His style may appear unorthodox at times.

Yet, it's that type of unconventional approach that has made the Rev. Jody Neifert a big hit with his congregation.

Neifert, of Franklin Township, recently celebrated 30 years as pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Palmerton.

In honor of Neifert's crowning achievement, family, friends, and congregation members held a party at the church.

"It was very humbling," said Neifert, 55. "Overwhelming. "

Neifert began his stint as pastor of the church on June 1, 1983, despite the fact he was not yet ordained at that time.

However, it wasn't until after an unfortunate circumstance several years earlier that Neifert's foray into the priesthood began to take shape.

While a student at Penn State University, Neifert's father passed away on Feb. 8, 1979.

Sometime thereafter, a conversation with Jan Walker, who was assistant to the bishop, helped put things into perspective for Neifert.

"His wife had just passed away," he said. "We talked for a long time, and he said, 'Neifert, you're a screwup, but I'll take a chance on you."

After a one-year internship, Neifert, originally from Weatherly, said he entered the priesthood.

Despite the acceleration of change that he's noticed over the past decade, Neifert said the church continues to thrive.

"It's wonderful to belong to a community like we have," he said. "For being a mainline church, we're doing pretty well."

Neifert said the people of his community have a special place in his heart.

"The warmth and gratitude that I have toward them is profound," he said. "It's like a family, because they're so kind and generous toward us."

Neifert's wife, Kim, has run the Sunday School program at the church for over 25 years. Together, the couple agreed "we've never seen such a beautiful church."

As he nears the final leg in his journey, Neifert said it's hard to believe he's been pastor of the church for such a long period of time.

"It just happened," he said. "Now, I'm heading down the home stretch."

In his three decades with the church, Neifert estimates he's baptized between 800-900 people.

"I have this real strong belief that every child is a child of God, and deserves to be baptized," he said. "I think that's what the ministry is about; planting the seeds of God's love."