Celebration of Life
Prelude Mike Jeter
Friends, we have gathered here to praise God
and to witness our faith as we celebrate the life of Carmen Degenito.
We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss.
May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort,
in sorrow hope, in death resurrection.
The Word of Grace
Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,
and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.
Opening Hymn How Great Thou Art UMH 77
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray.
All: O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
PROCLAMATION AND RESPONSE
Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 40:28-31
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
New Testament Lesson Romans 8:35-39
8 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
Hymn of Promise Shout to the Lord
*Gospel Lesson John 14:1-4, 18-19, 25-27
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
NAMING AND WITNESS
Carmen was born in Red Bank, New Jersey on April 24, 1940. In his last weeks, Carmen shared personal stories with me, bits and pieces, that hinted to the person he was. The “black sheep” of the family, the girl from South Carolina who wrote letters to him and said she loved him, how his mom died when he was little and he had a strained relationship with his stepmother… Carmen told few details from his life prior to Gainesville. He would always start his stories with when I came to Gainesville in 1985. Ryan, Brad, Mike, Enoch and Evy gave him one last birthday party. Though he always said he didn’t like sweet things, only healthy things. He got a full piece of cake, ice cream and vanilla pudding. He said it was the only birthday party he ever had outside of childhood. We did it up! With balloons, flowers, hand-made cards from his beloved students and Enoch and Evy. He had a heart for working with students!
He worked at a sorority house. He worked at the BCM. He worked as a parking lot attendant at UUMC. Pam Petersen remembers, “When we owned the shopping center we had a life guard’s chair for the parking attendants. After we hired Carmen, he came into the office and said “Pamela (he’s one of two people outside of my family who called me that) I guess I can’t be a parking guard after all.” We let him sit in a regular seat and eventually someone stole the life guard seat anyway.”
He had definite views on things. He was grounded in his convictions. He was a card carrying member of the Republican Party and he kept the Christmas card George and Laura Bush sent him in his treasured possessions. He prided himself on being self-sufficient and independent and he always wanted to give back. He walked into my office one day with one of those internet scams printed out where you send them some money and you get millions. He had made an appointment with me the day before at church, and he sincerely wanted to give a large chunk of it, if not all, to Gator Wesley. Kelly Haskins tells this story, “One time, Carmen came into the college room pouring sweat. He was lugging two of if the reusable grocery bags full to the brim of sweet potatoes. They must’ve weighed 50 lbs! He explained that someone (I couldn’t catch who) had an overabundance, and were giving them out. He immediately thought of Wesley, and insisted that Angielina and I make them as a part of Wesley lunch. He had carried them for miles to make sure that he could donate to his church.”
He cared deeply about others. He was really passionate on behalf of the least of these. Serena Minton remembers, “I have so many endearing memories of Carmen, but one of my favorites was a time when Carmen displayed how much he cares for others. When the bishop came to Wesley for a meet and greet, during the Q&A session, Carmen stood up, and began talking about the PBS special he had seen the night before. The special was on child abuse and human trafficking, and Carmen was so concerned that he challenged the bishop on his plan to combat this tragedy. The bishop recovered well, but I’ll never forget his righteous anger at the injustices he had just become aware of. We’ll miss you, Carmen.” He loved people and cared deeply about the world!
He kept memento’s and cards that were meaningful to him and they are displayed on the altar. Carmen’s room at Haven had all the cards, verses, and sayings taped up all over from all of his friends and family – especially the Schaeffer’s and the Keith’s. Nancy Shaeffer told me just this morning that he had given her the beautiful butterfly pin she’s wearing in the last year. Carmen would not hesitate to give the shirt off his back of he could. He was such a caring and compassionate individual.
Carmen knew where the free food was. Gordon Green says he would see him on Monday night’s, “At the International Friendship dinner, Carmen would join us for our small-group Gospel study. He would open his humongous large-print Bible and follow along–sometimes with the aid of a magnifying glass. Carmen found great comfort in studying the Word with fellow believers.” He would go every Thursday to First UMC for lunch and then Zane, a student who cared very much for Carmen would take him to Publix. Sylvia Rotela says, “I remember seeing Carmen at the Jewish temple every Friday at Hillel. He would go there to listen to the Hebrew songs and go up to get blessings from the Rabbi. Afterward he would go down stairs to eat the free dinner. Shabbat shalom!”
Matt Watson shared, “My favorite memory of him was the first time I had to take him to Ward’s market. I got to have a full conversation with him, and it helped me look past his demanding side and realize he was actually an interesting and loving person.” Oh, Carmen could be demanding. Anybody that spent 5 minutes with him would know that he had to have things in a particular way and he was very opinionated. He would tell 6-7 students to turn the air up on Sunday mornings and if it was still blowing to cold, he would put the hat part of his signature hoodie and pull the strings just to show how cold it was. You always knew where you stood with Carmen and he was nothing if not authentic and transparent. Dan Wunderlich said that when he announced his engagement to Kara during worship, Carmen went up to Kara after the service, “Are you sure?” But he was also sincere and genuine. Kelly Haskins says, “In the summer after my junior year, we had a karaoke night. It was packed with students and, of course, Carmen came. I got up to sing, had fun, and sat back down. After the event, we were cleaning up and Carmen, with such earnest emotion, rushed up to me and told me that I had such a nice singing voice, how he had greatly enjoyed it, and that I should really sing more often. The punchline to this story is that at the time, I had been singing regularly in the Wesley worship band for 3 years! Lol thanks Carmen!”
