Don Opitz speaks to first-year students and parents during Messiah’s Welcome Week candlelight service.

Photo by The Pulse

By Olivia La Bianca
Student Writer

This summer, Messiah College welcomed Donald Opitz to the Ministries Team as the new campus pastor.

Opitz is no stranger to campus life. He spent twenty years at Geneva College as a professor in sociology and higher education, and was employed as a Residence Hall Director while he finished seminary work at Gordon. He also worked for the Coalition of Christian Outreach, engaging in campus ministry through pastoring and training others.

“From my early years in campus ministry, I’ve had a love of college students and ministry work and the Lord Jesus, and feeling at the same time a calling to the academy end of the church,” Opitz said. “I always thought that I would enjoy being a college chaplain.”

Opitz smiled when asked about how he came to hear about Messiah College’s open chaplaincy position.

“I’d gotten to know a lot about Messiah College,” he said. “I started a grad program in higher education, which was taught by guest Messiah faculty, and Dean Curry had me coming out to speak with Honors students each September for the last seven or eight years. I already had familiarity with Messiah College campus and culture, and had interaction with a number of faculty and staff, and just loved the place.

“About a year ago, my wife Christine said that we should make this the year that I kept my head up and my eyes open, looking for new possibilities. That same year, chaplaincy positions in Gordon, Wentworth, and Messiah opened up.” He said the choice was difficult, but as he applied to Messiah, every step of the way seemed more right.

The transition has also been good. While leaving Geneva after such a long tenure was hard, Opitz said he has been overwhelmed by Messiah’s hospitality. “People have been overwhelmingly beyond kind and helpful, out of their way generous and gracious. It’s a beautiful place that seems so full of hospitality and grace. I have been sleepless with gratitude.”

When asked about the fact that people are wondering how well he will fill Eldon Fry’s shoes, Opitz said he is not even going to try.

“There is no way I could fill those shoes, and I wouldn’t want to dishonor his many years of work here by even trying,” Opitz said. “He is a different person than I am, with different gifts, and he has left a deep mark. I want to celebrate what Eldon has been to the campus with everyone else. It’s a beautiful thing. There are things I can learn from what Eldon did, and I’ll have to figure out what it means for me to activate my own gifts and visions in this place.”

What do those gifts and visions entail for the campus? Opitz said he loves strategy work, but he does not want to come off too strong.

“I was not brought in specifically to change things,” he said. “I’m taking my time. I’m not going to lead with any kind of big vision or reform agenda. I certainly am not coming in thinking I know what’s best for a place like this. I’m soaking it in, trying to learn what this place is really like, what do the people here think its strengths, graces, and needs are.”

However, Opitz is excited about a few projects that personally inspire him. One is the Chapel Task Force, which will be dedicated to conversations about how to improve and alter chapels.

“We’ll be trying to tap all different sources of input and perspectives,” he said. We know that we’ve got a challenge with a growing student body with the limited size of the venues we have. How do we best fit in everything we need to do? How are the various kinds of alternative chapels working? What are the outcomes that really come from that kind of community time together in worship and learning?”

Opitz says another part of the challenge is “caring for the distraught and the overwhelmed, the addicted, those who have been oppressed by different things.”

“I know there is going to be some justice advocacy and pastoral care issues. I know that my heart will be broken by the pain that many people experience while they are here at Messiah. That’s part of this role too – being willing to stand for the people who are suffering and to somehow share that suffering.”

Don offered a closing message to the student body in line with a special goal in mind.

“You know where my office is – right here under the steeple – and the door is always open. My job allows me this: to be here for you, always a listening ear. Welcome any time.”


Some Fun Trivia About Don

· He is a semi-retired basketball player. He also likes to golf, but is not very good.
· After being adopted by three Messiah grads a few years ago, he is now an avid trout fisherman and is enjoying access to the Breeches.
· He considers himself a late-to-the-game environmentalist and loves trees and having some “alone time with nature”.
· He loves movies, especially the classics like Lawrence of Arabia. Recently, though, he’s enjoyed Boyhood and Guardians of the Galaxy.

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