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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

 

Remembering Bishop Wilson E. Touhsaent

The Rev. Dr. Wilson E. Touhsaent, first bishop (then called president) of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, died on October 7 at age 89. A wonderful obituary can be found on the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod's web site at www.godslove.org/people/touhsaent.htm .

Wilson was the pastor of my home congregation, Atonement Lutheran Church in Wyomissing, Pennsylvnia, during my growing-up years and then my bishop as a new pastor. He baptized, confirmed and ordained me! He was my "spiritual father" and referred to me as his "spiritual son." I feel deeply honored to have known him.

Below is the text of a letter that I wrote to his widow, Evelyn.

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October 16, 2007

Dear Evelyn:

Kris and I are so sorry that we cannot be with you for Wilson’s memorial service on Sunday, November 18, at Ziegel’s Church. As you know, Wilson baptized, confirmed and ordained me. I feel deeply honored to have known him and even more honored that Wilson referred to me as his “spiritual son.” Thank you for asking me to take part in this service.

My Mother and Dad moved to Wyomissing in 1954 and joined Atonement Church after meeting the vibrant, new, young pastor (Wilson) who they liked very much. My brother, Byron, and I were not yet baptized and Wilson baptized us soon afterwards. Both Byron and I grew up singing in the Boys and then Youth Choir at Atonement, every Sunday for the early service. We heard Wilson preach Sunday after Sunday and remember his preaching fondly. Somehow he was able to preach at a level that reached everyone, from grade schoolers like me through adults.

Wilson was also very active beyond our congregation – I remember him working with Paul Hoh to unseat the corrupt Democratic Party officials in Reading and Berks County (his group was called BID – Berks Independent Democrats), a popular move, and publicly defending the Supreme Court’s action to end Bible reading and the praying of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools, a not-so-popular move. (Wilson strongly believed in the separation of church and state. He believed that the church, not the public school, was the place to learn the Lord’s Prayer).

In 1968 when the Lutheran Church in America’s (LCA’s) Eastern Pennsylvania Synod split to form the new Northeastern and Southeastern Pennsylvania Synods, Wilson became a favorite for bishop (then called president) in the new Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. That did not mean that he wanted this position! I was Atonement’s lay delegate (with Wilson as the pastoral delegate) to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod’s constituting convention in the fall of 1968 at Muhlenberg College. Wilson and I were voting for Sam Kidd (because that’s what Wilson told me to do) for president. Wilson was convinced that no one would be able to spell “Touhsaent!” He was wrong. Wilson was easily elected as the first president of the new LCA Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

Carol Weiser was very kind to quote me in her obituary for Wilson about how Wilson, as bishop, decided to “do synod” differently – deployed staff throughout the territory, strong emphasis on work with students for rostered ministries, and a new emphasis on the ministry of all of God’s people. Wilson surrounded himself with a highly skilled staff, folks who are, for me, legends in the church – Hal Weiss, Jan Walker, Leon Phillips, John “Hatch” Hattery, Eleanor Gillstrom, Betty Pettit, Fred Blank, Paul Hoh, and John Yoe – to name just a few.

After I joined the synod staff, Kris and I had the pleasure of being fellow members of St. Paul’s Church in Allentown with Wilson and Betty and you. Sometime after Betty’s death Wilson showed up at my office to say that he was ready for Kris to match him up with someone. (Kris was known for her match-making skills). I replied that Kris and I thought he should be dating YOU. Uncharacteristically, Wilson blanched and left my office without a word. Three or more hours later, Wilson returned to tell me that you and he were already dating and that he wanted to tell me that, but didn’t want to do it without checking with you! A very sweet memory!

I am so grateful that you and Wilson found each other after Betty’s death. Thank you for your love and care for Wilson for these many years. God bless and keep you always.

Sincerely,

The Rev. Eric C. Shafer
Senior Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church
Lansdale, Pennsylvania

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