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Saunders: A tribute to a man of God for all seasons and occasions

On Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, Chaplain Jimmie Schwartz led his last worship service at Carroll Lutheran Village, where he served as full-time chaplain for 27 years.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, Chaplain Jimmie Schwartz led his last worship service at Carroll Lutheran Village, where he served as full-time chaplain for 27 years. (Carroll Lutheran Village / HANDOUT)

“I profoundly believe that I have experienced a miracle that continues to unfold.”

With these words, the Rev. Jimmie Schwartz began his account of what has been happening to him during the course of 2019 and into 2020 since a debilitating car accident in January 2019. While stopped in a line of traffic his car was rear-ended and left him with life altering consequences and struggling with paraplegia.

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Immediately after the accident he was taken to Shock Trauma for three weeks of operations and recovery, followed by six weeks at Kessler Center for Rehabilitation in New Jersey, and now continuing with intensive physical, occupational and aqua therapy at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins. Having been told that he would never walk again to now walking with a walker and even 500 feet with special canes called lofstrand crutches that attach to his arms is nothing short of a miracle.

On Jan. 12, the Rev. Jimmie L. Schwartz, chaplain for 27 years, led his final worship service at Carroll Lutheran Village.

Through this ordeal, Jimmie has been quick to thank “the people of God in Christ at Carroll Lutheran Village” for their faithfulness in upholding him and his family with prayers and cards and calls and visits — gifts of love that have sustained them during this extraordinary challenge.

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While this accident has put an end to Chaplain Jimmie’s 27-year call to ministry at Carroll Lutheran Village out of 39 total years of ministry, that accident and its consequences do not define him for the residents and staff. Indeed, many kept hoping and praying that he would return as chaplain, for they felt, “He is the heart and soul of Carroll Lutheran Village.” Still others have said repeatedly, “God broke the mold when He made Jimmie — there’s no one like him.”

So what is it about Chaplain Jimmie Lamar Schwartz that made him the “heart and soul” of Carroll Lutheran Village?

Serving the chronologically gifted takes a special person indeed, and indeed Jimmie has demonstrated his special servant heart.

The very things he has said about the people of the Village — their love, care, prayer, support and concern — are the very things he always displayed to all residents and staff, no matter who they were. He was always available to talk, to counsel, to give of himself to help someone else. He could talk with everyone; he could make everyone feel welcome. His door and his heart and mind were always open to all who needed encouragement, counsel, comfort, friendship, a prayer or a laugh.

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As we prime-ers know, laughter is sometimes the best medicine. And Jimmie’s laugh was contagious. He often made laughter a hallmark of his trade as a minister. Even in funeral sermons Jimmie had a way of weaving humor in to make a point. In my mother’s funeral, for example, he made the point that Mother and Marie remained friends until the end even if Mother pulled Marie’s pigtails when they were in school many, many years before!

The Rev. Jimmie Schwartz, left, greets Joanlee Burrier following an Ash Wednesday service at Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster Feb 18, 2015.
The Rev. Jimmie Schwartz, left, greets Joanlee Burrier following an Ash Wednesday service at Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster Feb 18, 2015. (DYLAN SLAGLESTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

His very creative ‘Live Nativities’ at Christmas injected humor during the telling of the birth of our Savior with a real baby that had been born to one of the Village’s employees. In the early years sheep and small cattle stood on tarps and adorned one section of the front of the chapel. Then one year — because camels are hard to find in Carroll County — Jimmie used three small dogs belonging to residents to represent the camels, my dog one of the three. My “camel” couldn’t wait to get to the baby Jesus and lick his face! Thankfully, the mother playing Mary laughed as well as the audience.

Jimmie may have married some who played Mary and Joseph and baptized their children who became the “Baby Jesus” because he was loved and sought out for his spiritual leadership and counseling. He was always available to counsel and pray with the bereaved, the lonely, those facing serious illness and death. Throughout his career he mentored those who were becoming ministers and deacons. He was a confidante to those facing life choices and seeking spiritual as well as practical advice.

Jimmie was good at planning parties, too, that lifted one’s spirits. A couple of 70th anniversary parties are notable, the first in 1993, shortly after his installation as chaplain, for George and Anna Hoensch, while George was in the Health Care Center. Another one came near the end of his ministry in 2018 for Ralph and Jane Nupp who had lived here for 26 years. He even planned and executed a fabulous retirement party for me in 2012!

The Rev. Jimmie Lamar Schwartz was, for Carroll Lutheran Village, truly a man of God for all seasons and all occasions of life!

Perhaps the trauma he has faced this past year will lead him into still far-reaching service to others. He has been asked to serve as a volunteer peer mentor with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation through Kennedy Krieger. Dedicated to finding treatments and cures for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders, the Foundation is giving Jimmie extensive training to counsel those who can relate to what he has been experiencing for over a year.

While we at Carroll Lutheran Village will miss him greatly, we will remember him standing by his walker with raised arms to pronounce the benediction at his farewell sermon preached here on Jan. 12. And we will want to remember these words from his prayer before the sermon that day: “Almighty God, your steadfast care and provision for us and your whole creation never ceases. Your unconditional love brings healing to our troubled, human, sinful, and injured lives making every moment a new opportunity to serve Christ ... Amen.” And all the people said, Amen!

The miracle for us at Carroll Lutheran Village is that we have been privileged, for 27 years, to have the Rev. Jimmie Schwartz leading us to the throne of God’s love and grace.

Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the second Sunday of the month.

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