He always would talk to those sitting around him at worship. Meredith used to sit beside him every Sunday that she was here. She graduated the December before he died. Ali writes, “If I’ve learned anything from working at a church, it’s that you make friends with unlikely people. One of those friends, Carmen (the older man on the left in the gray hoodie) passed away this morning. I met Carmen before anyone else at Gator Wesley. My first Sunday I sat in front of him, when he preceded to ask me about 10 minutes worth of questions about my life, my plans, and my dreams. Almost every Sunday since, he’s asked me about the stories I’ve done and the people I’ve met. Although he was confused about what I was doing (he was fairly convinced my dream was to be a TV anchor or a talk show host), he kept listening. Every week he told me how he prayed for me. His last Sunday before he entered assisted care, he told me that I was going to go out and change the world. I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I saw him not in a hospital bed. While Carmen never realized it, the love he has shown all of the students at Gator Wesley has been unending. Although he was stubborn and cantankerous, he was a good man. Gator Wesley became his family. Wesley is much larger than this photo taken on Easter, but it’s nice to see Carmen with his home. Everyone deserves a Carmen in their life. I’m glad that I met mine.”
Carmen smiled and waved to students at the student apartment where he lived. He touched countless lives. He wanted his life to mean something. He was so concerned, that I started to tell him that the students were his legacy. The students are his legacy. He would light up when “the students” were mentioned. The hospice social worker saw it and I did too. He only wanted to see “the students” at the end. So we piled into his room on a Sunday after church two weeks ago. Four of the students went with me and Ryan to see him the Wednesday before he died. Megan Becker, a rising sophomore was there and said, “I am glad that I was able to see Carmen last Wednesday after small groups. I really enjoyed getting to know Carmen this last year, he was such a nice man and he will truly be missed.” That Wednesday night we shared the Lord’s Prayer, Carmen’s favorite prayer, and he was able to say some of it with us. That was the last smile I saw on his face, when he noticed the 4 students we brought.
The students are his legacy. I’ll never forget when this semester, I had finished my sermon and Carmen stood up quick as I’ve ever seen him and said, “Gator Wesley IS going to change the world!” I’m so glad I got to hear and see that. You see Carmen was a deeply spiritual person and a follower of Jesus Christ. He had been raised in the Catholic Church, but he didn’t like what he called the “rules” or what he thought was the earning of salvation. He struggled with the concept of grace. Don’t we all do that? He was just honest enough to say it out loud. He joined the baptism class my first year here and he would read the Bible and all of the handouts and he wanted a copy of the Baptism service in the Book of Worship and so on and so on. He wanted to be prepared and he was excited about the United Methodist Church that I haven’t seen. I would tell him over and over again and again, any time he came up to me after the service, and in his last few weeks. You’re a child of God. You were made in your mother’s womb. God’s grace was given to every one of us. You don’t have to earn it. There’s nothing you can do to earn it. It’s a gift. I would say it over and over again. Chelsea Kowal says it was meaningful to her, “To see his face light up in a group when he was told that God loves him no matter what.” “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen?
Wendy Alexander shares, “Jim and I first met Carmen at University Methodist Church over 30 years ago when we were college students. I remember leading a Bible Study as a student and his comments were profound and also very touching. He loved John Wesley and being a Methodist. He also loved college students and being a part of University UMC. He stated that he had no family alive and that UUMC was his only family. I never forgot that, so after we were married, we started inviting Carmen to our house 2-3 times a year (for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and horse races). He especially looked forward to watching the Kentucky Derby every year at our house and the homemade meal that Jim would make. He had “his spot” on the couch and enjoyed being “waited on”. As most of you know Carmen could be very particular, so we finally perfected his choice of beverage which was 1/3 warm water, 1/3 caffeine free diet coke, and 1/3 dry red wine. We were so glad that he was able to watch the Kentucky Derby one last time at our house this May. Carmen will be missed by all who knew him and will remain in our hearts. His other last request was to listen to “Dream” by Frank Sinatra. He had the biggest smile on his face while listening to the song, and requested to hear it about 5 times.”
We will listen to that song now. Thank you God for the life, legacy and faith of Carmen Degenito. Amen.
Song of Thanksgiving My Hope is Built UMH 368
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Lord’s Prayer
God of love, we thank you
for all with which you have blessed us
even to this day:
for the gift of joy in days of health and strength
and for the gifts of your abiding presence and promise
in days of pain and grief.
We praise you for home and friends,
and for our baptism and place in your Church
with all who have faithfully lived and died.
Above all else we thank you for Jesus,
who knew our griefs,
who died our death and rose for our sake,
and who lives and prays for us.
And as he taught us, so now we pray. [LORD’S PRAYER]. Amen.
Song of Hope Joy to the World UMH 246
Dismissal with Blessing
*Hear now the Benediction
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.