Tell us about your call to the ordained ministry.
Serving as an “altar boy” as a youth, I always felt a strong sense of calling to the Lord. I never doubted my belief in God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. But my early faith was “without understanding” and was full of “fear” more than love. I was, for all intents and purposes, a “goody two shoes,” even as a preteen and early teenager. The sense of call dissipated as I entered high school and excelled in math and science, though my faith increased.
At the age of 13, I was invited to go to Young Life and subsequently to Campaigners, a Bible study to dig deeper into the scripture. I argued with the Young Life leader and he challenged me to begin to read the Bible for myself. I accepted his challenge and started reading the Bible everyday and never stopped … and made a commitment to Jesus and accepted Him as my Savior and Lord at 15 years old.
When I decided to go to college, I started doing volunteer work for Young Life and the call to ministry returned; but, it would be five years and a long and unusual route that would eventually lead to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.
Tell us about your specific call to St. Luke’s Church.
After graduating from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, I was called to be an associate rector at a large church in San Antonio, Texas. During the time I was in Pittsburgh as well as in San Antonio, on two separate occasions, the Rt. Rev. FitzSimons Allison, a board member at TESM, introduced my name in the Diocese of South Carolina. In my fifth year, however, I was sensing it was time to be a rector and was called to interview at two churches in South Carolina (both of which would issue a call to be rector).
When I first heard from St. Luke’s, Hilton Head Island, I was reluctant to visit because of the area’s reputation as a retirement community; but Hilton Head Island had become more and they convinced me to stay in the process. When the interview came, it was wonderful. Apparently, the church had significant financial issues and division — none of which I was aware of when I interviewed. The chair of the committee would later tell me that they had agreed, because of their challenges, the voted needed to be unanimous; the first vote wasn’t, so the chairman said, “Let’s forget Greg’s age and vote again. It was unanimous. When I walked out of the interview, I turned to my wife and said: “They are going to call me and we are going to come here; the Lord was clear to me in there.”
What are two lessons you have learned as rector?
Choosing staff is critical. I have made some great choices and some not so great choices. You can’t always tell who will be “great staff” and who will cause challenges; but staffing is critical.
You can’t say what your ministry will be at any given time. The first couple of years were a little lonely, but it was great until we built our new sanctuary — then challenges began in ways unexpected (that was about nine or ten years in). When I took my first sabbatical ever and returned, that was probably my most difficult year in the ministry. That was 18 years into my ministry here.
Where would you like to spend your remaining years in ministry?
I actually answered that on my sabbatical. I love my people and have become such a part of St. Luke’s and of Hilton Head Island … it would be difficult to leave.
I have presided at more than 600 funerals since I have been at St. Luke’s; I have been a part of family’s lives, through ups and downs; I love my people. It would be very difficult to leave. I would love to stay and, in time, transition into more part-time work. Perhaps, rector emeritus? We have built a great physical plant here and expanded the property, so we’re in great condition for the next 20 years. But, in the next five or six years, it may be time for a younger and “more visionary” type of leader.
What would you hold up for good authors and solid teaching books?
For beginners: The Bible!
Basic Christianity (John Stott, who actually has written books, for every stage and, as one of my heroes, I have read every book he has written)
Know What You Believe and Know Why You Believe by Paul Little
The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Stroebel
Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
I Believe in the Holy Spirit by Michael Green
Called and Committed by David Watson
Knowing God by J. I. Packer
Prayer by O. Hallesby
Prayer by E. M. Bounds
Any books by David Jeremiah
The Cross of Christ by John Stott
Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders
Any books by: J. I. Packer, John Stott, Michael Green, David Watson, Ravi Zacharias, C. S. Lewis and Warren Wiersbe
For the advanced:
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
The Pursuit of Man by A. W. Tozer (Relly, any books by Tozer).
G. K. Chesterton (select books; some aren’t worth it, but he is a challenging author!)
Helmut Thielicke (a great thinker/writer)
What volunteer opportunities does your church offer?
It is not so much “which” opportunities that I point my parishioners to as much as I encourage people in our new members class to discover their spiritual giftedness, consider their personal style and passions and then pick a ministry. We have a Thrift Shop — the Church Mouse — that is separate from the Church. Another significant program is the separate 501(c)3 entity “Memory Matters,” an Alzheimer’s fundraising and awareness organization. The local Habitat chapter began at St. Luke’s more than 20 years ago. Of course, we have a wide range of evangelical, prayer, missional and programmatic ministries.
How do you view being a minister?
I’ve never thought of myself as “a minister first.” I told my children a long time ago: I am first a Christian, then a husband, then a father, then a pastor; I say Christian first, because I have, since the early 70s, begun my day in the Word and with the Lord in prayer. For fun I play golf, (I enjoy most sports and when my boys were younger, helped by coaching), do yard work, play guitar, read and watch sports. (My claim to fame — look it up on Wikipedia — is that I am the author of the name “The Steel Curtain,” the Steelers famed defense.)
How do you advise laity on increasing faith?
Though I don’t believe there is only one thing the laity can do to strengthen their faith, the one aspect that is critical and ignored by many is the daily quiet time with the Lord. If our faith is a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, then we need conversation where we talk with Him (prayer) and He talks with us (His Word and prayer).
What is ministry like in a resort/retirement community?
It is a difficult ministry in several ways.
First, raising funds: There are few “extended families” here; and, people often have their wills written before moving here and have bequeathed their church gifting to the church where they came from. In addition, many are either on a fixed income or struggling to make ends meet to live in a resort area.
Second, the area offers something fun to do everyday of the year, so people are inconsistent in worship, which makes it difficult to build momentum. People travel frequently to visit family; often, people aren’t here for a long time. It is all very pastorally intensive!
Did you struggle with your call to ministry?
Yes. There was a time I struggled with my call. When I was in my first year of ministry in San Antonio, I became the “senior associate” on a five-clergy staff at the age of 29 … and from there responsibilities and demands for my time rapidly increased. Meredith, my wife, had our second child and developed mastitis. Running consistently on just a few hours of sleep, I drank too much coffee and, during the Good Friday service, had my first panic attack. For the next eight or nine years — every Sunday, every funeral, every wedding — I would have a panic attack. On num
erous occasions, I would say to Meredith, “If these don’t stop, I need to quit,” but I never did and God was faithful. At one point, I preached a sermon, “An Audience of One.” I learned I was there to please Him and rely on Him only. That changed me and my preaching!