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Sanibel Congregational welcomes new associate pastor to its fold

By Staff | Jul 8, 2011

Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ welcomed associate pastor Deborah Kunkel to its fold on June 10. Kunkel hails from Massachusetts, where she was a real estate title examiner and paralegal for more than a decade.

“I did it well,” she said of her former career. “But I knew it wasn’t the place for me.”

After much prayer and reflection, she began leaning towards a career in teaching or social work. But God had other plans. While she was in church one Sunday morning, she opened a bulletin containing an insert from a local seminary. It read, “Is God keeping you up at night? Then you might need seminary school.”

Kunkel quickly closed the bulletin and reminded God that was not exactly what she had in mind for her life. She went on to finish her undergraduate work in liberal arts with a concentration in religious studies and psychology at Merrimack College, a Catholic school in North Andover, Maine. She then moved to Bangor, Maine where she became a licensed pastor at Thorndike Congregational.

“It took a while for me to fill the role,” she said about her first position as pastor of a church. “I had to learn to lead them, as much as I was learning from them.”

After a year with the congregation at Thorndike, Kunkel moved on to Ellsworth Falls United Church of Christ, where she spent the remainder of her seminary career. She was then called to The Badger State, where she spent a combined nine years as associate pastor in Merrill, Wis., and as pastor in Pittsville, Wis. With Pittsville surrounded by mills going out of business due to the downturn in the economy, she felt the writing was on the wall.

“I began my search for a new church,” she said.

Kunkel and her husband of 22 years, Greg, are familiar with Sanibel. They had spent time here visiting places like CROW and “Ding” Darling. When the opportunity at Sanibel Congregational Church arose, Kunkel knew it was God at work. She arrived on the island June 10 with a warm welcome from her new congregation.

“I know its cliché, but I’ve never had such a sincere welcome,” she said.

In her role as associate pastor, Kunkel hopes to get back to her passion – youth ministry. She already has a great foundation to build a tremendous youth group on the island.

“I want to help nurture and establish a youth program,” she added.

In addition, Kunkel will be overseeing home visits for congregates that are homebound. Kunkel said it is important for those church members to still feel connected to their church and want contribute to God’s ministry. In the short time Kunkel has been with Sanibel Congregational Church, she has enjoyed with working with its Senior Pastor John Danner.

“That is one of the reasons I came here because I thought I would work well with John,” she said.

Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ is located at 2050 Periwinkle Way and offers a 7:45 a.m. Sunday chapel service with a full service at 10 a.m. Sunday school classes also begin at 10 a.m. with nursery care provided.