Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.
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 I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church — a Southern Baptist congregation. I pastored Victory Baptist for seven excruciating months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a gated community called White Birch — north of Farwell, Michigan.
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 heard the following:
Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying at 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 social security 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. I would later learn that he was likely the most honest man in the room.
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 learned that he had been sexually 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 — discussing the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, an older 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.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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