Members of Christ Lutheran Church choke up when they try to describetheir pastor, the Rev. Elmer L. Zick, who is retiring this spring.
"He's just one of a kind," says John Lugenbeel, who has attended the church more than 20 years. "I could write a book and it all would be good about Pastor Zick. They don't make ministers like him anymore."
Theirs is a pastor who twice refused raises and finally had to have a financial increase thrust upon him, church members say. (He didn't want to hurt the church's outreach to the needy, says Zick.)
This is a man who painted the parsonage, mowed the grass and climbed into the church well when something broke. He also took care of the people under his care, about 300 active members in a church that startedout as a tiny rural congregation.
"He's just a 100 percent caringman," says Lugenbeel.
Recently, Zick heard about a young disabledwoman who had gone to jail for writing bad checks. The pastor, who is 68, gave the woman money, moved her belongings from her apartment to storage and helped her plan for the future.
Says Lee Reimann, president of the church council, "He will go anywhere to help anybody."
Zick, a ruddy, talkative man with gray hair and a quick smile, downplays the praise.
"I'm not the greatest orator in the world," hesays cheerfully. "I'm a good generalist. I'm excellent at a very fewthings and I'm a C- in others."
He doesn't have all the answers, says Zick.
"I'd be God if I did. I have enough trouble being ElmerZick." But one gift he does have is a sense of humor, the pastor says.
"I'm very serious about preaching, but there's a lot more to life than being serious," he says, launching into a story about a funeral at which another funeral party accidentally joined his, only to realize they were honoring the wrong person.
With nearly four decades as pastor of one church, Zick has needed his sense of humor. One ofthe hardest years was 1971, when he was mugged in Washington. Zick was accosted by a man who hit him in the face with brass knuckles. He fell, crushing both cheeks, breaking his jaw and destroying part of one eye. Doctors rebuilt his face, and Zick continued pastoring, although his upper lip is still partially numb.
There were other challenges. When Zick and his wife, Betty, arrived in Elvaton, they inherited a church started by German Lutherans at the turn of the century. The community consisted of tobacco fields and a handful of people. Growth brought the community great change, and the Zicks provided leadership for the church to survive and grow. In 1965, the congregation dedicated a new brick building.
In the 1970s and '80s, the church extended its involvement into Elvaton life. Zick helped found the Elvaton Improvement Association, which still meets at the church.
"There was a real need to have the church relating to people where they are," he says. Zick would go out at night to map telephone poles in Elvaton that needed electric lights. "There were a host of needs. The community had no road signs," he says.
In his spare time, Zick served as the first Protestant chaplain at North Arundel Hospital and helped run the Lutheran Service Center for military personnel in Baltimore.
For eight years, he was the chaplain for Alcoholics Anonymous programs at Crownsville State Hospital. He's now the chaplain of the county fire department, a member of the ethics committee of Liberty Medical Center in Baltimore and vice president of the Lutheran Home andHospital Association.
But members of Zick's church say they are most impressed by the man himself. When the church put together Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for the needy, Zick delivered them. He still picks up litter on West Pasadena Road. He's taught confirmation classes on Saturdays for 36 years.
The Zicks plan to move in with one of their five children, all of whom live in the area.
"I'm almost 70; who would give me a 30-year mortgage?" asks Zick, laughing.
God has given the Zicks "good things" over the years, they say, such as members who love them.
"We've shared everything," says Betty Zick. "There's a bond between us as fellow Christians that we'll always have."
The Zicks hope to stay busy with volunteer work and travel "before Gabriel blows his trumpet," says Zick. "I'm not going to sit in front of a TV set and rust."