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JT church honors retired bishop

Retired Bishop the Rev. Dr. Samuel R. Zeiser was honored in his hometown of Jim Thorpe on Sunday.

“Wherever I served, or wherever I have visited in the course of my ministry, I have always counted my greatest blessing as having grown up in this town,” Zeiser said, speaking to the congregation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in the Heights, Jim Thorpe.

Zeiser was honored at the 10:30 Sunday morning service with the reading of a resolution naming the small street that runs alongside the church building “Bishop Samuel Zeiser Way.” The church petitioned the borough to have the unnamed street dedicated in his honor.

Walter Schlenner, church council president, said Sunday, “Today is a very special day for St. John’s in the Heights, and we are so proud to honor Bishop Samuel Zeiser. Bishop Zeiser was born and raised in our congregation in the small town of Jim Thorpe, PA.”

Zeiser was visibly moved in receiving the honor.

“So, I grew up here, and I played on that street as a kid. This is more of an honor than you can imagine,” Zeiser said.

In the process of election of a bishop, Zeiser said the seven nominees were asked to talk about themselves. “And, what I talked about was coming to understand what it means to be loved, by being in a community where people honestly love you, and that’s how I thought the church should be,” Zeiser said.

“If the synod was going to elect me as bishop, they should understand that the church I would oversee would be a church where people honestly loved one another.”

He said he learned about that love from the St. John’s congregation.

During the service, the Rev. Peter Muhr offered a dedication to Zeiser, and introduced a song hymnal dedicated to Bishop Zeiser’s mother, Midge Zeiser.

“This is the church at work,” Muhr said, referring to the movement to honor Zeiser.

“The Lutheran Church of St John in the Heights on Mount Pisgah, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, located on the corner of Bishop Samuel Zeiser Way, whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ, wishes to congratulate you, Bishop, on your ministry and retirement.”

Muhr also referred to Zeiser’s mother. “From where your mother had lived, she could have imagined seeing the sign which reads, her son, “Bishop Samuel Zeiser Way.” But where Midge lives today, she can see the street sign even better.”

The Rev. Fred T. Crawford III, retired pastor and working at Christ Church, Mahanoy City, discussed the impact Zeiser had in his 12 years as bishop. “His dedication to and care for the people, parishes, and pastors of the Synod deserve the recognition. Our roots are in what was then known as St. John Lutheran in Upper Mauch Chunk. So many memories of those formative years are cherished, and it is an honor to share those memories with you.”

The synod consists of approximately 165,000 members in 292 congregations across 14 counties.

Zeiser grew up in Jim Thorpe and graduated from Albright College in Reading.

He received Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees from the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.

He also received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.

Ordained in 1979, Zeiser was pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Nanticoke, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Bangor, and Bethany Lutheran Church, West Reading, all in Pennsylvania, before Christ Lutheran Church called him in 2002.

In 2008, he was elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. Zeiser retired in 2020.

Deacon Bill Thompson in front leads the Rev. Peter Muhr and Bishop Samuel Zeiser as they enter St. John's Lutheran Church for worship. The church honored the retired bishop, who grew up in Jim Thorpe. JIM LOGUE JR./SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Members of St. John's Lutheran Church in Jim Thorpe at the area named in honor of retired Bishop Samuel R. Zeiser. From left are Deacon Bill Thompson; Bishop Samuel R. Zeiser; James Trainer, church council vice president; the Rev. Peter Muhr, pastor; and Walter Schlenner, church council president. JIM LOGUE JR./SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS