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Final Verse as Pastor

He Got Start on Radio Show 60 Years Ago and Heard His Calling

August 21, 2000|ALEX KATZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Robert M. Pietsch got his start in the ministry as a child, singing hymns on his missionary father's radio show in Depression-era California farm country.

The young voices of Pietsch and his three siblings were beamed throughout the countryside, and Dust Bowl refugees gathered around radios, listening to the gospel music that put some glory into their hard, harsh lives.

Young Pietsch was thrilled by his father's work, his mission among the migrant farmers and his popular "Around the World With Uncle Paul" show.

By then, Pietsch had already heard the calling.

Recently, 60-some years later, Pietsch sang one of the hymns from his father's old show again, this time at his last official sermon at the end of his long career as an Orange County pastor.

Pietsch, 69, is retiring after 22 years as a pastor at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Tustin, a church that has grown over the years to be big enough to have its own information booth in the parking lot to give directions to visitors.

Pietsch has served at countless weddings, funerals and hospital beds in his career. But to many congregants at Trinity Presbyterian, Pietsch is known for his voice.

"He could have had a career in entertainment," church member Jane Meyer said. "He's a good-looking guy, and he's got that beautiful singing voice."

Pietsch is also known for his work to bring people with mental and physical disabilities into some churches that have resisted including the disabled.

"Back some years ago, people with disabilities were hidden off in a back room somewhere," he said. There's still a lot of resistance in churches because of "the stigma" attached to the disabled, he said.

At Trinity Presbyterian, he helped to start a bell choir whose members are people with disabilities.

Pietsch said his connection to the cause of the disabled has roots in his own life. When his son was born with serious disabilities, Pietsch, then 23, took a job as a pastor of a small church in San Bernardino to make ends meet.

"I had this tension, trying to see where God was in all of this, and how my son related to the church," he said.

Pietsch also struggled with his own disability.

He originally intended to become a missionary, like his three siblings, but settled for the ministry because his dyslexia prevented him from learning foreign languages.

It's not a choice he regrets.

"I love my work," he said.

In retirement, Pietsch plans to help start a home in Orange County where disabled and nondisabled people live together.

Alex Katz can be reached at (714) 966-5977.

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