As Pastor Dan Ziegler’s oldest child (and namesake), I’ve been asked to encapsulate what his life was all about. In a nutshell, what did Dan Ziegler really do in his life anyway?
As I pondered this question, the answer came to me in the form of my very earliest memory. It was 1964. I was only 2½ years old at the time, and my father was the pastor of the BFC church in Lebanon, PA. I remember very little about our time in Lebanon, but I do know that we lived in the parsonage on Locust Street, and the best thing about this arrangement was the “secret” tunnel that connected the parsonage with the church building. I’m not sure why it was there. Maybe it was built as a pastoral escape route. Nevertheless, I know about this tunnel because I remember it. In particular, I remember riding on my daddy’s strong shoulders, ducking as we went to avoid the light fixtures, on our way over to Sunday worship. And that, my friends, is a perfect picture of what my dad did in his life; Dan Ziegler carried things.
In a literal sense, each of us children enjoyed being carried on that lofty perch above our father’s head, while he cheerfully interpreted the world’s curiosities for us – nurturing in our young minds an unbridled wonderment and an optimistic vision of God’s Sovereign work on this Earth.
More importantly, in a figurative sense, my dad carried his family in Christian love. When Daniel G. Ziegler committed his life in marriage to his lovely bride and life partner, Jacquie, on Valentine’s Day 1959 in the Gordon College chapel, he entered into that commitment with a profound sense of sacred responsibility. He lived out his days mindful of his role before God to love his dear wife as Christ loved the Church, and to express and model the Lord’s love to his children. Of course, his love wasn’t perfect, but I think all of us would attest to its steadfastness and consistency. He expressed this love playfully through “Dutch rubs” and knee squeezes for us boys, or affectionate nicknames for the girls – Sarah was “Sally,” and Dad celebrated my blue-eyed sister Becki’s “pulchritudinous azure orbs” (check your dictionary for that one). Dad’s love for his wife and children was never in doubt. There was also no doubt where this love was anchored – Daniel G. Ziegler was a man of deep and abiding faith in Jesus.
It was this faith that my father carried as a sacred heritage. In fact, if you would have asked him, I suspect he would had considered this one of his most important roles. Born in 1932 to Daniel K. and Caroline Ziegler, my father was planted in deep, rich soil. He was actually the fourth Daniel Ziegler in an unbroken line that began with the arrival of his great-grandfather Daniel P. Ziegler– whose birth bicentennial we will commemorate in 2023. Interestingly, there have been three more generations of Daniel Zieglers added to that chain since my dad came onto the scene. However, more important to my father than his name was the Christian faith that rooted his family for many generations. He, along with his four sisters (Carol [Snyder], Laura [Cassel], Eleanor [Ruch], Marge [Cherry]), grew up in the cradle of the Church – Bethany BFC in Hatfield to be specific. Whether it be through music, or teaching, or missions, or giving, the Zieglers were a family immersed in the life of the congregation. It was in this context, at a young age, that my father committed his life to Christ and to His service. As he established his own family with my mom, he carried this spiritual legacy into our home as well, where hymns and family devotions, prayer and the church provided the context through which each of us, his children, have also found faith in Jesus.
There was certainly more to Dan Ziegler than just his faith though. He was an avid fisherman, loved to travel, he could name the singer and composer of almost any swing tune at the drop of a hat, and he thoroughly enjoyed Phillies baseball (he learned to appreciate the sport as a boy, tuning into distant games on clear-channel radio stations after dark). He was also an author and church historian, even writing a book on a colorful 19th-century itinerate evangelist named Eusebius Hershey. You may also be surprised to know that he had a brief career as a roofer, that lasted just a few hours, and ended inauspiciously at the working end of a Plainfield Fire Department ladder truck – but that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say, Dad was a man of good humor, who could laugh at himself.
