The Rev. Paul M. Orso, 84, was bishop of Md. Synod of the Lutheran Church

October 26, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Paul Michael Orso, who served as bishop of the Maryland Synod of the Lutheran Church of America during tumultuous times in the late 1960s and 1970s, died of Parkinson's disease Wednesday at Augsburg Lutheran Home and Village, a retirement community in Gwynn Oak. He was 84.

Born and raised in Montoursville, Pa., he was ordained as a minister in 1944 at the Central Pennsylvania Synod of the United Lutheran Church.

During the 1940s and 1950s, he held many roles, including chaplain at the former Marine Hospital in Baltimore; psychology professor at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., and at now-closed Upsala College in East Orange, N.J.; and also pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Boston, and at the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Hartwick Seminary.

In 1953, he became the executive director of Lutheran Social Services in Washington, serving until 1968.

That year, he was installed as the bishop of the Maryland Synod, which at that time included more than 100 churches in Maryland, Delaware and Washington. He was elected bishop two more times until he retired from the ministry in 1983.

He was bishop during times of social and demographic changes. It was a challenge that he met with great understanding and success, said the Rev. Tom Williamsen, pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Arnold, who knew the bishop for 35 years.

When the Lutheran Church was struggling with whether to become involved in social issues, such as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, Bishop Orso brought "a sense of stability," said Mr. Williamsen, who was ordained by Bishop Orso in 1972.

"He presided at a time when there was a number of us who felt the church needed to get involved, and also old-timers who felt the government should handle that stuff," he said. "Since he was a peacemaker of the church, he helped broker some agreements between the two poles so that young rebels like me could get along with old-time pastors."

More revealing, though, was Bishop Orso's passion to "make the church viable in people's lives, regardless of who they were, so that people could know that God was involved in their lives," Mr. Williamsen said.

The Rev. Richard Manning, a retired minister who most recently was pastor of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Parkville, said the bishop "was really a helper of people. He was just a caring, caring man."

Besides his ministry, Bishop Orso also served numerous organizations. He was a fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, chairman of the Council for Lutheran Theological Education in the Northeast and a board member of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa.

Bishop Orso was a 1940 graduate of Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. He earned a master's degree in divinity from Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1944 and a doctorate in pastoral counseling from Boston University in 1949.

He was cremated Friday. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Severna Park.

He was married for 34 years to Kathryn W. Orso, who died in 1979.

He is survived by his wife, Joan W. Orso, whom he married in 1982; a son, Donald Orso of Arnold; a daughter, Carolyn Bertelsmeyer of Eureka, Mo.; a brother, Max Orso of Milton, Pa.; and nine grandchildren.

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