Although he had been ordained in 1967, serving at First Lutheran nearly ten years later was Pastor Ronald Shonk’s first experience as a parish pastor.
He was born on August 16, 1938 in Manheim, Pennsylvania, the son of Earl and Martha Shonk. Earl Shonk was a truck driver. In 1960, Ronald earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, and continued at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettsyburg for a Master of Divinity degree in 1963. A Master of Education degree in Adult Education in 1965 from the University of Pittsburgh was an indication of his particular interest in teaching.
Ronald Shonk was ordained on March 20, 1967 by the Central Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. By then, he had already held a position on the staff of Education and Youth Ministries at St. John Lutheran and Berkeley Hills Lutheran in Pittsburgh, and as Director of Education and Youth Ministries at Zion Lutheran in Indiana, Pennsylvania. After ordination he served as Director of Lutheran Campus Ministy at Indiana University of Pennysylvania.
Then in 1973, he came to California to become the associate minister at First Congregational Church in San Francisco. It was during this time that he became interested in the Night Ministry in the city, a non-sectarian service to street people, addicts, and other troubled individuals. The ministers walk the streets at night, meeting people where they’re at, offering love, concern, and support when asked for it. The program also includes a night help line, referrals, food, street worship, and other services. In 1975, Pastor Shonk became the associate director of the Cordinated Lutheran Ministries of San Francisco. In July of that same year, Ron Shonk agreed to serve as the interim pastor at First Lutheran, Palo Alto.
During his interim time, Pastor Shonk was still working during the week in San Francisco, while preaching on Sundays in Palo Alto. He may have had help from Pastor Manfred Bahmann from University Lutheran, and Kenn Bergmann, a member of First Lutheran who was a second-career seminary student. Bergmann was ordained at First Lutheran in August of 1977, and Pastor Shonk presided at the service.
After six months as an interim pastor, Ronald Shonk accepted the call to become the permanent pastor of First Lutheran beginning in January 1977. During his pastorate, he emphasized prayer and meditation as a foundation for lay witness visits to shut-ins and inactive members. He trained members of the congregation to become Stephen Ministers, available to provide one-on-one support to those experiencing difficulties in their lives.
Although his primary concern was for the teaching and healing of his flock, he also accomplished several administrative tasks. The Lutheran Book of Worship was introduced in 1978 during his tenure at First Lutheran, and that may have influenced some of the changes he made. He reorganized the Sunday School, using the LCA curriculum, and helped prepare a new constitution in line with the LCA recommended format. Worship returned to one service each Sunday, with weekly communion. He supported the congregation in their care of a family of Vietnamese refugees and the support of a Chilean family. During the year 1978–1979, Pastor Shonk was aided in his work by an intern, Deborah Steed.
Along with his parish ministry, Pastor Shonk was a member of the North Coast District Commission on Parish Ministries, and LCA representative to the Board of Directors, San Francisco Night Minitsry. As a surprising side-note, Ron Shonk’s hobby was conjuring; he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Pentecost 1980 was Pastor Shonk’s last Sunday at First Lutheran. He’d been accepted into a chaplaincy training program that included three months of study at the University of Texas Medical System in Houston, and nine months of practical work at the M.D. Anderson Hospital Cancer Research and Treatment Center.
Pastor Shonk enjoyed his nearly four year relationship with the members at First Lutheran, but he found that the job as a solo pastor and general practitioner was too broad. He felt spead thin, and wanted a more specialized ministry of healing and teaching. He served one more parish, First Lutheran, San Diego, but for the rest of his professional life, functioned as a chaplain and teacher. He has retired to Palm Springs, California.
Ronald Shonk has left us with this thought. “Peace: not the absence of of conflict and struggle. The peace of God that gives us staying power, that strong, certain foundation deep down that secures in the midst of conflict and allows one to work through it to resolution.”