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Priest's passing to bring community together for memorial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The memorial service for the Rev. Esber Tweel this weekend will be filled with friends from all walks of life and various faiths.

That is a testament to the way he lived his life.

Tweel passed away in the intensive care unit of Charleston Area Medical Center's Memorial Hospital on Dec. 4 when pneumonia ended his 15-year battle with polymyositis, a debilitating muscle disease.

The cause is unknown of the disease that first attacked his muscular body in 1998 and progressively became worse until he was confined to a wheelchair.

But there was so much more to Tweel than the cruel disease that robbed him of many things he loved to do. Dr. John Merrifield, his longtime friend and physician, said Tweel's influence continues in the countless lives he touched. 

"He was my patient for 15 years," Merrifield said. "The way he embraced life and his creator were so wonderful. He had a profound effect on my life. He was so spiritual. His spirit involved his whole soul. He changed so many lives."

Tweel was known for reaching out to people of all faiths and doing his part to build bridges in the name of peace.

Tweel was an Episcopal priest for 33 years, including 30 as rector at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Kanawha City.

The priesthood was not the first profession he chose.

He grew up in Huntington, where his family lived in an apartment over his father's business, which at various times was a drug store, confectionary or market. Tweel once told a Daily Mail reporter that people from all walks of life frequented the store, including drug dealers and prostitutes. In that environment, he learned tolerance, he said. He recalled an 18-year-old prostitute who stopped by the store because she needed someone to wish her happy birthday.

He earned an engineering degree from Marshall University and was content as a mechanical engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. But he found he could not ignore the tug to the ministry and went on to earn a master of divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

He and wife, Carol Lynn, raised three children: Brian, Monica and Brent.

During his time at the Kanawha City church, he and Carol Lynn started a day care. While the day care is still there, the congregation merged with other churches several years ago and the building is for sale.

Tweel also developed tours of the Holy Land and the Middle East, striving to do his part to develop tolerance and peace.

In addition to his ministerial duties, he loved physical activity with hobbies over the years that included karate, racquetball, fencing and horticulture. He taught martial arts.

Throughout his illness, he continued to exercise to the extent his body would allow and always reached out to others.

"He counseled people who came to the house, and everywhere he went," Carol Lynn said.

He was a regular at Nautilus in Kanawha City where he exercised from his wheelchair and acquired many friends. He exercised up until the week before he died.

His wife said he dealt with his illness through faith and meditation as well as using skills of concentration he learned in martial arts.  

He was known throughout the community for accepting people of all faiths, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

"He didn't believe there was just one way," his wife said.

When Tweel died on Dec. 4 at age 72, he was ready to pass from this life to the next.

"He faced death like he faced life, with tremendous vigor," Merrifield said. 

He will be honored at a memorial service at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. A memorial gathering will follow in the building that housed The Church of the Good Shepherd on Chappell Road in Kanawha City.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1246.


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