Many years ago, in his classically humble way, he told me a joke about four boys who were comparing the occupations of their fathers. The first boy said proudly, “My dad’s a farmer.” The second one replied, “Oh yeah? My dad’s an accountant.” The third fellow chimed in, “Well, my dad’s a truck driver.” “And what’s your dad’s job?” they asked the forth boy. “Oh,” he said with enthusiasm, “my dad doesn’t have a job – he’s a pastor!”
Well, as a pastor’s kid (who is also married to a pastor’s kid), I have to agree with the assessment of my young friend. My dad, Daniel George Ziegler, an ordained minister of the Gospel actively serving the Church for over 40 years, didn’t have a job – he had a vocation; a divine calling that defined his life and ordered his days. Above all else, Dan Ziegler carried the work of the Gospel.
This calling became clear to him as a young man, and early on he began preparing for the task ahead. My father had a keen mind, excelling academically, and earning advanced degrees in Bible and Ministry from the Evangelical world’s “Ivy League” – Wheaton College, Gordon Divinity School, and later in life a Doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary (a task made possible in part through the secretarial and motivational skills of his dear sister Carol).
As a minister, Dan Ziegler loved the people he served, and he loved the Word of God. He also found his deepest friendships in the context of the church. We in the family theorized that Dad chose his closest friends based on two criteria: their commitment to the Church, and their tolerance for debate. It was not uncommon for lively discussions about the finer points of theology or church polity to linger into the wee hours of the morning whenever Dad was with his old seminary buddies like Dave Watkins or Dean Roth, with peers like Carl Cassel or Ron Mahurin, or with his lifelong friend, brother-in-law, and fishing buddy Clyde Snyder. Furthermore, in his day, Dad was known as full-throated participant in the BFC’s Annual Conference process, regularly taking the floor to argue passionately for what he believe in, even (or maybe especially) when defending a minority position.
He began his ministry as a local pastor, serving congregations in Allentown, Lebanon, and Staten Island, NY over a 13-year period. In 1968, he took on the part-time mantle of Director of Church Extension for the BFC, and in 1972 moved his family to centrally located Plainfield, NJ to serve full-time in the work of coordinating church planting. He was a visionary who desired to help the BFC grow beyond its PA Dutch homeland, by planting churches in more culturally and ethnically diverse places like urban New Jersey, northern Delaware, New York City, and the mid-Hudson region of New York. Amazingly, during his three decades as Church Extension Director, he oversaw nearly three dozen church planting efforts. Many of these nascent churches are still going to this day. Along the way, he mentored and befriended dozens of young pastors and their families, many who became lifelong friends.
His service to the Church didn’t end when he retired and moved to the Maine coast in late 2000. Far away from their BFC faith family, Dad and Mom were welcomed into a warm and biblically grounded Baptist congregation in Camden, Maine, and before long, Dad was invited into church leadership as an elder and teacher – a role he carried during most of their 15 years in Maine.
As we reflect on all the things my father has carried throughout his nearly 90 years on this earth, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last thing – Dan Ziegler could carry a tune. My, oh my, could that man sing! His sister Nell recently recalled the first time brother Dan sang a solo at their home church, exclaiming, as only a sister can, “I was SHOCKED at how good his voice sounded!!” Just a few years later he sang at her wedding. Dad had a lovely baritone voice, and when singing hymns he would seamlessly toggle from bass, to tenor, to melody at will. The hymns of the Church were woven deep into his heart, and he retained his ability to recollect their words and harmonies up until the very end – long after Alzheimer’s disease had taken much of the rest of his memory. In fact, in his final days, as his family gathered around his bedside to sing songs of hope and comfort, we watched in amazement as our semi-conscious father sang along with us, clearly mouthing the words to a number of his best-loved hymns.
A long and fruitful life of carrying things wears a body out. Rev. Daniel G. Ziegler crossed peacefully into eternity on January 24, 2022, having faithfully completed is Christian calling on this earth. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” – Revelation 14:13
This reflection was written by Daniel A. Ziegler. You can hear more memories of Daniel G. Ziegler by watching his memorial service.