Our Ministry is Served by:
Covenant Pastor: Reverend Walter Startzel
Learning Ministry Associate: Barbara J. Pingatore, R.N.
Choir Director: Howard Bennett
Partner in Mission: The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Truscott
The Rev. Walter Startzel has become interim pastor of First Lutheran Church, Johnstown.
Startzel, who has served numerous parishes in the region, was appointed by Allegheny Synod Bishop Michael Rhyne and approved by the First Lutheran Congregational Council. He began a one-year appointment in January. Previously he had been conducting Saturday evening services at the church and visiting the homebound and hospitalized. During his expanded pastorate he will be fully involved in First Lutheran’s ministry, including outreach to the needy. Meanwhile the congregation will continue its search for a regular pastor.
“I see great potential for First Lutheran,” Startzel said. “We already have several outreach ministries to the community, and I would like to encourage their strengthening and participation.”
Startzel retired in 2014 after 21 years as pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Stoystown, followed by a call as interim pastor while Grace and Trinity/Hooversville formed the two- church Stonycreek Lutheran Parish. Since then he has been serving numerous parishes and engaging in other ministries.
Has he changed his views over the years about how people respond to the church?
“With our cultural change toward more diversity,” he said, “Christian churches need to learn how best to offer Christ’s love and the hospitality of a welcoming faith community, open to everyone who seeks to know God.
“The way we worship must be more participatory and less performance-oriented.”
Startzel is a native of Elysburg, Northumberland County. He has a bachelor’s degree in music education from Susquehanna University and a master of divinity degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Before entering the ministry he taught vocal music at Northern York County High School, Dillsburg. In 1973 he became pastor of the Lavansville-Bakersville Parish in Somerset County. He also has served congregations in Spring Grove, Shamokin, Hooversville, Johnstown, Summerhill, Sidman, Lilly and Portage. From 1988 to 1991 he was chaplain at the Selinsgrove (Pa.) Center and at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville. He currently serves the Allegheny Lutheran Synod as chair of the Synod Worship Committee, an instructor in the Ignite Teaching Ministry and a member of the Synod Assembly Committee (worship).
Startzel remains optimistic about the future of the Christian church.
“While some lament the loss of a Christian culture, I see this as a freeing for ministry. We are more and more living in a world akin to New Testament times. There are varieties of isms, values and traditions around us. We can learn things from them all, being less condemning than Christians often have been. Like the early church, we can be renewed in our zeal by sharing the love of Jesus with everyone around us.”
First Lutheran Church was organized in 1832. The first building was dedicated on Ascension Day in 1834. The present edifice was erected in 1922 after a disastrous fire destroyed the previous building. The present structure sustained damage in the floods of 1936 and 1977.
An elevator and other facilities for the physically challenged were added, making the church barrier-free. Renovation continues as necessary to preserve the building and provide resources for ministry. A chapel was razed in 2013-14 because of deterioration and high maintenance costs. Members are contributing toward creation of a park in its place. The majestic Skinner 3,000-pipe organ was rededicated in 2013 after extensive renovation.
The commitment to maintaining these facilities reveals the solid faith, dedication and stewardship of our members. This stewardship extends beyond our own walls. First Lutheran played major roles in the creation of Camp Sequanota in 1947 and the Allegheny Lutheran Home in 1949.
Congregation Council: Front Row: Harriet Miller, Susie Kinsey, Heidi Piurkowsky, Bill Price (President), Carol Allison. Back Row: Barry Critchfield (Treasurer), Howard Bennett (Secretary), Joel Hoshaw, Larry Riddle, Bill Grubb (Vice President). Absent from photo are Bill Hargreaves and Jennifer Hartland.