GREENFIELD — John Renick jokes that he has finally decided what he wants to be when he grows up.
At 78, Renick is a pastor in training, serving an internship at St. James Lutheran Church in Greenfield.
Though he’s older than others who embark on the path of ministry as a new career, he says this step fits with the journey of his life, bringing together a longtime interest in theology and many years as a medical doctor spent working to help others.
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“Individual sessions with people — that was my life for 45 years,” he said. “I do know how to relate to people and their problems.”
Renick grew up in a Baptist church his parents helped found. He attended an Episcopal church while a student at Stetson University in Florida. Next, he said, he was “lukewarm to warm” spiritually for about 20 years.
During those years, he completed medical school, eventually practicing internal medicine at Georgia Baptist Hospital (now Atlanta Medical Center). Later he worked in the emergency room.
Seeking a new professional challenge, he became a psychiatrist. He ended up in Stanford, California, working with the Veterans Administration to help Vietnam veterans with addictions. He would serve on a medical school faculty in Alabama and in private psychiatry practice in northwest Florida.
But his wife, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and his mother needed care. He retired from medicine, and the Renicks moved to North Carolina to live closer to their son.
Over the years Renick’s interest in spirituality had revived. He had earned a master’s degree in religious studies and served as a permanent deacon for eight years in a Roman Catholic church.
After the move to North Carolina, he was never reassigned to another parish as a deacon. His wife died in 2005.
Later, he met someone on Christian Mingle and married again. His wife, Linda, is Lutheran and was part of the North American Lutheran Church. So Renick became Lutheran as well.
Renick didn’t care much for retirement, and his still felt the call to ministry he’d known ever since his days as a Catholic deacon. So three years ago, he approached the denomination about training for ministry.
On a road trip to visit family, he and Linda met the Rev. Mark Chavez at a pie and coffee shop in Pennsylvania to talk about the possibility. Chavez, general secretary of the North American Lutheran Church, said the conversation went well.
He admits Renick is an atypical applicant. Though the eight-year-old denomination has 10 to 20 percent of its pastoral candidates coming to ministry as a second career, “Most of the second-career have come to us in their thirties, forties or fifties,” Chavez said. “Just a handful in their sixties and seventies.”
Still, he describes Renick as a bright man and points to the theological training from his past as well as life experience he brings to the endeavor.
“I do think that the longer any one of us live, the more varied our experiences are,” Chavez said. “I think especially in terms of the ministry with the senior citizens … life experiences are a good thing.”
Renick and his new wife — “my principal supporter” in the path to ministry — planned to move to Indiana to be closer to her brother and his wife.
Renick had met the Rev. Larry Gember, lead pastor at St. James, during a denominational convention and told Gember he might end up attending the church. Now he’s there as an intern, driving in from his home in the Anderson area to complete his duties.
Gember said some at St. James are intrigued by Renick’s background in psychiatry. Some connect with him through his interest in history, Gember said.
“He seems to have a good rapport with them. He’s a friendly guy,” he said. “I think people respect his life experience. I think that’s an asset.
“He’s also kind of an amateur historian. A lot of people like that.”
Renick began teaching a weekly class April 5 on the history of Christianity. He preaches once a month, led the April 8 service and visits shut-ins in their homes or facilities. His six-month internship, shorter than the typical year term for interns, began in November and concludes at the end of this month.
After that, he must be approved by a candidacy committee for ordination, but pastors are not ordained until they receive a call from a church. A coordinator helps match candidates with churches, and Renick can submit his paperwork with other applicants for consideration.
If a church does not call him as its lead pastor, another possibility would be for a larger congregation to seek him as a visitation pastor to minister to hospitalized or homebound congregants, Chavez said. He can also be a “supply minister” available to preach at a church when its pastor is away. Another option Renick would consider would be starting a new NALC congregation.
However the next step unfolds, Renick feels up to the task, “with God’s help.”
“After being here and watching Larry, I think it might work out,” he said. “I’ve been involved in starting a lot of things. …
“I don’t feel that I have that much diminished energy.”