Bishop Morris G. Zumbrun, 82, first head of Lutheran synod


Bishop Morris G. Zumbrun, a Lutheran minister who became the first bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, died of coronary artery disease Jan. 20 at the Copper Ridge assisted-living facility in Sykesville. He was 82.

Bishop Zumbrun was born in Hampstead and raised on his parents' farm in Greenmount, Carroll County. After graduating from Hampstead High School in 1938, he entered Gettysburg College and earned his bachelor's degree in Greek in 1942.

"I never said I wanted to be anything else but a minister, and there was never any question about it," Bishop Zumbrun told The Sun said in 1991.

He earned his divinity degree in 1945 from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg and was ordained by the Maryland Synod of the United Lutheran Church of America at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Jefferson, Frederick County, where he was pastor until 1953.

A social liberal who became active in the civil rights movement, he experienced racism first hand while dining at a parishioner's Frederick County farm, said the Rev. Matthew S. Schenning, co-pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manchester.

"It was during World War II, shortly after he graduated from seminary. The farmer had been given German prisoners of war to work the farm, and there were also several black workers," according to Mr. Schenning. "He said, 'It struck me as strange that while we're fighting a war, American citizens couldn't sit at the table, but its enemies could.'"

He was pastor for 12 years at Christ Lutheran Church in Dallastown, Pa., until becoming pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Linthicum in 1965. In 1984, he was elected bishop of the Maryland Synod of the Lutheran Church in America.

He was named the first bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which was created in the 1988 merger of the American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church in America and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

During his four years as bishop, he visited all of its 186 churches and established the Lutheran Office on Public Policy.

He helped develop several large-scale, low-income housing projects, including the Interfaith Housing Project on the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland Interfaith Housing Development Corp. and Nehemiah Homes in Baltimore, and worked for greater long-term interdenominational understanding.

"Advocacy was not always popular among Lutherans, but Bishop Zumbrun, in his own quiet way, worked hard to be a voice for the voiceless in society and to see that the synod was as well," said Linda Nansteel Lovell, its communications coordinator.

Bishop George Paul Mocko, who succeeded Bishop Zumbrun at his 1991 retirement, recalled the pivotal role he played during the Lutheran merger.

"These kinds of 'marriages' always have certain tensions and places of mistrust. But Morris Zumbrun just had that kind of honesty and openness to people that enabled all of that mistrust to be overcome," said Bishop Mocko, who retired in 2000.

After retiring, Bishop Zumbrun returned to his roots when he bought a home in Hampstead. He lived there until 1998, when he and his wife, the former Evelyn Royer, moved to Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster.

Friends and neighbors in Hampstead and Manchester called him "Bud," a nickname from his youth, or "Bishop Bud." He became an active parishioner at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manchester, which he had joined in his youth.

"He wanted to be considered simply as a member of the congregation and choir member, and not a pastor or bishop," Mr. Schenning said.

"It is a life full of surprises, frustrations, joys, sadness and more," Bishop Zumbrun wrote in a 1998 monograph that he titled, A Day in the Life of a Bishop. "At the end of an 'ordinary' day, I may feel disappointed or discouraged, but I never need a sleeping pill or sauna bath to get to sleep. Believing I have done the best I can, I put it in God's hands and lie down to pleasant dreams."

Services will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at First Lutheran Church, 3604 Chatham Road in Ellicott City.

In addition to his wife of 60 years, Bishop Zumbrun is survived by three daughters, Linda M. Zumbrun of Woodlawn, Susan Zumbrun Bullock of Ellicott City and Martha L. Zumbrun Bidlingmyer of Barberton, Ohio; and five grandchildren.

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