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Pastor wants religion to play part in parishioners' daily lives

(ran PW, PS editions)

The Rev. Jennifer Verzella, 33, says Trilby United Methodist Church members will receive a "down-to-earth" message during weekly services.

Not one to mince words, Jennifer Verzella, 33, admits that her desire for the almighty dollar led her on a slight detour after college graduation.

As a student at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo., Verzella had heard the call to ministry, serving as a peer minister, but, she says, "I was really looking for money. I had all those student loans. I wanted a new car. I was lured by the big old dollar and went to work at AT&T. I was miserable."

After one year, she quit her job, moved into her mom's basement and entered St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, where she received her master of divinity degree. Now it's the Rev. Jennifer Verzella, the new pastor at Trilby United Methodist Church. She comes to Trilby from Grace United Methodist Church in Plant City.

Verzella is one of more than 60 ministers to serve the 102-year-old historic Trilby United Methodist. Many people know of the church through former pastor Rose Sims' book, New Life for Dying Churches, which chronicles the church's growth.

Verzella describes her ministry as "very down to earth."

"I really think part of what is wrong with the world today is that Jesus is our best friend and we lock him up after Sunday services and don't take him outside. I am very practical. I don't put a lot of foo foo in my message. If you can't tell me how this will apply to my parishioners, I don't want to hear it. I am not going to throw in the 10-dollar theological words. I have listened to pastors throw about big words, but not here, not in Trilby. These are down-to-earth, God-loving people."

Verzella says no big changes are planned, that the people of Trilby have been really loving and open, saying "Do it your way." She will put a little bit of the Methodist heritage back into the worship services and also will try to find some space for an office. She says when you offer counseling to someone, you need to be able to shut a door.

She is joined at Trilby by her husband, Robert Verzella.

"He is very supportive," she says of her husband. "We both feel we are in the ministry together." He works with the youths and sometimes leads prayer and worship. He likes to write music, but will not perform it himself.

During conventions, her husband also believes he should support his wife by attending luncheons for spouses. As the preacher's "wife" and sometimes the only man at these functions, he often comes home wearing a name tag edged with lace and ribbons.

The couple likes to read, go to the movies, scuba dive and visit Disney World. This week they will cruise to the Bahamas with Robert's parents. Jennifer Verzella also looks forward to having a child.

She ponders: "I wonder how people will react to a pregnant preacher?"

Sunday school is at 10 a.m., worship services begin at 11 and the youths meet from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. After Labor Day, Verzella will begin a Sunday-evening Bible study with a healing and prayer service after that. Trilby United Methodist is at 37504 Trilby Road just west of U.S. 98, 10 miles north of Dade City. For information, call (352) 583-2577.