The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 9, 2014

JIM SIEHL | Answering the call, wherever it leads

Jim Siehl
For The Tribune-Democrat

— My last column dwelled extensively on the qualifications of Jesse Topper, the multitalented, highly-respected and popular former executive minister at Bedford Methodist Church.

Left unanswered was the question “why” – why did the newly-elected state representive choose to turn away from what many believed was his destiny to be an ordained pastor?

Some would go as far as to suggest the new challenge represents a misuse of Jesse’s wonderful talents – gifts so well displayed the past 10 years in increasing roles.

Addressing the subject in a telephone interview shortly after he swept the vacant legislative seat with an eye-popping 80 percent of the vote, the 30-something father of young sons, Joshua and Jonah, explained:

“I feel that God calls us all to ministry, and that ministry is based on the circumstances of your life at the time.

“Some are called into full-time pastoral ministry for their full life. I never felt that call. I never felt that call to be a pastor. I think that is a very specific and unique calling that comes upon men and women who go on and move into that career field.

“Again, I never felt that call in my life, but I certainly feel the call to ministry.

“I think another thing I told people over the years is that ‘God is not somebody who is up there as a puppet master and we’re just on a string.’

“He calls us to live a certain way no matter what job we’re in, no matter where we are employed, no matter what the circumstances around us in the world are ... because people lose jobs, they change jobs, they tap into their careers. Again, God calls us to live the same way. So, I look at that calling as sort of the ultimate one we need to keep our eyes on. And that is what I am going to try to do as I move into a different career field.”

As far as turning away from his artistry as an organist and pianist, that is not going to happen.

“I look at people who have been in the national spotlight in terms of service like Condoleezza Rice, who is a classical pianist, and even locally like my dad, who is involved in so much yet still always kept music as part of his life. And I plan to do that as well. Of course, I can’t predict exactly what that will look like,” he said with a laugh. “But music always has been a passion and will continue to be a passion of mine.”

Jesse stressed that he is looking forward to being an active participant at Bedford Methodist, which has grown under Pastor Jeff Welsch with three Sunday services and an average combined attendance near 400, with weekly offerings in the $11,000 range.

“I plan on still being with the Praise Team and will be looking for some different ministries to get involved,” adding that appreciating his faith from a new perspective is appealing to him.

Already plans are in the making to bring on board a full-time assistant minister appointed by the conference to take effect in July.

Column feedbacks were received from friends Bonnie Warren of Westmont, an accomplished pianist herself, and the

Rev. Don Miller, a Lutheran minister living in Winnipeg, Canada, and a 1948 Johnstown High School graduate.

Bonnie noted that there is no reason Jesse should have to give up his love for music.

She pointed to the considerable musical involvements of Utah’s long-serving U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who plays organ, piano and violin and writes poetry and lyrics and still lends his talents to the Mormon Church.

The Rev. Don wrote:

“Your Jesse Topper sounds like one of those unique men of God who loves and serves Him in all they do and with skill and integrity.

“I might suggest that God is calling him to take on a larger audience that needs to be led and directed toward integrity, higher morals, greater love and compassion and brought back into ‘tune’ with our Creator.

“It is always so hard to lose a valued leader in a congregation. We so often feel, as I detect in your column, that one will never find a person of such leadership and quality as the one being lost.

“God will provide. And, it may be that this will lead to someone who might not otherwise have the opportunity but who will ably serve and bring strengths that are also needed.”

Jim Siehl of Schellsburg, formerly of Richland Township, retired in 1991 after 44 years as a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat.