The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Columnists

January 29, 2014

JIM SIEHL: Election win a loss for church

— Folks at Bedford United Methodist Church had a difficult decision to make at Tuesday’s special election to determine the successor to the late state Rep. Dick Hess.

It was all about wanting the best for Republican candidate Jesse Topper but not wanting to deal with the likelihood of his leaving his church position for an opportunity that is far different from what he is so ably doing.

In the end, Jesse’s desire for political service was honored. They were among eight of every 10 voters who went to the polls in zero or lower weather to overwhelmingly back the highly intelligent, personable 32-year-old’s candidacy.

At the church, Jesse has gradually moved to more and more responsibilities until reaching his position as executive minister to Pastor Jeff Welsch.

No one disputes that Jesse is eminently qualified in his current role, and some still believe that Topper’s future as a servant of God is at the pastor level. He already has been performing as an associate pastor without portfolio.

When he periodically occupies the pulpit, his delivery and substance are as if he were an established preacher. He has an easy-to-follow style, is very comfortable and articulates with eloquence and confidence of a man much more experienced.

Topper contributes mightily as a musician. He came to the church some 10 years ago almost fresh out of high school as a keyboard player for the Praise Team performing at the 11 a.m. contemporary service.

That was the beginning. But as the years passed we delighted to developing skills as Jesse mastered the organ and piano.

His musical interest knows no bounds. His repertoire spans the classics – from Bach and Mozart to traditional church anthems to praise songs, to his personally arranged piano favorites, to accompanying his  singer/com­poser father, John Topper.

Jesse immediately became a part of the church chancel choir directed by Carol Snyder, leading the tenor section, and also filling in as choir director when necessary.

Is it any wonder that at a choir rehearsal a couple of Wednesdays ago, Carol, contemplating the expected loss to the choir, remarked with a laugh: “I’m not going to vote for him.”

From occasionally accom-panying the choir to holding down the leadership position with the Praise Team, to

relieving Pastor Jeff of some of his vast tasks, to performing at the organ most Sundays, to playing for funerals and special services, this multitalented father of two young sons will leave a hole far too big for a replacement.

“Well, you can’t replace Jesse,” said fellow choir member Gary Nouse, as we celebrated a belated choir Christmas party.

I have only scratched the surface of the kind of man Jesse has become. Home-schooled, Jesse credits his parents with raising him on “the solid principles of faith, love, discipline and hard work.”

And it shows from his beaming smile to his joyful laugh, to his gentle kindness and compassionate nature. I once wrote in a column honoring my late best friend, Homer Rice, that Homer made everyone feel he was their best friend. Jesse has same affectionate, outgoing personality.

A graduate of Bedford Area High School, where Jesse had the male lead in two musicals and was a three-sports participant, he later served as an assistant football coach to Max Shoemaker.

How can it be that someone so well-defined as a prospective minister, as is Jesse, could also walk away from the enjoyment he must feel as a superb musician? And do it for public service – a noble endeavor for sure and there certainly is a need for men like Jesse representing us in the legislature.

The column begs for an answer. But will have to be another day.

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

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