This week I had the privilege of talking to Gary Elg on the phone. Gary has just started as the pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Illinois. I am very excited for him and want to wish him a public blessing as he starts his ministry there. His new church is very fortunate to have Gary as their pastor.
I’ve known Gary ever since I came into Twin Cities Area Presbytery in 1993. He served in Red Wing; I served in Plainview. We also served together on the Church Development Team. We would hang out at Presbytery meetings and trade stories. He was a friend and wonderful colleague.
Gary’s life came crashing down a year ago August. He did something that he will regret for the rest of his life. When I got the news I was in Florida at a New Church Development Conference. I sobbed like a baby. I called him immediately and told him I wanted to get together when I came back from Florida. We can’t abandon people because of their worst moments.
For the past fifteen months we’ve gotten together once or twice a month at a local coffee shop. I watched and listened as Gary turned his life around. He experienced a lot of loss—his marriage, his church in Red Wing that he faithfully and successfully served for over 20 years, and his status as an ordained pastor. It was painful.
But he did turn around his life. He accepted the consequences of his choices. He openly went through a restoration process that the Presbyterian church has. He was candid and authentic. And it was a lot of work.
He could have easily thrown in the towel and chose another profession. But he didn’t because he has a call. Gary believes that he has gifts he can use to serve God through the church. And he is right. Gary came out on the other side of the process much healthier and whole. He is ready to serve as a faithful and successful pastor again.
Before he went to his new church I shared with Gary that he was like the prodigal son. He came to himself and through the grace of God has received another chance. He also did the hard work so he could be restored. Through the process he has a new understanding of people who have suffered.
A couple Fridays ago Gary and I met at the coffee shop for the last time. I asked him if I could share his story on this blog. My motivation is that people will know that Gary is doing well and that he deserves a lot of praise for the work of his restoration. He reluctantly agreed as Gary has never really wanted to receive a lot of attention.
When he left I gave him a huge bear hug. I’m going to miss those Friday morning coffees. But I have renewed faith in a God who never lets us go!