NEW ORLEANS, La. —
One of Cullman’s longest serving ministers, the late Rev. Harold Hermetz, pastor emeritus of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, recently was honored by the Southern District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) at the church he founded in the 1950s as a new pastor.
Hermetz was among 13 pastors and professional church workers memorialized in a special worship service at the 73rd Convention of the Southern District LCMS. Over 350 pastors and lay leaders from four states and 170 congregations, including members of the Hermetz family from three states, participated.
The memorial service was part of the triennial convention held over three days at Atonement Lutheran Church and School.
In 1958, Hermetz was called to serve as founding pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. In June 1958, Hermetz graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Master of Divinity degree from the largest graduating class of Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis, Mo.
Prior to arriving in New Orleans in 1958, Hermetz served as assistant to the president of the Central Illinois District of the Lutheran Church and as vicar of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Decatur, Ill. In August 1958, Hermetz was ordained as a Lutheran minister at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Foley, Ala., his hometown church where he was baptized as an infant.
As a new pastor, Hermetz canvassed the Veterans Highway community of New Orleans by knocking on doors and inviting residents to attend church at a temporary location before Atonement Lutheran Church’s first sanctuary was constructed in 1959. Today, Atonement Lutheran-Metairie is one of the Southern District LCMS’s largest churches.
The late Rev. Harlan J. Heiserman, assistant pastor to Hermetz at St. Paul’s-Cullman from 1985 to 1990, also was memorialized at the Southern District LCMS convention. Heiserman died of cancer at age 54 on June 11, 2009, while serving as pastor of Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church in Lillian, Ala. The Rev. Paul Leigeber, a Cullman native and longtime member of St. Paul’s-Cullman, succeeded Heiserman as pastor of Shepherd of the Bay.
In August 2011, Leigeber’s son, the Rev. Josh Leigeber, a former Cullman resident, accepted a call to serve as pastor of Atonement Lutheran-Metairie where Hermetz began his full-time ministry as founding pastor. Pastor Josh Leigeber led the Southern District LCMS convention’s opening worship service as host pastor, prior to the memorial service honoring Hermetz and Heiserman.
Representing St. Paul’s-Cullman at the convention were the Rev. Warren Ruland and his wife, Linda Ruland, delegate Dan Dahlke and his wife, Angie Dahlke and the Rev. John Bussman, St. Paul’s senior pastor since July 15, 2012.
In addition to serving as founding pastor of Atonement Lutheran from 1958 to 1962, Hermetz served as founding pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Greenwood, Miss. and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Miss. He served as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Greenville, Miss. before accepting the call in 1965 to serve St. Paul’s-Cullman as the church’s ninth senior pastor. In Greenville, Hermetz was appointed to serve on the Greenville Human Rights Council during Southern racial unrest in the mid-1960s.
During his 37 years as pastor of St. Paul’s-Cullman, Hermetz helped the congregation construct and dedicate a new contemporary church sanctuary in 1970 while increasing church membership from 600 members to more than 1,000. He revised the church’s constitution, restructured church administration and served the Southern District LCMS in numerous leadership positions.
Hermetz is the longest serving pastor of St. Paul’s-Cullman in the church’s 128-year history. At St. Paul’s, he helped sponsor immigrant families moving to Cullman from their homelands while mentoring new pastors, teachers, missionaries, youth leaders and professional church workers.
Prior to his death at age 77 in Cullman on Oct. 12, 2010 , Hermetz served for 10 years as interim pastor, vacancy pastor, guest pastor and Bible class instructor for Lutheran churches in Alabama and Mississippi.
On May 10, 2009 at a public reception at St. Paul’s-Cullman, Hermetz was honored for his 50 years of service in the ministry. Cullman Mayor Max Townson, on behalf of the Cullman City Council and the citizens of Cullman, presented Hermetz with a Certificate of Appreciation and a key to the city, thanking him “for generously donating his time and efforts” to his church and community and for being “a powerful influence of good in our community.”
In December 2010, Hermetz was honored by the Alabama Legislature with a Senate Resolution sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little of Cullman “for his service to his church and community the past 50 years.” “Rev. Hermetz was well-known and highly regarded for his ministry, music, and volunteer service,” Sen. Little said. “He will be remembered for his unwavering enthusiasm and tenacity when leading churches as well as for his dedicated volunteer service to his fellowman. His passing leaves a void in the lives of his loving family, his many friends and the entire community.”
In 1983, the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama State Senate passed a joint resolution honoring Hermetz for 25 years of outstanding service to the Lutheran ministry. “Rev. Hermetz has brought a great deal of honor and distinction to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cullman through his successful ministering of the congregation’s needs and by serving as an exemplar of Christianity to thousands of people with his outstanding performance as a minister and community leader,” Rep. Bill Bowling, D-Cullman, sponsor of the resolution and a lifelong member of St. Paul’s, said.
Hermetz served as spiritual leader for one of the South’s largest and oldest Lutheran churches while being active in the Cullman community serving for many years on the Board of Directors of the Pilot Light House, the Cullman Area Mental Health Authority, president of the Cullman County Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), two-term vice president the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, decades of service to the Cullman Oktoberfest Board of Directors and as a longtime officer and board member of the Cullman Community Concert Association.
Hermetz served as president of the Cullman High School Parent-Teachers Association, president of the Cullman Swim Team Parents Association, a member of the North-Central Alabama Mental Health Board of Directors and as an officer of the Cullman High School Quarterback Club. He served many years as a member of the Volunteer Chaplain Association at Cullman Medical Center and Cullman Regional Medical Center (CRMC) where he was an on-call, volunteer chaplain.
In 2001, Hermetz was honored with a special salute from the Cullman Boy Scouts for his decades of volunteer service “for countless hours through many years which have helped to build character and religious influence in hundreds of boys, teaching young men to ‘Be Prepared’ for tomorrow.”
Hermetz served as president of the Cullman County Ministerial Association and as president and founding member of the Cullman Chapter of Toastmasters International.
In 1998, Hermetz served as Burgermeister of Cullman’s Oktoberfest. When interviewed by The New York Times and Southern Living magazine, Burgermeister Hermetz said Cullman was one of the best places in America to raise a family because of its Christian atmosphere as “the city of churches.”
Hermetz provided invocations for countless community events, including sharing the stage with former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, positive-thinking icon, preacher and bestselling author, the Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Crystal Cathedral founder, bestselling author and televangelist, the Rev. Dr. Robert Schuller, Vice President Walter Mondale, Congressman Tom Bevill and other officials visiting Cullman.
For two decades, Hermetz worked as an adjunct professor teaching public speaking at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.
Hermetz’s voice continues to be heard today. Songs from his “Sing to the Lord” music CD continue to be requested and played at local funerals, weddings, churches and community events. Hermetz’s recording of “The Lord’s Prayer” is the most requested song from his popular 2007 album of favorite hymns and songs.