"I believe that all of us are loved, forgiven and accepted. I believe no matter what your faith, the church makes the world a better place. Helping people and having hope is still what motivates me." With those few words the Rev. Fred Soltow Jr. summed up a philosophy that lit a spark when he was just a boy and put him on his chosen path.
"Faith is the core element in all religions," he said. "All we have, all we know, is beyond our comprehension and what we don't know influences who and what we are. I just let the spirit take me."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the late 40s, to Doris and Fred Sr., Fred Jr. grew up in Farmingdale, Long Island. Fred first started thinking of a chaplaincy when he was a senior at Farmingdale High. "I joined the youth ministry at St. Luke's Lutheran Church headed up by an Army chaplain. I was fascinated by the idea and I've never had a desire to do anything else." Anything else that is except run and bike. "I've been a competitive runner since high school," he said. "I've run five marathons (Boston, NY, the big ones) and began competing in triathlons 30 years ago." He qualified for the first USAT National Championship in 1985. In 2007 he competed in five triathlons winning in his division in the Nation's Triathlon in Washington, DC. "Bike riding has become my strength and passion."
Pastor Fred Soltow in his office at St. Peter’s Lutheran
Fred was the first in his family to go to college and when time came he chose Wagner College. This was a bit of a diversion from his master plan, but a four-year degree was the prerequisite to the seminary. Though he readily admits it was a stepping stone, he committed to serving Wagner and enjoying the ride, working on theatrical productions, being elected Vice President of the Student Government and financing his education as Director of Student Relations for Sago Food Service. Fred graduated in 1970 with a bachelor of arts in theatre. Next stop: Philadelphia and the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Four years later he graduated with a master's of divinity and the following February was ordained in the Metro New York Synod.
While in the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Fred Soltow had come to West Virginia to develop a Leisure Recreational Ministry Program in Davis and serve the St. John's Lutheran Church part-time. In 1976, he began working for Timberline, a real estate development company in Canaan Valley. As Director of Resort Operations, he supervised the development of the Timberline Resort and Timberline Ski Area, Black Bear Woods and BB Resort. All the while he continued to serve congregations in Elkins, Aurora, Davis and over the border in Red House, Md. He volunteered with the Canaan Valley Fire Dept. and Rescue Squad and served as director of the Tucker County EMS.
From 1993 to 2001 Rev. Soltow was pastor at the Grace Lutheran Church in Petersburg, W.Va., and in July of 2001 he came to Shepherdstown.
Rev. Soltow is the pastor of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown and St. James' Lutheran Church in Uvilla. In 2003 he received a PhD. Of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Shepherdstown was a good move for now Reverend Doctor in many ways. Here he met and married the fair Sarah Felker. Today they have three grown children, Clara and Tony Cottrell of Greensboro, N.C.; John and Christie Beard and son Riley live in Charlottesville, Va. And Quinlyn Soltow, doctoral fellow at Emory School of Medicine, Atlanta.
Sarah is a Shepherd grad from Martinsburg. She is an education professional, a consultant for an environmental advocacy group, Sky Truth; buys and sells Oriental rugs and writes for the Good News Paper. Sarah also comes from a musical family: (brother Sam is the leader of legendary "I Steadies") and brought childhood friends like Satch Alwin into the Soltow fold. "Satch helped us build our home on River Road. He was a good friend."
A true minister of God isn't confined by boundaries. So it is with Reverend Soltow whose ministerial outreach includes Caregivers, Hospice, CASA, and the Day Care Center in everything from backpack collection for school kids, to community meals at the fire hall. Fred is adamant that every outreach program needs and has the active support of many churches and individuals and heaps praise on the Shepherdstown community of churches, not only for their work but for working together.
Probably the most famous "outreach program" of all though took place in the summer of 2009. Tour de Revs was conceived in 2007 by Fred, David Twedt and Ron Schlak. Three ministers, long-time friends, one bicycle built for three, and a 12,000-mile spiritual journey and awareness campaign for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA.) World Hunger Fund. Tour de Revs is the Tour of Revelation, Revolution and Revenue. Not what you thought it meant, is it?
"In the Bible," Reverend Soltow said, "in all the bibles, Gods plan is: Feed My People. Feed my people . . . literally and figuratively. Feed their stomachs and feed their souls. No matter how you read it, it's about multi-level feeding, and community and caring for one another. That's what my lifework is all about. That's what I try to do."
Reverend Soltow also said "The ten commandments were written to try to keep people on track and from doing something stupid." I'd never thought of it that way. But you know what? The man is right.