What follows is a humorous and tragic story of a man I met in church.
In 2003, my family and I moved to Clare, Michigan so that I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church. (a Southern Baptist church) This was the last church I pastored and I will have a good bit to say about it in a future chapter of Fundy World Tales.
One evening my family and I went to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping. When we returned home I noticed that the red light on the answering machine was flashing.
I clicked play and I heard the following:
Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying and the Doherty Hotel in Clare. I would like to talk to you. Please call me back at ______________.
I thought, yeah right. Elvis? I thought one of my preacher friends was pulling my chain. So I called the number expecting to reach a jokester on the other end but come to find out it really was Elvis.
Well, actually, it was a man named Barry and Barry believed he was Elvis.
I don’t remember how Barry got to Clare but he was on disability and lived in a rented apartment in Clare.
Barry wanted to attend our church. And so he did….
Barry didn’t come to church every week, but when he did he came dressed in bright colors, scarfs, and spangles just like Elvis wore. When Barry arrived…everyone paused to look, not saying a word. He definitely stood out among the more “normal” people who attended the church.
Barry had mental health problems and quite frankly a lot of church members didn’t know how to handle him. He was “different” and “different” is not something the church understood.
Barry and I got along quite well. I found out that he had been abused, misused, and taken advantage of by several Pentecostal churches and a homeless shelter in the South. They mentally and emotionally crushed Barry and it is a wonder he didn’t end up in a mental hospital.
I tried to be Barry’s friend. I knew he needed people to love and encourage him. Unfortunately, Barry had a tendency to say whatever was on his mind and a lot of church members found his verbal outbursts upsetting.
One Sunday we were sitting around the table in the Adult Sunday School Class (also known as the Heresy of the Week Class) talking about the Sunday School lesson.
The Sunday School teacher, a man by the name of Steve, asked if anyone had anything to share. Barry had something to share.
I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.
Dead silence. Instant offense showed on most faces at the table. The teacher didn’t know what to say so he said nothing. I quickly told Barry that we would talk about this after church.
Barry definitely spiced up the church. I have often wondered what happened to Barry. I hope he found someone to help him, love him and accept him for who he was, even when he thought he was Elvis.
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Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 32 years. They have 6 children, and five grandchildren.
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