SPRING HILL - Born in St. Petersburg, this Floridian pastor comes from a family tradition of plumbers. The Rev. John Hay, senior pastor at Mariner United Methodist Church, felt a passion for his faith by age 10, but didn't decide to become a minister until his plumbing career was at its peak some decades later.
"I was at a worship service, and the minister was asking those present a question," Hay recalled. "He asked, 'What are you going to do with the rest of you life?'
"My own answer startled me. I reflected back on my childhood passion about faith, and thought about how important religion is to me, and how I enjoy getting to know people and helping them.
"I have been on many short-term United Methodist mission trips, and I like painting, plumbing, and doing labor, and I am happiest just being helpful to others. Put being helpful to others together with faith and become a minister, is what I felt in my calling, so that was my answer to the sermon question."
Hay attended St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida Southern College in Lakeland, majoring in sociology and religion. His master of divinity degree is from Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta. He was ordained as a United Methodist deacon in 1986, and as an elder two years later.
Hay's Florida pulpit resume includes associate or senior pastor positions at United Methodist churches in Ocala, Crawfordsville and Macclenny. He said he is especially glad to be in Hernando County since much of his family still lives close by in St. Petersburg and Pasco, as well as Hernando County.
"My wife says, however, that my work hours are just as long as when I was a plumber, but mainly my clothes have changed," the pastor smiled. "We met in the same Methodist church we attended as children, so we grew up together. We have been married 34 years, and have two fine sons, daughter-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. My wife is one of those behind-the-scenes pastor's ideal, and she doesn't ask for any recognition for all of the ways she is helpful and supportive at church, working or in family life."
Currently, the pastor is readying for his first Spring Hill seasonal rush of music, special Christmas services, concerts and charity.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, members will gather for fellowship to adorn the sanctuary with garlands and decorate the tree. This year, 80 handcrafted new "Chrismons" will be featured. The word " Chrismon" represents parts of two words, "Christ" and "monogram," according to the announcement brochures mailed to members. The new Chrismons feature a variety of crosses, ranging from the oldest tau of Moses' time to trefoil and Resurrection. Angels, butterflies and fish are also depicted on the elaborate craftsmanship of the gold bead and pearl ornaments.
"Our church Christmas items sale, on Thursday, Dec. 9, is soon. Wreathes and lights and so on will be for sale, like a Christmas garage sale. I understand our huge general yard sales, slated for Jan. 18 and 19, and April 18 and 19, draw happy crowds, when more snowbirds are here," Hay said.
Christmas charity includes an ongoing food pantry and other help for the local needy, and charity outreach to help support Dawn Center, Jericho Road and the United Methodist Children's Home in Enterprise. The pastor has been along on several mission trips to do handiwork and other help for the children's home.
"Our acreage and facilities here are large, with a parking lot shuttle, 27 handicap parking spaces by the covered entries, and a spacious sanctuary with hearing aid boosters and great acoustics and sound system," the pastor noted. "We host a community concert series under the Community Performing Art Guild - CPAG - and the Tampa Bay Children's Chorus Christmas concert is already sold out completely. The November one featured a spoof on Broadway, and it was super. Eager crowds were lined up well before the doors were opened," Hay said. "How we'd like to have such crowds eager for church on Sundays, there's a challenge..."
Hay's record has shown church growth in his previous posts, so he has time-tested plans for Mariner's increase. The Helping Hands ministry pairs members in flood zones or emergency situations with inland shelter and post cleanups, and oversees member needs and the food pantry.
Hay described the Way Out Wednesdays - WOW! - free program for area children. "They get free dinner at 5:30 p.m. and games, activities, music and Bible lessons," he said. "We also have 'JRock,' or walking with Jesus, on Wednesday night for youth, although it's a snack meal with the worship, lessons, music and fellowship. The Vacation Bible Schools is also a big effort and is popular in our local community outreach." Hay's experience and advice for family life is to build and maintain good open communications, and to be together in faith and church commitment.
Much of the pastor's homespun inspiration comes from favorite Christian writers such as Max Lucado, Karen Kingsbury and Charles Martin. "Right now I'm reading "Home to Holly Springs," by the Mitford Series author Jan Karon. It's the 'Father Tim series,' from her newest writing."
Other church offerings include men's and women's groups and small-class Bible study programs.
Pastor Hay describes his sermon style as narrative, saying he enjoys relating stories and life anecdotes to the sermon message. Office volunteer Jeanne Nociti has been attending the church for two years, and became a member last week. "I am so impressed by the sincere care and regard Pastor Hay has for everyone," she said. "I decided to become a member because of his sincerity. He is a very down-to-earth person, who really reaches the people, and his sermons are so helpful and homey. He likes to get to know people, and personally visit homes and those who are infirmed."
The pastor was anxious to get this story's photo session over so he could take off his tie and resume his usual, more relaxed demeanor.
He concluded by stating his simple goal for Mariner: "Mostly, I just want to help build a strong community of faith here in Spring Hill. We can all learn to love one another and do what Jesus asks us to do, especially during the coming Christmas season. We welcome your visit and wish you the best of the Christmas Season."
Mariner United Methodist
When do they meet?
Sunday worship services: 8:15 and 10:45 a.m.
Sunday school all ages: 9:30 a.m.
Wednesday WOW: dinner and classes: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Christmas items Sale: 9 a.m. to noon, Thurs. Dec. 13
Christmas music special: 10:45 a.m. Sunday Dec. 23
Christmas Eve Candlelight service and Communion: 7 p.m.
Community concerts: varied