The Rev. Peggy J. Bonsell of Bellwood has received the Bishop's Award from the Susquehanna Conference of the UnitedMethodist Church.
Bonsell, who is the Protestant chaplain at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, received the honor at the annual conference held last month at Messiah College in Grantham.
The award is given annually by the bishop and the committee on Christian Unity and Inter-Religious Concerns to a lay person or clergy who has demonstrated outstanding involvement in ecumenical ministry. It includes $500 to continue ecumenical work.
"I was very surprised and honored to receive it," said Bonsell of Bellwood.
She did not even know she was being considered for any honors until about two weeks before the conference. She said she was emailed a notice that she did not get an honor that her husband, Gary, had secretly nominated her to receive. But the next day, she got an email that she would be given the Bishop's Award instead.
"It is the highest honor I could receive," she said, "and I have the privilege of picking some place for the $500 to go."
Bonsell said the $500 will go toward needs for a chapel yet to be established at the Arnold Hall at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home. It is her goal to have a chapel in each of the three buildings at the home. She said a chapel was established at MacArthur Hall last Christmas, and a temporary chapel is available at Eisenhower Hall. In Arnold Hall, church services and Bible studies are held in the activities room.
Bonsell said because there is no altar, she places the candles and Bible on a table and has to carry altar supplies back and forth for each service. She said she wants a chapel in each hall for residents to call their own and to take family members when they visit.
"We want them to have a place they can be proud of," she said.
Bonsell said the chapels are open to all religions, and she shares chaplain duties with Monsignor Bernard Przybocki.
For residents of the Protestant faith, she holds a Sunday service and Tuesday Bible study in each of the three buildings.
She has served the veterans for the past eight years and two years previously with an eight-year assignment as pastor of Warriors Mark United Methodist Church in between.
"The residents become like family," she said. "My husband and I feel privileged to be there. They did not hire him but they accept him."
The Bonsells host a summer and Christmas activity each year, rotating the events through the three buildings.
In addition to offering spiritual guidance at the home, Bonsell has worked with funeral directors on services for people of diverse beliefs and helped to organize Bellwood's Ecumenical Clergy group in the 1990s.
And for more than 10 years, she was one of four secretaries taking notes at the Methodist's annual conference.
The Susquehanna Conference consists of 934 churches in seven districts, including the Altoona District, in central and northeast Pennsylvania