Marcus Smucker, Christian spirituality trailblazer, dies

Published: November 12, 2014

Mary E. Klassen

Marcus G. Smucker—pastor, professor, mediator, trailblazer—died on October 29 in Lititz, Pa. He was 82 years old.

Smucker’s first vocation was as pastor of Portland Mennonite Church, Portland, Ore., where he served for 16 years. In 1982, he joined the faculty of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (then Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary) and with his leadership brought an emphasis on Christian spirituality and Christian formation into the seminary’s culture and curriculum. When he left AMBS in 1998, he moved to Lititz and served as an adjunct professor for Eastern Mennonite University and Seminary on their Lancaster, Pa., campus.

“Smucker introduced AMBS to spiritual disciplines, spiritual friendship and spiritual direction,” Mary Schertz, professor of New Testament, said. “Moreover he brought these practices to us, not from the academy, but from years of pastoral experience. He really had congregations in his heart.”

Daniel Schipani, professor of pastoral care and counseling, said, “Smucker’ pastoral heart and experience, his love for the church and commitment to the ministry of reconciliation, and his Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective contributed to shaping both a meaningful understanding of spirituality and faithful practice of Christian formation.”

Because of this significant work at the seminary during 16 years of teaching, AMBS named him professor emeritus of Christian formation and pastoral care.

Smucker’ life began in an Amish family in Bird-in-Hand, Pa. Because he was the fourth son in the family and because he did not feel drawn to farming, Smucker pursued education and then voluntary service in Hannibal, Mo. Further service with PAX in Germany helped him gain leadership skills and on his return to the U.S., he earned a BA from Eastern Mennonite College. He taught high school briefly, continued studies at Biblical Seminary in New York, then took the pastorate in Portland Marlene Kropf, professor emerita of AMBS, knew him first as her pastor, and she describes him as a trailblazer. She said, “We saw that first in his passion for the poor, for those on the edges, and in his deep commitment to peace, justice and service in the city. We saw it too in his reaching out to young adults.”

During the time he was a pastor, busy with inner-city ministry and a growing congregation, he experienced burn-out. He took a summer off from the congregation and spent several days alone in Mount Hood forest. From this experience, he said, he began to realize there was a way to nurture himself spiritually and emotionally that he had not known before.

He took that emerging interest in spiritual disciplines to his congregation and discovered that Kropf had a similar experience of seeking a “vital connection” with God. Together they began teaching and leading workshops on spirituality.
Smucker served on the board of Goshen Biblical Seminary, one of the two seminaries that constituted AMBS, and for four years chaired the board. When the Smucker family moved to Indiana, Marlin Miller, then president of AMBS, invited him to teach and give direction to the spiritual formation of students. This led Smucker to carefully shape and articulate a program of Christian spirituality, giving it a unique flavor that reflected Mennonite and Anabaptist values.

At AMBS, Kropf said, Smucker continued his trailblazing. “We need to remember that in the late 70s almost no Protestant seminaries taught spirituality. Most Mennonites had never heard of spiritual formation or spiritual direction; what’s more, they were suspicious of it—or thought they were. His most significant contribution, in my opinion, was establishing a firm Anabaptist theological foundation for spirituality in the contemporary Mennonite church.”
Smucker also taught in the areas of congregational life and leadership, pastoral care and counseling and conflict resolution. This combination of disciplines, along with his skill in relating to people, made him an invaluable mentor to students and leaders in the church.

Janeen Bertsche Johnson, AMBS campus pastor, said, “Marcus was one of my most valued mentors when I was a seminary student. His teaching on spirituality, congregational leadership, and power dynamics profoundly shaped my ministry. Along with many others who were his students, I appreciated his focused listening, wise counsel, and deep compassion.”

Jacob Elias, professor emeritus of New Testament who served as dean during part of Smucker’ tenure, said, “Throughout our years as AMBS faculty colleagues I valued the wisdom and pastoral sensitivity that Marcus communicated and modeled. I always sensed his deep love for the church. He leaves a legacy of tireless devotion to the church’s reconciling work in our hurting world.”

When Smucker left AMBS, he brought those gifts to his work with Eastern Mennonite Seminary. “Smucker’ main contribution to EMU/S in recent years was in teaching graduate seminary courses in spiritual formation, ministry formation, pastoral care, managing conflict in congregations and spiritual direction. He mentored and counseled many individual seminary students. His long experience in education, and his skill as a teacher, made a huge contribution toward EMS Lancaster achieving accreditation as a full Master of Divinity site in 2009,” Mark Wenger, director pastoral studies for EMS Lancaster, said.

Throughout his pastoring and teaching career, Smucker continued pursuing studies. He earned a ThM from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va.; and a PhD from The Union For Experimenting Colleges and Universities. His thesis was titled, “Self-sacrifice and self-realization in Mennonite spirituality.”
Smucker’ wife, Dorothy (Dottie) Wenger Smucker, survives. In addition, he is survived by his daughter, Deb Smucker, and her wife, Elizabeth Wall; his son, Greg Smucker, and his wife, Karen Zorn; two grandchildren, Olivia Zorn and Julian Zorn; and his siblings, John I. (Irene) Smucker, Levina (Dale) Huber, Sara Ann Landis (Henry Benner) and Mary Ellen (David) Dowling.

A celebration of life service was held Saturday, Nov. 1, at Mellinger Mennonite Church. A private interment was prior to the memorial service at Weavertown Amish Mennonite Church.

Memorial contributions in Smucker’ name may be made to Mennonite Central Committee, 21 S. 12th St., Akron, PA 17501-0500,; Mennonite Disaster Service, MDS Binational Office, 583 Airport Road, Lititz, PA 17543,; and Landis Homes, 1001 E. Oregon Road, Lititz, PA 17543-9206,

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