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Kunkletown church pastor retires, heads to Florida

The Rev. Suzanne Brooks-Cope gave her final sermon at St. Matthew’s UCC in Kunkletown on Sept. 3 and celebrated her retirement with her church family during a luncheon in the social hall afterward.

On Sept. 20, the office she had inhabited for 12 years had a stack of boxes containing books, Bibles, photos, paperwork, gifts from members and colleagues, and mementos from her 35 years as an ordained minister. The U-Haul arrived and she began loading those items into it.

She and husband, Pastor Scott Brooks-Cope, left for Florida the next morning. They are moving back down there to help care for their daughter-in-law, Kim Cope, who has Huntington’s disease, assist their son, Trevor, and their 8-year-old granddaughter, Mariah, with daily tasks.

They have three other grown children - Patricia Cope-Levy and twins, Taylor and Timmy - daughter-in-law, Meredith Cope-Levy, and granddaughter, Karen Alice Cope-Levy.

Pastor Scott was a supply minister at St. Matthew’s in 2011 when the church was searching for a new full-time minister.

“While I was here preaching, I’d subtly remind them that my wife was searching for a pastorate in the area. She was still preaching in Florida. I kept saying, hey you should give Suzanne a call,” he said during his last sermon at St. Matthew’s in August.

The church leaders called to invite her to interview and preach one day. Her first Sunday on the job was Jan. 17, 2012.

Over the course of 12 years, she and her husband would often take turns preaching and leading the service on busy Sundays involving a baptism, communion, Christmas or Easter.

Earlier this month, he retired as the regional director for Pastoral Care and Education at Phoebe Ministries.

“We’re going to miss you all so much. We love the St. Matthew’s congregation, and you’ve all become our extended family,” he said during the sermon.

Reflections from members

For 12 years, Pastor Suzanne could be found either in her office or out in the community during her weekday office hours. The hours often extended beyond 5 p.m. due to meetings, Bible study, events and activities with the church children and youth.

“I liked how Pastor Suzanne came up with great ideas and games for the youth, such as manhunt and going bowling,” said Gabby Bentley, a member of the Christian Education Committee and member of the adult Sunday school class called Christians in Action.

Brooks-Cope mentored and encouraged her Christian Education team, comprised of one part-time coordinator and a handful of volunteers, to teach Sunday school and go beyond to help inspire their faith formation.

During Vacation Bible School each summer, she humorously interacted with a puppet voiced by Diann Bittenbender. Depending on the year’s VBS theme, the pastor dressed up as a chef, professor, knight, cave explorer or other characters.

While packing her office, she looked through files and counted the number of ceremonies and funerals she officiated.

“I did 80 baptisms and 130 funerals here. I did many weddings, but didn’t count that file while packing,” she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Suzanne only performed a few funeral services in the sanctuary for a few attending family members.

Jennifer Hall, her husband, Stephen, their sons, and her father, Leonard Ash, gathered to remember and honor Jennifer’s mother, Frances Ash, on July 25, 2020.

“My mother, father and I loved Suzanne’s sermons and preaching style. Suzanne was there for my mother before and during her time in hospice care. My mother told me Suzanne is a wonderful pastor and her last wish was for us to become members of the church. Suzanne gave a beautiful eulogy of my mother that day and had a staff member film and livestream the service, so other family members could see it,” Hall said.

Dora Tartar, who is on the Visionary committee and chairs Employee Relations, said Pastor Suzanne was loved and respected.

“She was a minister who went over and above her Sunday morning preaching and weekday office duties. Pastor made many home visits to shut-ins, hospital visits and nursing homes to give communion and spiritual guidance to our St. Matthew’s church members,” Tartar said.

She worked in the kitchen and ice cream stand at church picnics and the strawberry festival. “She did so much for our church family,” said Tartar. “I’m sad to see her go and wish her all the best to her and her family in retirement.”

Her career path

Brooks-Cope loved biology. She also loved the Bible. She had a choice to make in her career path.

“I was answering God’s call. After three years in the inner-city ministry in Baltimore, I had an eye-opening experience. I saw extreme poverty and homelessness,” she said. “It was in that time I felt called to seminary.”

She attended Princeton Seminary from 1983 to 1987, and included a full-year internship at Sayville Congregational UCC in Long Island, New York. She and Scott married in 1985 after their second year in seminary.

She started as the associate pastor at Zion UCC in Lehighton in 1987 and was ordained in 1988. She worked here for four years, until her husband was recruited to start a UCC church in Florida. The young family moved to Florida, to continue their ministry careers.

She was the associate pastor at Orange Park Presbyterian Church for 6.5 years and pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for 13 years.

And then Phoebe Ministries approached Pastor Scott with a job offer at the Allentown campus. Soon, Suzanne found a new church on the hill above the village of Kunkletown.

She plans a six-month sabbatical from preaching. “It gives me the freedom to come up here to visit in the summer,” she said. “And babysit Karen Alice in Virginia during Holy Week.

The Rev. Suzanne Brooks-Cope retired earlier this month from St. Matthew's UCC in Kunkletown after 12 years there. She and husband, Pastor Scott Brooks-Cope, loaded her office's belongings into a U-Haul Wednesday morning and stood by the church's hillside marquee one last time. STACI L. GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The Rev. Suzanne Brooks-Cope, left, listens as the Rev. Bonnie Bates, conference minister of the Penn Northeast Conference of the UCC, leads her brief farewell service at the end of worship on Sept. 3.