PHILADELPHIA, PA (May 25, 2010) – The Rev. Dr. John D. Newpher, 90, pastor of five Pennsylvania congregations over a 40-year ministry career and one-time president of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), died Saturday morning at Springhouse Estates in Lower Gwynedd, PA, after a brief illness. He was a resident of Ambler, PA.
Newpher was LTSP president from 1971 to 1975, and “brought both scholarship and strong parish experience” to the task of being president, recalls the Rev. Dr. Robert J. Hughes, who was himself president at LTSP during the 1990s and taught homiletics (preaching) at the school for many years. “As a preacher he always had strong content and was well prepared.”
“Dr. Newpher was president of the seminary during a time of renewed commitment to the present campus location in Philadelphia’s East Mt. Airy section,” recalls Dr. Robert Blanck, who was vice chair of the LTSP Board of Trustees during Newpher’s tenure. “Before he became president, the seminary had contemplated establishing a campus in West Philadelphia with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and it had also later considered consolidating with Philadelphia Divinity School, a seminary of the Episcopal Church. After considerable discussions, neither step was taken,” Blanck recalls. “So the focus shifted to the 14-acre Mt. Airy campus. While he was president, the Hagan Administration Building was expanded, and improvements to faculty housing, which had been deferred, were made.” It was a strong financial period for the school, he noted.
In 1975, according to the Seminary Bulletin, Newpher announced his desire to return to parish ministry, and subsequently became pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Slatington, PA, where he served 10 years, retiring in 1985.
John Newpher was born March 28, 1920, and was a native of Reading, PA. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College in 1942, a Bachelor of Divinity from LTSP in 1945, a Master of Sacred Theology from LTSP in 1946, and a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree in 1958 from Temple University.
Ordained in 1945 into the United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor body to the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Newpher first served a two-point parish, Salem in Audenried and St. Paul in Beaver Meadows, both in Pennsylvania, from 1946 to 1948.
Other calls were to Christ Lutheran Church, Camden, NJ (1948-1953); Ascension Lutheran Church, Philadelphia (1953-1961), and Christ Lutheran Church, Oreland, PA (1961-1971), prior to becoming seminary president. While serving at Ascension Church, located on the seminary campus, “Dr. Newpher was the pastor to many of the faculty members who taught me at the seminary,” Hughes remembers. Hughes was a PhD student at Princeton Seminary during Newpher’s seminary presidency.
Along with his widow, the former Suzanne Van Arsdale of DuBois, PA, Newpher was a member of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, PA. He had a strong interest in social ministry. For 10 years Newpher served on two boards for Ken Crest, a Lutheran social ministry organization based in Plymouth Meeting, PA, serving children and adults in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut with intellectual disabilities and autism. He served on the KenCrest Services Board from October, 1997 to March, 2003. He served on the KenCrest Centers Board from November, 1991 to November, 1997.
Newpher is the author of What is the Gospel? (Lutheran Church Press, 1964), and On a Ship with Paul, a children’s teacher resources guide (Parish Life Press, 1976).
Surviving are four children from a first marriage with former wife, Gladys: John of Sheffield, VT; Peter of Westport, WA; Valerie Newpher of Upper Darby, PA; and Pamela Macon of Whitehall, MD; also three stepchildren, Karen Vickter of Huntingdon Valley, PA; Sandra O’Brien of East Stroudsburg, PA, and Louis Eble of Robeling, NJ.
Funeral services will be at 11 am Thursday, May 27 at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church, 411 Susquehanna Road in Ambler. A visitation hour will be conducted from 10 to 11 am, with a reception at the church following the service. Memorial gifts may be made to Ken Crest, 502 West Germantown Pike, Suite 200, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462, or to the Social Ministry Committee of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church. No flowers please.