Dave Bowman takes on lead role at Zion Lutheran

After six years of overseeing four rural churches in Somerset County, Pastor Dave Bowman was ready for a change.

He said he was hoping to lead just one church, where the people were open and responsive to the needs of the community. At the same time, Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg was seeking a new pastor as its former spiritual leader had retired in 2017.

Right from the start, it seemed like a good fit for the pastor and the congregation who responded favorably during the call process.

“There is a lot of energy and excitement at Zion,” said Bowman, who is familiar with the church because he attended there during his youth.

It is unusual for a pastor to return to his home church for ministry, he said, but he is not the first.

Bowman, who served in Somerset County previously, said when he was looking for a new congregation, his focus was to serve a church where ministry was already ongoing. The fact that that church is his home church is just the cherry on top, he said.

Zion’s concern for others and its outreach to the community was evident to him from his first day on the job.

It was Nov. 1 and Zion Lutheran Church opened its doors for an interfaith prayer service for the 11 Jewish worshippers who lost their lives during a massacre Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill district.

Bowman noted that he did not have a role in planning the service, but that others at the church had made preparations for the time of worship and prayer that was attended by more than 400 people.

He mentioned other incidents where Zion’s congregation has responded to difficult times for community members, such as when it coordinated efforts to help Hollidaysburg residents who lost their homes to fires on two different occasions.

At Zion Lutheran, Bowman also sees a congregation that is energetic about serving the community’s youth.

One of its outreaches for teens is After Burner, an event where 200 to 300 teens gather at the church to hang out after Hollidaysburg Area High School home football games. Bowman said After Burner has been around since he was in high school, and it is a good and safe environment that gives the youths a place to be together and have fun.

Being back in the church where he grew up brings back memories and even gave him a surreal experience his first Sunday in the pulpit.

Looking at the congregation, he said he thought, “I am in the place where pastors I revered and who helped in my development once stood. It was like, ‘Gosh, look where you are.'”

Yet, at the same time, he felt comfortable because he has preached at four churches in the past six years.

A graduate of Thiel College with a degree in history and a 2012 graduate of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Bowman was called to take on the four-point Journey in Faith Lutheran Ministries in rural Somerset County as his first assignment.

He was the pastor for the following Lutheran churches: Zion Hoffman in Acosta, Horner near Stoystown, St. Paul in Buckstown and St. Mark in Shanksville. Two of the churches were partners and the other two were partners.

“They came together under one umbrella,” Bowman said, yet each had its own building.

“I got to know the back roads of Somerset County very well,” he said.

Although he preached at all four churches, he only presided at two services on any given Sunday. A retired pastor and lay leaders assisted by delivering sermons at the other two churches.

He said serving the four churches created unique challenges, but the congregations developed unity by doing cooperative ministry together.

While he was heading Journey in Faith Lutheran Ministries, his wife, the Rev. Traci Marriott Bowman, was pastor at Laurel Trinity Lutheran Church for about four years and then served as an interim chaplain at West Virginia University.

When it was time to move on, Traci was called to St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Martinsburg and Dave was called to Zion Lutheran in Hollidaysburg.

Bowman explained that finding new churches for married pastors can be challenging for a synod because the assignments need to be in the same area. He said although Zion Lutheran was his home church, Bishop Michael L. Rhyne of the Allegheny Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and he discerned that God was calling him there. Bowman noted he had been away from the area for 14 years and during that time both he and congregation had changed.

Although Bowman is still considering ways the church can continue to improve on helping the community, he is enthused about its “good, creative energy” and willingness to serve.

“I want to be part of that and lead them in the direction they want to go,” he said.