When Harold Raser was a boy, his mother told everyone that Harold was going to grow up to be a preacher. But it wasn’t just his mother’s encouragement (or pressure) that piqued Raser’s interest in ministry.

“My father was a bi-vocational pastor who never had a full salary from his churches, so I had exposure to all those kinds of things,” he said. Still, when Raser was a student at Pasadena College and began to consider ministry, he wasn’t sure if it was these experiences he had growing up that drew him to ministry, or if God was calling him to follow that path.

Headshot of Harold Raser. He is wearing a tan blazer and plaid button-down.

“I remember struggling, praying, and weeping in the little prayer chapel at Pasadena College and asking God to help me figure this out,” he said. “Somehow, some way, God gave me some direction.”

During Raser’s last year of college, he married Joy (68). He planned to attend Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) after graduation, but when Harold’s father died in a work accident, he and Joy decided to stay in Pasadena to be near his mother. He first attended Fuller Theological Seminary and then earned an M.A. in theology from Pasadena College. From there, the Rasers moved to San Jose where Harold served as a youth pastor for two years. Then in 1972, they made it to NTS where he completed the M.Div. degree.

“I remember struggling, praying, and weeping in the little prayer chapel at Pasadena College and asking God to help me figure this out. Somehow, some way, God gave me some direction.”

Again, Raser was faced with a decision he found difficult to make: Should he go on to graduate school and pursue teaching or take a pastorate? He applied to graduate school but still planned to attend interviews for pastor positions.

However, a case of the flu prevented him from interviewing. Meanwhile, he was accepted into the religious studies program at Penn State with a full-ride scholarship and graduate teaching assistant appointment. After praying for the Lord’s direction, the Rasers went to Penn State. Harold studied American Christianity while Joy worked in a special education classroom. Late in their time at Penn State, their daughter was born.

“I cannot imagine going into the world to try to do what I do – what anybody does – without Pasadena College or Point Loma Nazarene.”

Raser’s interest in history was piqued when he was an undergraduate at Pasadena College. Professors like Tom Andrews and Raymond Cook inspired him to major in the subject. At Penn State, not only was he able to dive deeply into the history of American Christianity, but he also assisted in world religion classes in which he learned about Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam.

“These are all part of American religion because America is so diverse,” he said. “I always felt Penn State was preparing me to branch out into broader areas of study and teaching.”

When Harold was growing up, his mother worked the night shift at a hospital, so his dad did the shopping and cooked meals. When the Rasers’ daughter, Erika, was born, Joy went back to work, and Harold took care of her. “I think this helped influence his attitude about women and what they can do,” Joy said. He did his dissertation on a 19th-century woman preacher named Phoebe Palmer, which was published in 1987.

Raser on a trip to Europe

His interest in women’s ministry continued at NTS: he taught a regular course in the history of women in the church, gave conference papers and published articles in journals and encyclopedias on women in ministry, and was the keynote speaker at a conference at the University of Glasgow on Nazarene pastor and scholar Olive Winchester, the first woman to be ordained in the United Kingdom and the first to receive a Th.D. from Drew University.

Raser’s first teaching position out of graduate school was as a professor of Old Testament at Asbury College. From there, in 1980, he began a 38-year career at Nazarene Theological Seminary teaching courses in church history, American Christianity, women in ministry, and world religions, which involved post-doctoral study at Hartford Seminary’s Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and included study trips to Turkey and Jordan. While he was at NTS, he also headed the M.A. Theology program and created and edited the NTS academic journal, The Tower. He also served as thesis advisor to students in doctoral programs at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Nazarene Theological College/The University of Manchester, England.

Another important part of Harold’s career has been his writing.

In 1995, he wrote More Preachers and Better Preachers: The First Fifty Years of Nazarene Theological Seminary and most recently was co-author of a new history of the Church of the Nazarene, Our Watchword and Song. He also wrote for church educational materials, gave papers at conferences in the USA, Great Britain, and South Africa, published articles in journals and encyclopedias on a range of topics, and was honored to be the presenter for the NTS Mercer Lecture Series.

In addition to his professional work, church service has been an important part of Raser’s life. He has served on church boards, taught adult and college Sunday school classes, including a special series on church history, served as a children’s pastor and led a puppet ministry, and has been involved in various capacities in church music. The Rasers have attended Overland Park Church of the Nazarene in Overland Park, Kansas, for 45 years.

“The most rewarding was the whole process of helping people to be good persons, to develop intelligence, awareness, thoughtfulness, all those kinds of things. That’s what higher education does for people if it is done well.”

For Raser, the most significant part of teaching was the impact he was able to have on his students.

“The most rewarding was the whole process of helping people to be good persons, to develop intelligence, awareness, thoughtfulness, all those kinds of things. That’s what higher education does for people if it is done well,” he said.

That is what both Harold and Joy felt they received from Pasadena College.

“Pasadena College brought together facets of my education and my learning about myself and the world around me,” he said. “I was finding out about God and people. I cannot imagine going into the world to try to do what I do – what anybody does – without Pasadena College or Point Loma Nazarene. We had exposure to culture, theology, philosophy, holy Scripture. It was essential learning. It’s one of the few things in my life that I would go and do again. It was rich. They were building up and feeding students before they go out into the world. I can’t find words that are strong enough to describe its impact on my life.”

Their faith has helped the Rasers when they have faced difficult times. A few years back, they lost their little granddaughter to health challenges at the same time that Harold was dealing with the aftermath of cancer treatments. Due to the radiation, he has faced changes to his speech and his ability to eat. Even writing has become more difficult.

“It’s been a huge challenge,” Joy said. “Everything has to be re-thought.”

“You have to find some way to deal with it,” Harold said. “You have friends and colleagues who give you strength.”

In addition to faith and friends, Harold receives strength and love from his family. In addition to his wife, Joy, the immediate family includes daughter Erika (99) and her husband Mark Daggett and their two children, Elliott and Emma, and son Derren (03) and his wife, Lisa, and their daughter, Lily. Their first daughter Gracie passed away in 2021.

PLNU congratulates Harold Raser for being honored as a 2024 Distinguished Achievement Awardee.

Christine is the editor of the Viewpoint magazine at PLNU.