Interfaith camaraderie was the guest of honor at a Sunday banquet to celebrate the Rev. Robert M. Zanicky’s 25-year tenure at First Presbyterian Church in Wilkes-Barre.
Sitting at the head table, Rabbi Larry Kaplan of Temple Israel in Wilkes-Barre, and Monsignor the Rev. Vincent Grimalia, chaplain of St. Luke’s Villa in Wilkes-Barre, spoke of their friendships with Zanicky during the last quarter-century.
In a Genetti Hotel & Conference Center banquet hall, Jewish men in yarmulke skull caps and nuns sitting quietly in their black-and-white habits speckled the crowd of about 150 people gathering to give best wishes to Zanicky, a widely revered community leader among them.
An interfaith mission
Mahmoud Fahmy, a doctor and a Muslim, thanked God for bringing them together so they can continue their mission.
“I am there with them to serve the community and encourage the inter-religion dialogue,” Fahmy said, his voice grew somber. “And we need it right now.”
Grimalia pointed out that, as believers of any creed, those in the room have roots that lead back to one patriarch who appears in both the Bible and the Quran.
“We have more in common as the children of Abraham than anyone might think,” Grimalia said.
Kaplan commended Zanicky for his scholarship and said the Presbyterian minister knows more about the Hebrew faith than many Jews.
The two share pulpits occasionally and have learned to lead services for their corresponding congregations.
Duo in ministry
Zanicky and his wife, Shawn, met shortly after high school. They are to celebrate 41 years of marriage next month and now both lead their own churches.
A warm smile washed over Shawn’s face when she remembered hearing Zanicky sing for the first time in a church near Pittsburgh that they both attended. They began singing as a duo and traveling through Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. After they married, Shawn encouraged Zanicky to go to school for ministry.
Zanicky attended Grove City College and then Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he earned his master of divinity degree. After serving Ohio and Illinois churches and starting his current tenure with First Presbyterian, he went to Princeton Theological Seminary to earn his doctor of ministry degree in 1997.
Shawn wears the white minister’s collar same as her husband. She returned to school and gained her ordination after raising their three children. Shawn travels weekly to lead a congregation in Pleasant Valley, N.Y.
Kaplan, turning toward Zanicky and Shawn, prayed in Hebrew the “Priestly Blessing” over his friend, translating each line from the ancient tongue.
“May the Lord make his face shed light upon you … May God turn to you and grant you peace,” Kaplan said.