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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2012

Hills resonate for Wendy Cook
New pastor helps Helderberg Evangelical forge an identity
By Jo E. Prout

BERNE The Reverend Wendy Cook will be installed at a ceremony this Sunday afternoon, as she answers the call to serve as pastor at the Helderberg Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“I love it here. I just love it here. I’ve been totally embraced by the people here,” Cook said.

She graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. last May, and started to look for a church somewhat near her roots in Pennsylvania, where her mother now lives.

“I landed in Berne,” she said. “I just resonate with these hills.”

Stacey Wright, a church member who worked on the committee to find a new minister, said that the congregation is pleased with Cook, too.

“We were looking for a minister who was strong, who was a minister who would bring young people back in the church,” Wright said. The committee searched for about four years, she said.

The committee worked with the regional synod to find a minister who would match Helderberg Evangelical’s needs. New ministers and searching churches filled out questionnaires with over 50 items, including bubble-answer and essay sections.

“It’s like an immense amount of pages. It’s a long process. She fit about every category,” Wright said of Cook. “She’s vivacious. She’s eager. She’s brought some people back to the church already. She’s doing what we were looking for.”

Cook said that she is helping the church forge an identity. Helderberg Evangelical is the result of a merger between St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Berne and St. John’s Lutheran Church in East Berne.

“People are in a good place about that,” Cook said. “There’s some sadness about having to close, but happiness about [the school].” She said that Helderberg Christian School, a separately owned private elementary school not related to Helderberg Evangelical, has rented St. John’s and may be purchasing the building.

“We are trying to get some other activities started,” Cook said. The church offers a Bible study during the week, adult education before Sunday services, a family night once a month, and is pursuing historical research, flood relief efforts, and the creation of a community garden, Cook said.

She explained that she was ordained “only once” after she received a call to work in Berne. The ceremony took place in January at Hope Lutheran Church in Homer City, Pa. where her father, also a minister, had served when Cook was a child. She was baptized there and her mother is still a member, Cook said.

This week, Cook will be installed into this call, she said. The stole she will wear symbolizes a yoke, she said.

“I am joined to that congregation,” Cook said. Her family, including her brother Rev. Fred Cook, will attend the installation, she said.

Ministry is Cook’s fourth career, she said. She worked as a paralegal for 12 years before getting a master’s degree in social work, where she spent another 10 years. She stayed at home with her two children while they attended high school and college, but entered seminary at that time.

Cook said that a dear friend suggested she enter, and sent her a card with a $50 check.

“This is seed money,” Cook recalled her friend writing. “You need to be in seminary.”

She applied to Luther Seminary, was accepted, and took a few classes at age 48.

“I loved it. I just fell in love with seminary. The faith journey it took me on was inspiring, gut-wrenching, amazing, difficult. It was just incredible,” Cook said. “I learned about myself. I learned about our God, and other people.”

She said that being a minister involves budgets, public speaking, and working with people.

“There are so many things. The job is so broad,” she said. “It’s a leap of faith to actually do the job. It isn’t just me. It really is the Holy Spirit.”

Cook said that her transition to the Hilltowns has been easy, thanks to the generous and kind members of the congregation. The light winter and lack of snow and ice worked well for her, too, so that she did not fight the weather while occasionally getting lost in the hills.

“I’m finding my way,” Cook said. “This is a wonderful community.”

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