Elvis Came to Church

by Bruce Gerencser

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.

I pastored Victory Baptist Church for seven months. While we were there we lived in a beautiful home north of Farwell Michigan in a gated community called White Birch.

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.

Barry said:

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.

Comments open below

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Way Forward.

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.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

About Suzanne Calulu
  • Kimberly

    Hahahaha! i can just see the shocked expressions on their faces! :-) So, I was in the church for many years and have studied the Bible for 8 years in an international Bible study, but I don’t know where to find a prohibition against masturbation… :-0

  • madame

    True!
    I don’t find a prohibition anywhere either.

  • madame

    I hope Barry found people to love him and accept him for who he is, too.
    It can be very uncomfortable having people who seem “different” in church. But if we claim to be mature Christians, we have to be ready to feel uncomfortable for the sake of others finding the love and hope we say we believe in.

  • Lodrelhai

    I believe the prohibitions come from a combination of the story of Onan in Genesis, and Jesus’s proclamation in Matthew that any man who even looks at a woman lustily commits adultery in his heart. I guess the idea is the masturbator to be thinking of *someone* while doing it, and it can’t possibly be his wife because if it was he wouldn’t be masturbating, he’d be having sex with her in the proper and potentially procreative method.

    Of course, women don’t have seed to spill the way men do, so maybe it’s only a problem for men?


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