From left—Richard Duesterhaus, chair of Shepherd's Center of Oakton-Vienna board of directors, Board Member Julius Hankin, and Vice Chair William Kirby. Duesterhaus and Hankin were there at the beginning, two of the founders behind bringing the Shepherd's Center to Virginia, officially in 1997. Kirby says his goal "is to ring the Beltway with Shepherd's Centers." He's on his way. They have helped start up centers in Annandale/Springfield, Fairfax/Burke, and Mclean/Arlington/Falls Church.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
“There’s room for all of us, and all of our faiths,” said Linnea Nelson. It’s a lesson she said she learned years ago as a substitute teacher on a Native American reservation. “I attended a funeral for a young man from the tribe. The service was a beautiful blend of a Catholic ceremony and tribal traditions.”
Nelson, director of Religious Exploration at the Universalist Unitarian Congregation of Fairfax, spoke at the 14th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Worship, sponsored by The Shepherd’s Center of Oakton-Vienna (SCOA), hosted this year by Emmanuel Lutheran Church on Nov. 20th and attended by members of Methodist, Unitarian, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist and other denominations.
THE CONGREGANTS were ushered in by members of Girl Scout Troop #1993 from Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church and took their seats to the celestial sounds of Columbus, Ohio Symphony Orchestra Principal Harpist Jude Mollenhauer Duesterhaus. “Drumming in the Spirit,” Emmanuel Lutheran’s talented drumming group directed by Jack Layne, opened and closed the service. Rev. Beth Neubauer welcomed everyone to the church, decorated by members Kay Slade, Heather Lutz and crew with autumn accents and pumpkins donated by Roger and Jane Holtorf. Rev. Neubauer offered her own words of thanksgiving to everyone who made the event possible and to all in attendance, finishing her opening remarks with an invitation. “Please,” she said, “stay for awhile after the service and have some pie. Have a chat, visit a bit. And have some more pie. Those of us at Emmanuel do not need a lot of leftover pie, so we are counting on you.”
The service continued with readings, reflections and prayers led by ministers and lay people representing each of the 11 congregations that participated in the gathering. In addition to the opening harp “Prelude” and the rousing drums, there were six choirs, including a children’s choir, and a number of musicians and soloists, again from the participating congregations and coordinated by Emmanuel Lutheran’s Music Director Arla Clapp.
So what brought all of these folks from so many different practicing faiths together on a chilly November night? Aside from the generous spirits of the attendees, Rev. Neubauer pointed to Julius Hankin and his wife, Mary Ann. Both Hankins are board members of The Shepherd’s Center of Oakton-Vienna. “My wife and I were at that first meeting in 1996, when a group decided to organize a Shepherd’s Center in our area.” The Hankins, along with board members John and Barbara Tate, and current Board Chair Richard Duesterhaus, have been the driving engines behind the success of this local chapter of the national organization. The Shepherd’s Centers of America is an interfaith network of community-based organizations dedicated to enriching the lives of adults over 50 by providing needed services, social and educational programs and the opportunity to share their knowledge, expertise and friendship through volunteerism. “Since our volunteers and the people we serve come from all of these faiths, it’s a wonderful thing to bring everyone together to support each other, to give thanks together, and to raise funds and awareness,” said Julius Hankin, who serves on the SCOA’s Congregational Advisory Council.
THE OAKTON-VIENNA CHAPTER, housed in the Vienna Baptist Church on Marshall Road in Vienna, is a busy one. In 2011 they provided over 500 round-trip rides for medical appointments and prescription pick up. Volunteers gave rides to another 300 persons in need of transportation for non-medical errands. Handy Helper volunteers do minor home repairs to help older adults keep their homes safe and livable. There are support groups that give caregivers time to re-energize, and Friendly Visitors and Callers keep in contact with individuals who may feel isolated and just need someone to chat with. The SCOA reported a 68 percent increase in the hours contributed to this contact service from 2010 to 2011.
Programs organized by the SCOA include the popular Adventures in Learning, three eight-week sessions averaging 125 participants and covering topics as diverse as Tai Chi lessons to world and national affairs. There are quarterly luncheons, trips, fundraising events and community outreach activities. This year’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration collected almost $3000 to benefit two local organizations—Our Daily Bread of Fairfax, and Committee for Helping Others. According to SCOA Executive Director Michelle Scott, checks will presented to the charities at a volunteer event in December. Scott and Hankin also noted that this year’s event was the largest to date.
“I could go on and on about the Shepherd’s Center,” said Julius Hankin, “and all the amazing people who donate their time and energy and spirit.” Hankin is already working with his cohorts on the 15th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service. In the mean time, information and volunteer opportunities are offered on their website at www.scoc.org.