Paul Presta Jr.’s nickname to many high school students is “Pirate Paul.”
Presta is well-loved as a High School Ministry volunteer at Southeast Christian Church’s Elizabethtown Campus.
“The boys call me ‘Pirate Paul,’” said Presta, 52. “I don’t know where the pirate comes from. That started a couple years ago, and it was to the point where I’d walk into the building and they would scream, ‘Paul.’ And it wasn’t just the boys. It was all of them. It’s calmed down a lot because at some points it was getting kind of crazy. At Bible & Beach two years ago, I was like, ‘OK guys. You really need to tone this down.’ I even asked (Student Pastor) Reid Milliken about it, and he said, ‘This is true love.’”
Presta and his family attended Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus and started attending the Elizabethtown Campus soon after it opened near their home.
As with any church plant, Presta has juggled multiple jobs.
“At the very beginning, I would serve in the parking lot and then I had to rush in and usher,” Presta added. “Then, I would come right back out and do parking lot. It was funny because I served communion in my safety vest.”
Presta and a few other parking lot volunteers arrive at 7:50 a.m. each Sunday to clean the lot and pray over every parking spot.
“There are many times where we’ll just be eating in a restaurant, and they’ll come up to me and say, ‘You look familiar to me … do you go to that church on the corner across from Sonic?’” he said. “God’s opening those doors. It’s funny how many people in town place me from the parking lot.”
Presta has ministered to and invested in the same group of boys, who are now high school seniors, the past few years.
“Paul has been part of our Student Ministry from the very beginning of our campus and has done an incredible job regularly discipling and investing in high school students,” Milliken said. “He is well loved and has left an eternal impact on our Student Ministry.”
Presta has had the privilege of baptizing several students.
“It’s really been interesting to see how God has worked in these students,” Presta said. “I’m so blessed to mentor them and watch their growth not only as men, but also spiritually. I’ve been very blessed to be able to baptize some of them. If you were to ask me when I was 17 or 22, ‘You’re going to baptize somebody,’ I would have thought you were the craziest person on the planet. If you would have known me back then you’d say, ‘No. Him? He wouldn’t baptize anybody.’”
Debating Bob Russell
Presta grew up with a Catholic background in Middletown, Ohio, which is about halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton.
“It was a typical household from the ’70s, dad working and mom at home,” Presta said. “It put me on a very good moral foundation, even though I didn’t live that way.”
Presta moved to Louisville to attend Bellarmine University and fell away from the faith.
“College was full of wrong choices,” Presta added. “I was addicted to having fun and going to establishments I probably shouldn’t have been at. In the mid-’80s, the drinking age in Ohio was 19. So clubbing, you thought it was the thing to do. Drinking was my big thing. Back then, it was every weekend. Kind of following the crowd—knowing it was wrong—but you still did it.”
Presta graduated in 1992, moved back home to Ohio and got his first job selling pagers—the communication device before cell phones—and transferred to an office in Louisville four years later.
He went on a blind date with his future wife, Melanie, and she invited him to Southeast in 1997.
Presta returned week after week and eventually attended “What We Believe,” a class taught by retired Senior Minister Bob Russell.
“I learned quickly to never have a Biblical argument with Bob Russell unless you know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I struggled with grace. He said, ‘Paul talks about grace.’ I said, ‘Paul never talks about grace.’ He said, ‘You don’t know your Bible, son.’ So that forced me to dive in. That class is what really turned the corner.”
Russell baptized Presta in 2000, and he hasn’t looked back since. The Prestas now have four children together.
“I can’t say I’ve been perfect since that journey started,” Presta said. “God had a lot more in store for me than I thought because I was struggling before I moved to Louisville. Little did I know the move wasn’t just for my professional career, but to change my life spiritually. I give my wife the credit. Without her, I would not be plugged in and the person I am today.”