SOMERSET, PA:Pennsylvania Priest appointed to lead new ACNA Anglican diocese

By KECIA BAL
DAILY AMERICAN

When the Rev. Mark Zimmerman preached his first sermon in Somerset on a cold Christmas Eve 15 years ago, he could not have guessed what was planned for him, his congregation or his denomination.

“Just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a plan,” said Zimmerman, a local Anglican priest known for his dedication to the community.

“The church was changing – you could see that,” he said in a parson’s office at what is now Somerset Anglican Fellowship. “I don’t think I had any concept of the depth of the change.”

Zimmerman, who led area families through a rift in the national Episcopal Church and established the local Anglican congregation, has been appointed the first bishop of a new Anglican Diocese of the Southwest. The Anglican Church of North America, established in 2009 after some Episcopals decided national church leaders were compromising scripture, is working to form dioceses in North America, including Canada and Mexico.

An evangelistic mission

Zimmerman’s first Somerset flock, St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, was among congregations grappling with doctrinal issues, and a few years ago, a portion of church members decided to re-allign themselves with the Anglican Church, mother church to the Episcopals more than 200 years ago.

“For the Anglican church now, our job is not to look backward,” Zimmerman said. “It is to proclaim the truth of the gospel in it’s fullness and richness to a world that is in desperate need of it.”

The newly outlined diocese covers 14 congregations – ones similar to those small churches where he’s served. He and his wife will be based in Albuquerque, N.M

“It’s really exciting on so many levels,” he said. “The first bishop helps to establish the DNA of the diocese.”

His goals for the diocese are two-fold: to make it evangelistic, with an emphasis on reaching out to Hispanic and Native American populations, and to make it a church that offers a strong foundation for young people. Already he is challenging each rector in the new diocese to learn Spanish and look for opportunities to plant Spanish-speaking congregations.

“We want to let them know there is a group that loves them,” he said.

In December, members at Somerset Anglican are to begin creating a “parish profile” to help connect them with the right fit to lead the church, he said.

“I pray that the congregation will be able to find a pastor who can love them and teach them and preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ to help them become true disciples.”

Zimmerman plans to offer his final sermon at Somerset Anglican this Christmas Eve.

Seeing God’s hand

Looking back, Zimmerman can see the connections.

When he met his wife, Cindy, as an undergraduate student – a blind date where he had a love-at-first-sight experience – they discovered they both shared a dream to minister in a foreign land and language, likely Spanish.

Together, they served a church for nine years in rural New Mexico before accepting a position in Somerset.

“After 34 years of marriage, God is honoring that dream and bringing us both to a place where we can minister to Hispanic communities,” he said.

Earlier this year, Zimmerman’s congregation led an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community in Somerset. Now, there is a Spanish-speaking service at the church every Sunday, where a dozen or so Mexicans gather. The next nearest Spanish-speaking church service is Pittsburgh, attendants have said. That goal, along with bringing in a Young Life program for area teens, were answers to prayer for him, Zimmerman said.

“God is so good,” he said. “Those are things I wanted to see happen here.”

Zimmerman can see, too, how his background as a preacher’s kid and a small-town minister have readied him for this journey.

“This (Pittsburgh) diocese is not your typical diocese,” he said. “I’m not your typical bishop. Typically, they’re from an urban area and a big congregations. Farmington (N.M.) and Somerset area as far away from that as you can get. God was preparing me to go to a diocese filled with small congregations.”

Aside from his nine years in New Mexico and 15 in Somerset, Zimmerman also helped shape and lead Laurel Mountain Ministry, whose members worked to support emerging Anglican congregations regionally. For two years, he led services at what is now Epiphany Anglican Fellowship in Ligonier. He also worked with small congregations in Homer City, Johnstown and Bedford, so much so that he became known jokingly as the Bishop of Laurel Mountain, another hint at what was to come.

“Once again, God was preparing me by having me serve in small congregations,” he said.

‘Great big heart’

Zimmerman is not a pastor confined to a steepled building or limited to helping only church members.

As an active Kiwanis Club of Somerset member, he’s been part of local festivities, such as the Somerset Halloween Parade, for years. He also helped out serving pancakes during Fire & Ice Festival and during Light Up Night. He’s known to some as St. Nicholas – not to be confused with Santa – handing out gold coins and telling the story of the Saint of Children who sought to help little ones trapped in poverty.

He also will be well-remembered for lending a hand at the former Vance Coleman Basketball Tournament and helping launch an organization talent show, Kiwanis past President Mike Boyer said.

“I think Pastor Mark has a great big heart,” Boyer said. “He’s just a kind person. It puts a smile on his face when he helps another person.”

Zimmerman always has been ready to work, Boyer added.

“Mark’s willingness to get things done – that, I’ll miss, and his true friendship within Kiwanis and outside Kiwanis. Somerset and Kiwanis Club was very lucky to have Mark Zimmerman.”

Zimmerman said he also enjoyed building relationships as chaplain at the state police turnpike barracks in Somerset.

“It’s good for those guys to have someone they can talk to, and if they need it, someone who they can pray with,” Zimmerman said.

Trooper Brian Seifert said Zimmerman showed genuine concern.

“He would come here on his own and he would ask how things were going, on and off duty,” Seifert said, recalling one particularly heart-wrenching crash when Zimmerman checked on his welfare for weeks until he was satisfied that Seifert was OK. “He would know if something here happened, and he would come and stop in at the station and asked if his services were needed.”

Zimmerman would attend social events, such as retirement parties, but never shied away from the stressful situations, Seifert said.

“The things we do are things in life you don’t want to do. A lot of our work deals with tragedy. During good times and bad times – after a horrific accident – he would be there to talk you through that. We are blessed that there are people who are like that.”

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