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Elvis Came to Church


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) I pastored Victory Baptist Church for seven months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a beautiful home north of Farwell Michigan in a gated community called White Birch.

One evening, my family and I drove to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping at Meijer. 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 trying to put one over on me.  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.

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 did:

I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.

Dead silence. Instant offense showed on the faces of many 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 him. I hope he found someone to help him, love him, and accept him for who he was, even if he thought he was Elvis.


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    Ashame he was so abused, but it doesn’t surprise me; nothing surprises me with churches anymore. And I, too, have always gotten along with people who were “different”; I guess being different yourself helps with that

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    Funny how folks can ask for prayers for all sorts of things (I’ve spent plenty of time in prayer meetings) but when it comes to real issues they want to act as though it doesn’t exist.

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    I like Barry—and his matter-of-fact honesty. That masturbation comment sounds like something i might say in the same situation or in a conversation with 10 guests in my living room. It is sometimes fun to say things like that just to see how people will respond.

    I was driving down a mountain road this afternoon—feeling much better after a couple of bad days of medical news, and the old saying came, “I have something that I just have to get off my chest.” Then I thought, “no.” That means something is weighing down on your chest so you cannot breathe—and you have to get it off. That’s not me!!! Then I said, “I have something that I just have to get off my dick.” That is me. Who cares what’s on your chest. Every man knows that his member is his most important part—and if something is weighing down on it—it ain’t gonna work. That is far more important to most men than mere breathing.

    So yeah, I like Barry (a.k.a. Elvis). There’s nothing better than a flat-out honest man. The world needs more of them. They just get defined as being in need of mental health services by the people who need those services a hell of a lot more.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Yes, Barry was far more honest than any of the rest of us sitting around that table. There’s something about childlike honesty that is refreshing. When we had a Christian school years ago, I always loved hearing the children talk about how things were at home. Funny thing…their view of home was very different from their parents. 🙂

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    As a Christian, and now post Christianity, I think people like Barry are my favorite Christians. They are way too authentic to fit in at church. In the buffet that is Christianity I always chose the part that made saints out of the misfits and weirdos, the people “this world is not worthy of”

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    It is so sad that Christian churches beg for confessional expression but have narrow boundaries about it. The poor fellow had a problem with masturbation because he was at church and buying into the lies spread by Christians. Rather than allow him open humanity, they pursued harm and rejected his feelings. Christianity is designed to harm us and Church is the collective harming. Poor Elvis.

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