ministry here, and that it’s time to move into the next phase of my life,’” said Sandy, who is 68. “For 42 years, I’ve been active in ministry (with UCC churches). I feel called to explore new opportunities.”