Zoar United Church of Christ welcomes new pastor

Zoar United Church of Christ welcomes new pastor
Lori Feeney

Zoar UCC Pastor Dan Grimminger with his children Justus and Julia in the Sunday school room.


When Pastor Daniel J. Grimminger learned the Zoar United Church of Christ was seeking a new minister, it was music to his ears. In addition to holding a master’s degree in theological studies, Grimminger holds a doctorate in sacred music and choral conducting, a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Pittsburgh, and an undergraduate degree in vocal performance from the University of Mount Union.

However, music is not what first drew Grimminger to the Zoar UCC. “I had played the organ in the church during Harvest Festival one year, and I’ve always been kind of in love with the building and with Zoar in general,” he said.

Grimminger also is the author of several books, one of which is “Sacred Song and the Pennsylvania Dutch,” an in-depth study of how changes among the Pennsylvania Dutch society were manifested in their music.

The pastor also has written two history books in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. His first was a history of Paris, Ohio in Stark County, where he lives. The second he cowrote with his son Justus (pronounced Eustace) on Louisville, Ohio.

A love of history, combined with a passion for music, just seemed to fit at Zoar UCC. The church was built in 1853 by the original Zoar settlers. Separatists who had fled religious persecution in Germany named the village Zoar, which in the Bible is loosely defined as a “place of refuge.” It also is the town Lot fled to after leaving Sodom.

Grimminger serves as a hospice chaplain with CorsoCare in Canton, and while he said he loves the hospice work, he missed being a pastor. “I was looking around at different options, and I went to the United Church of Christ website, and when I saw the Zoar church posting, I thought maybe this is something that’s meant to be.”

Sherry Espenschied is one of the church members who served on the search committee to find a new pastor. She also believes finding Grimminger was meant to be but admits it was a difficult search.

“There aren’t a lot of ministers available through the UCC,” Espenschied said. “So many have retired, and we were looking for somebody who was younger, family oriented, and someone who could help us build and grow by bringing in young people.”

There were two other criteria Espenschied said were key for her. “I wanted someone who would listen, and he listens. He really listens. He also has a pastor’s heart. He would do anything for anybody at any given time.”

Espenschied said during the 22 weeks when the church was without a pastor, church member Marilyn Gordon was charged with filling the pulpit every Sunday.

“It was kind of hard to get someone to fill in,” Gordon said. “I’ll admit it was a little nerve wracking, and I was sweating it a few Sundays.”

Gordon said she also had signed up with churchjobs.com, a service that matches ministers with congregations all across the country. “They weren’t very helpful though,” she said.

Gordon’s husband Scott served on the search committee, along with Espenschied, Emily Dixon, Scott Stuhlmiller, Carol Murphy and Betty Sue Rice.

Singer, teacher, shepherd

Grimminger was once a professional church musician, which included being an organist and a choir director. “I also was a professional singer for a time,” he said. “I sang in the schola (a small choir performing sacred music) at St. Joseph Cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Columbus.”

He also has experience as a teacher, having taught church music, organ, vocal lessons, music history, music theory, liturgical studies and more. The institutions he has taught for in the classroom include Boston University, Kent State University, the North American Lutheran Seminary and the Aultman School of Nursing, where he taught medical ethics.

Grimminger also is credited with establishing an annual church music symposium at Mount Union that brought in world-renowned speakers on a different topic each year.

Grimminger is glad to be shepherding a congregation again. “The first six months here have been great,” he said. “We’ve got a Bible study and Sunday school going again, and I’m working on a concert series for next year that would bring in accomplished musicians, mostly in the classical genre, but it may possibly branch out a bit.”

Grimminger also is scheduled to be part of the Historic Zoar Speaker Series next year when he will speak about the Zoar hymnal. “They actually published a hymn book here at the Zoar church in the late 1800s, but it’s virtually unknown,” he said. “It’s a very rare thing, and people just don’t know about it.”

Grimminger’s two children join him every Sunday for worship services. Justus is 15, and Julia Grimminger is 14 years old.

“When he got called here, I already knew about Zoar,” said Justus Grimminger, who visited the village on a grade school field trip.

Julia Grimminger also came to Zoar on a field trip. “The first time we came here to the church, I thought everyone was very welcoming and kind,” she said.

That welcoming attitude is a cornerstone of the United Church of Christ. “I think the church is called to be the body of Christ and to love and serve their neighbors,” he said. “The UCC really understands that, and I see it in this congregation. The folks here are definitely interested in loving and serving their neighbors, and I think that’s what makes this place attractive, not just to me, but to people all around.”

Worship services at the Zoar UCC are Sundays at 9:30 a.m., followed by a coffee and social hour. The Bible study group meets Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. For more information call 330-874-4641.

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