BUSHNELL – He celebrated his 92nd birthday last month, but Rev. Haig Medzarentz, senior pastor at St. Catherine UMC, has no plans to retire.
He keeps busy writing sermons and delivering them on Sundays, visiting wherever he’s needed and generally doing everything else that senior pastors do.
When it comes to ministry, the longtime pastor jokes that he has a “checkered past.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Medzarentz found his clergy calling as a second career. He says he went from being a salesman in real estate to becoming “God’s salesman.”
His call came during a time when he was active in his home church in Pennsylvania. Part of that service included working with children in a church camp.
One day, as he walked through the campgrounds, he read a plaque: “Those who walk this pass walk with God.”
“Suddenly,” he says all these years later, “the grass seemed greener and the sky seemed bluer and I felt that Jesus was calling me.”
That experience led him to study at Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine beginning in 1961 and serve at local churches near there during the summer months. He went on to serve various stints in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference.
Medzarentz first came to Florida in the early 1980s, returned to Pennsylvania, then returned to Florida in the 1990s, where he found a home at Webster and St. Catherine United Methodist churches, then in the Leesburg (now North Central) District.
Along the way, he worked in the chaplaincy program at Leesburg Medical Center for 15 years and also volunteered in the mediation program in civil court in Lake County.
The pastor says he’s supposed to work part time, but like a lot of part-time jobs, his work at the church is more like full time, as he “puts in a lot of hours.” His weeks include reading scriptures, outlining sermons and preaching, visiting members of the congregation in their homes and at a nearby nursing home and conducting services at funerals and baptisms.
Medzarentz says he has seen big changes in ministry since he began his career.
“In the past, churches always expected people to come through the front door, without needing an invitation … but it’s no longer like that. We’re now to go out there and be where the people are --- where we’re needed.
“I spoke about this at a recent church council meeting,” Medzarentz says. “I feel strongly that we have to be out there where the people are, where the brokenness is and where we can do some good.”
To that end, his church is involved in supplying everyday needs and helping at the Refuge at Jumper Creek, a housing and homeless shelter that provides for emergency and transitional housing for homeless families. His church also partners with First UMC of Bushnell’s food pantry. Members have conducted a regional ministry to help homeless veterans and recently helped furnish an apartment for a homeless couple.
The small congregation also has supported Florida Conference initiatives to benefit Imagine No Malaria and Stop Hunger Now, as well as last year’s Annual Conference jewelry sale that funds young adult mission trips.
Asked why he continues in ministry when many pastors his age have long since retired, Medzarentz says, “because the Lord is still calling me to do this and I’m being obedient to the Lord. And also, because of finances. I have to keep myself going. So my plan is to keep on keeping on.”
-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.