The Anglican Church in North America’s newest bishop has ambitious and challenging goals ahead of him. The Rt. Rev. Mark Zimmerman is the first bishop for the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest and began his Albuquerque-based ministry in February of this year. The bishop immediately faces the challenge of growing and expanding the ministry of the 14 small congregations that make up the new diocese. Zimmerman is simultaneously learning Spanish as his goals include reaching out to the large Hispanic populations in the area which includes Northern Mexico.
Bishop Zimmerman told the American Anglican Council he welcomed the challenge and was prepared for it by his years of service in smaller Episcopal and Anglican congregations. Specifically, the challenge of leading a congregation out of The Episcopal Church and into temporary buildings while at the same time positively responding to new ministry opportunities was formative and helpful to the 57-year-old new bishop. St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Somerset, Pennsylvania was a special place for Bishop Mark. By 2008, he had spent nine years leading the parish and taking it from a small, 30-member congregation to nearly 100 on a Sunday. He also led the church to be free of debt for the first time in its history.
Nevertheless, un-biblical teaching, practices and leadership in the national church compelled him to make a decision of conscience. Zimmerman says he first announced his decision in front of the entire parish. “I simply got in front of the pulpit on a Sunday and told the congregation that I had to make a personal decision to leave The Episcopal Church. I told them I would be preaching the next Sunday at the local mall in what used to be a men’s clothing store and gave them the address.” A week later, Father Zimmerman and 80 percent of the members of St. Francis-in-the Fields Episcopal Church met for worship at the local mall, effectively leaving their building and past behind them.
“For the Anglican church now, our job is not to look backward…It is to proclaim the truth of the gospel in its fullness and richness to a world that is in desperate need of it,” says Bishop Zimmerman and that is exactly what he and the people of Somerset Anglican Fellowship did. In fact, instead of seeing a decline in gospel zeal, he says the time in the mall was a spiritual boon for the congregation. “We didn’t have a big building so the congregation quickly grasped that they were the church and the building wasn’t.” Recognizing their responsibility to one another and their call to share the love of Christ, parishioners at Somerset Anglican Fellowship soon began reaching out to the mall community and began drawing in visitors and welcoming opportunities to serve the community.
It was during their three-year stay at the local mall that a nearby Presbyterian church which had also left its parent denomination for reasons of conscience began looking for new church facilities. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Somerset, PA had outgrown its building but wanted to ensure that whoever bought it would preach the same gospel that they believed. Somerset Anglican Fellowship proved to be a worthy buyer and in 2011 they purchased St. Paul’s building. Their days in the old clothing store were over, but there were some drawbacks to the move. Some mission opportunities available to them while in the mall went away as did some of those visitors that had joined them. But where opportunities to serve went away, new ones appeared.
Drawing from his nine years of prior experience in a parish in New Mexico, Bishop Mark encouraged the church to begin an outreach to the Hispanic community in the Somerset area. The parish now holds a Spanish-speaking service every Sunday.
As Bishop Zimmerman and Cynthia, his wife of 34 years, began discerning a call to ministry back in the Southwest and the soon-to-be Anglican Diocese of the Southwest, they had no idea what God had in store next for them and their current parish in Somerset.
“After I was elected bishop and about three months before I was to leave Somerset, the priest from the Presbyterian church who sold us our building gave me a call.” That priest, Keith Fink, had some amazing and wonderful news for Mark. “He told me that God had blessed his church such that they were able to pay off the mortgage on their new building and do it quickly,” said Zimmerman. He said, “We were blessed and we want to bless you.” The Presbyterian church forgave the quarter-of-a-million dollar debt that Somerset Anglican Fellowship still owed them, leaving the Anglican parish debt-free. Just like St. Francis-in-the-Fields, Mark Zimmerman would be leaving his congregation in a better financial position than he found it.
On February 28, the bishops of the ACNA consecrated Mark Zimmerman as the first bishop of the Diocese of the Southwest. The new bishop prays that through God’s grace he will leave a lasting legacy on the new diocese as it moves forward in mission and proclaiming the Gospel.
This article first appeared in the AAC’s Encompass newsletter from the second quarter of 2014.