By Pete Zamplas-Father Erich Zwingert better relates to his All Saints Anglican Church congregation as a “normal guy,” an avid motorcyclist and pro football fan who unleashes humor into serious spiritual messages.
“I’m just me, a guy like everybody else,” said All Saints’ sole and new pastor since April. “I happen to be in a calling, to be the priest in this parish” in the Town of Mills River. “I’m not a ‘holier than thou’ person. I live in this world. I try to bring a bit of the light of Christ into it. I hopefully teach people that you can live as a Christian in this world, dedicated to work for our Savior, yet still be a normal guy.”
His varied background includes a dozen years as a Charlotte policeman, in the Eighties. He did investigations and patrol. His favorite stint was as a resource officer, in Olympic High School. He became its swim coach. “The kids got to know me in a different way, completely. As a resource officer, you have more up-front positive influence on kids.”
He preferred preventative impact to dealing with crime. “We wanted to help people, as young officers. I never lost that idealism. But I noticed this policing was a reactionary and holding pattern. Police talk about crime prevention. But in the end, they mostly respond to criminal acts that happen. I wanted to get out in front of that. I can try to make a difference, ahead of time. So the cops don’t have to deal with this, afterwards.”
By the late Eighties while a policeman, “my faith was reinvigorated,” Zwingert said. He and wife Kathy started attending a church in his patrol area. “I moved over to the Anglican faith,” after growing up a Roman Catholic. Anglicans are more “conservative in outlook, on scripture and theology” than Episcopalians, from whom they split, he explained. “We try to maintain traditions. We still use the Book of Common Prayer. They engage liturgical reforms that grew out of (Catholic) Vatican Two in the Sixties.” One similarity, still, is holy communion. Fr. Zwingert said he uses altar wines that are usually 18 percent alcohol. “That’ll kill any germ.”
After transitioning from law enforcement to ministering, he was ordained in 1995. His pastoral posts (“charges”) were in Orlando, Fla. as an assistant for eight years, then 12 years as senior pastor (“director”) in Palm Beach County, Fla. He commuted to church on his motorcycle year-round there. Here, he does so except in winter, but did in frequent summer rain.
Now, “I’m responsible for 100 souls” at All Saints. He estimated just over half of parishioners are from Henderson County, about 30 percent from nearby South Buncombe and about 15 percent from Transylvania County where Kathy grew up. “We have a very good mix” geographically, due to a central location a mile east of the Buncombe-Henderson line, Zwingert said. The church is at 15 McDowell Road, off N.C. 191 (Old Haywood Road) on the Asheville side of the N.C. 280 “four lane.”
Zwingert grew up in Reading (pronounced “redding”), Pa. The one-time steel mill town is renowned from the Monopoly chance card “take a ride on the Reading Railroad.” After his family moved, he graduated from high school in Charlotte then from nearby Pfeiffer University.
Fr. Zwingert played various sports in Reading, even club soccer with fellow German-Americans versus other ethnic-based teams. He rooted for a premier sports dynasty when he was 8 years old, and the Green Bay Packers won the first pro football Super Bowl in January 1967. They also easily won the second one, with key passes and unstoppable “sweep” run with blockers going wide.
Still today “I’m a psycho Packers fan,” Zwingert said. He jests the “G” on Green Bay’s helmet really “means God.” While at Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin, he got to view his favorite team on local television. He grew up in Philly Eagles territory, and is also a Carolina Panthers fan. The bedeviling NFL franchise for him is Dallas, self-proclaimed America’s Team. “I root for ABC — Anybody But the Cowboys.”
Erich and Kathy’s children are Katie Zwingert, 22, who works in golf management in Florida, and Peter. He is a Hendersonville High School sophomore and band member.
Erich said he trusts Peter to “know what’s right,” in carving his path in life. Fr. Zwingert realizes modern technology such as for social networking has redefined and expanded temptations to a “whole set of new issues. But there is no (basic) temptation that is reaching mankind now, that hasn’t been around for two millennia. Trying to live a good Christian life helps you deal with those issues.”
Most pivotal role models are not outspoken religious celebrities, but one’s parents, he emphasized. “We’re the ones who are with our children, every single day. We try to raise our children to have enough confidence in themselves and in the Lord, to stand up for what is right amongst their friends. Stand up for one another, and love. If you truly love someone, you want the best for them.”
In sermonizing and one-on-one consultations, Fr. Zwingert applies a presence strong yet assuring. “You want to be a comfort, for people to reach out to you to deal with whatever problem they may have.” He describes his style as “type A” and “up front.” Yet he added, “I’m known to cut a joke. I usually tell a joke someone has told me, to inject some humor.”
More importantly, he shares serious lessons. “When I preach, I’m preaching a message I need to hear, too. If it’s meaningful to me, I want to share it with my people. The sermon is about applying our faith to our lives. It’s me showing you how to use scripture, to live every day as a Christian person.”
During trying times economically and thus spiritually, “it’s tough when staring at job loss and indebtedness,” Zwingert said. “But the Savior’s way of the cross was not easy for him.” Fr. Zwingert said the key is “learning to truly trust in God. Know that in the end, he will provide for you the things you need. Not the things you want. Christ made it very clear to ‘look at the birds in the air.’ The heavenly father feeds them. He will provide for you.”
In approaching Christmas Day, Fr. Zwingert said, “we’re preparing ourselves for the birth of the child of Bethlehem, and preparing for Christ’s second coming.”
For more on All Saints Anglican Church, call 891-7216 or check http://www.allsaintsmillsriver.org/.