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Tyrone Presbyterians pay tribute to their departing pastor

At 10:30 a.m. worship on Sunday, December 3, Tyrone Presbyterians will celebrate Holy Communion, as they greet the first Sunday of Advent 2006, and also open the first Sunday of the new Christian or Liturgical year. While the new Christian year begins for believers everywhere on December 3, Pastor Robert E. Dunkelberger will end his five year tenure with the 85 members of Tyrone Presbyterian Church as he returns to his family’s farm in Sunbury to explore some new careers.
Upon returning to Sunbury, located near Danville’s Geisinger Medical Center, Pastor Bob temporarily plans to secure secular work and also to serve as a Sunday substitute preacher. With these two endeavors, he will provide himself with the resources and the time for new career explorations, both inside and outside the ministry. In addition, he along with his older sister Cindy, will offer their assistance on the family beef cattle farm, while his father undergoes medical treatment for an illness.
Reverend Dunkelberger’s journey into the Christian ministry began quietly in the early 1970s. As a teenager, Pastor Bob became involved in the Bible Fellowship Church of Sunbury, a small Christian denomination that combines a solid Mennonite mindset with enthusiastic Evangelism. Following his graduation from Shikellamy High School in Sunbury in 1974, Dunkelberger pursued higher education by earning a two-year degree at Pinebrook Junior College in Coopersburg. From Pine Brook he matriculated to Messiah College, a private Brethren in Christ College in Grantham, near Harrisburg. At Messiah, he earned a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education. Equipped as an elementary teacher, Mr. Dunkelberger traveled to Hazard, Kentucky, where he served a two year teaching assignment under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee. There he taught and counseled underprivileged sixth graders and illiterate adults.
Answering the call to the ministry, Pastor Bob eventually entered Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. For three years, he studied for ordination as a Presbyterian minister. Following his graduation from Pittsburgh Presbyterian Seminary, he first served at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in New Castle. After Oak Grove, the youthful pastor spent six fruitful and serene years at nearby Coalport and Irvona Presbyterian Churches from 1993 to 1999. In 2000, Robert became pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Mercer, near the Ohio border. Finally, in May 2001, First Presbyterian Church of Tyrone called him to fill a pulpit that had been vacant from 1998 to 2001, following the departure of the Reverend Charles Swenson, following a 17 year tenure.
When appointing Pastor Swenson’s successor, the 10 members of the Presbyterian Pastor Nominating Committee including the late Margaret Baldridge (chair person), Jessie Anders, Elizabeth Beringer, Elaine Conrad, Deborah Hiller, Debra Kerr, Bradley Lucas, Robert Newman, Betty Rodgers and Wendy Steinbugl Ross, spotlighted two urgent needs of Tyrone Presbyterian Church: first, visitation and second revitalization.
Once he arrived, Pastor Bob commenced visiting every member of Tyrone Presbyterian Church – active, inactive and disgruntled. Many parishioners delighted in his visits, where they had opportunity to witness his Biblical, theological and historical brilliance as well as his insights into the world of the cinema. In five years, Pastor Dunkelberger recorded more than 1,200 home and hospital visits among the members and friends of Tyrone Presbyterian Church. One of the outgrowths of these pastoral calls was the realization that First Presbyterian Church needed to modify and modernize.
Consequently, he instituted a variety of programs that would help to modify and modernize the worn-out image of this aging main-line denomination. As community outreach to adults, he conducted once a month contemporary worship services entitled Sunday nights at Seven, which featured modern music, casual dress and relevant messages.
Community outreach to youngsters, he established a Sunday morning class for children called Breakfast and Bible, which included stories, songs and crafts, implemented by seven faithful volunteer teachers. He also instituted the popular yearly Halloween Hospitality, with scripture and sweets.
Ever mindful of the importance of a solid Bible background, Pastor Bob energized his intellect to plan and to teach stimulating Thursday evening Bible studies for adults that embraced a wide variety of topics, including Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. In the summer of 2006, he inaugurated an Intergenerational Sunday morning Sunday school class that featured contemporary topics, ranging from the beliefs of Islam to the Bible names for God. In the spring and autumn of 2006, he encouraged and helped one new church member to lead a Monday evening study for women entitled Reflections from the Heart, which became highly fulfilling and highly attended. In June 2006, he transformed the Presbyterian summer picnic at Reservoir Park into a community outreach event by hosting the celebrated trumpeter Chiz Rider for more than 100 citizens of the town.
Most profoundly, Robert Dunkelberger has proven himself a pastor who recognizes that solid Bible study means little unless enhanced by sincere Christian service to others. Certainly, he has served. In one of his earliest acts of service in Tyrone, Pastor Bob spent 2001 election day serving as dish washer for the Deacon’s Pancake Festival. And for every Pancake Festival afterwards, he has washed the dishes. Each month, he has worked at Wesley Church to distribute food to those in need through the Tyrone Food Bank. Many times on Tuesdays and Fridays, Pastor Bob also has helped to deliver Meals-on-Wheels for senior citizens in Tyrone.
Probably the most enriching dimension of Pastor Bob’s service to others has occurred not in the public arena, but behind the scenes. When worship, educational or social activities in the church fell short of funds, this pastor quietly supplied the resources. When folks faced serious surgery, he sat with them and calmed them as they awaited their turn in the operating room. When church members or their families have walked into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Pastor Bob has walked calmly and faithfully with them. Unfortunately, one of the unexpected tragedies of his five year tenure in Tyrone has been the sad necessity to conduct 58 funerals – most of them for faithful church members. When people have come to him frustrated beyond measure by the affairs of life or of the church, he has listened with compassion and led them with wisdom. And always, he has served with humility.
A highly disciplined reader, runner and weight-lifter, Pastor Bob never has hesitated to help with the sweaty, physical demands of parish life. He also exercised his homiletic muscles by reading and listening to three of his preaching heroes: Charles Spurgeon – the great British Baptist preacher of a century ago; Dr. Robert Sproul – the Christian Calvinist Preacher from Ligonier Ministries and finally, Dr. Craig Barnes – the preaching Pastor of Pittsburgh’s Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
At 10:30 a.m. worship on Sunday, December 3, as the 85 members of Tyrone Presbyterian Church offer Robert Dunkelberger their parting words, they will recognize that they are saying a final farewell to a gentleman and a scholar. Reflecting on his five year tenure in Tyrone, Presbyterians can recall these lines when they remember Pastor Bob, “We searched the whole broad Earth around / For that one friend who real and true / Has friendship without end or bound / And found the prize in You!”
The theme for this first Sunday of Advent 2006 and the opening of the new church or Liturgical year will appear on the front of the worship bulletin as “LOVE”. The service will include Charles Wesley’s immortal hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” as well as a musical paraphrase of St. Paul’s love chapter entitled “The Gift of Love.” Quite fittingly, this Advent service will close with one of Reverend Robert Dunkelberger’s favorite hymns, “O Love that Will Not Let Me Go.” And without a doubt, the faithful members of his congregation pray that stanza one of that powerful hymn will be their Benediction for Pastor Bob, “O Love that will not let us go / We rest our weary souls in Thee / We give God back the life we owe / That in His ocean depths its flow / May richer, fuller be!”