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Music, education director retires after four decades at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church

| Friday, June 8, 2018, 9:51 a.m.
The Rev. Daniel Smail with Mark Nurnberger, who is retiring after nearly 40 years of service as music and education director at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Rev. Daniel Smail with Mark Nurnberger, who is retiring after nearly 40 years of service as music and education director at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Mark Nurnberger, who directed Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church's music and Christian education programs, retired May 20 after serving the Glenshaw church for nearly 40 years.

“It's just time to retire. I'm looking forward to Lakeside (Chautauqua) time,” Nurnberger, of Shaler, said regarding his plans to spend the summer with his wife, Beth, at the Lake Erie, Ohio shore community.

Nurnberger, 65, joined the church's staff in 1979 as part-time organist and choir director while also working as a substitute teacher throughout the North Hills. In 1982, he became full-time Christian education director and continued playing the organ and overseeing the choir.

“I was very excited. It was a nice congregation. I knew there would be a future there,” he said.

Each week, he reached approximately 120 people of all ages with his education programming, through Sunday school, confirmation classes, vacation Bible school and a children's worship program.

He also started an hour-long Tuesday morning preschool program featuring music, storytelling and crafts.

He interacted with many congregants through his choir director position, as well.

“Over the years, we had three adult singing choirs, a youth choir and children's choir and multiple ages of bell choirs.”

Prior to joining Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, Nurnberger taught choir and world cultures at Vincentian High School, now known as Vincentian Academy, in McCandless, and general music and choir in Newcomerstown, Ohio, outside of Columbus.

He also held positions as an organist and choir director in Newcomerstown and at Trinity Lutheran Church of Avalon and Mt. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Observatory Hill.

Nurnberger grew up in Ross, where he attended Christ Lutheran Church. He discovered his love of music early, often entering a neighbor's house, without knocking, to play the piano.

He ended up taking organ and piano lessons, which he continues to play today. He also sings bass.

He thinks his musically inclined family — his grandfather played organ at St. Luke Lutheran Church of West View, his grandmother sang and played the piano and his mother sang — expected him to choose a music-oriented career path.

He earned a bachelor's in music education from Mt. Union College.

In 1987, he became an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) associate in ministry.

Nurnberger volunteered on the ELCA's Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod candidacy committee, interviewing and conversing with seminarians as they proceeded toward ordination. It was during this process that he first met the Rev. Daniel Smail, Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church's senior pastor for the last eight years.

“He was always a tremendous musician, a great personality,” Smail said.

“And the blessing with Mark was that he shared those blessings so willingly with those people that he was serving.

“So, the young people that he worked with, the choirs, the Sunday school students, the youth groups, the confirmation students, I could go on and on and on, but they all benefitted from just his willingness to share his time and talent and guidance and his wisdom.”

Nurnberger and Beth have three daughters: Carrie Lane and Annie, of Glenshaw, and Meg, of Canton, Ohio.

“It was a wonderful learning experience for me all these years and wonderful working with many nice people,” he said, reflecting upon his Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church tenure.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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