Pastor Spotlight: Father Gary
Father Gary Eichelberger is the Rector of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Greenville, S.C. He and his wife Kacey have 3 children: Virginia, Jack, and Eliza. Through his leadership at St. Andrews, the congregation participates in multiple build days each year and is a constant source of encouragement to the entire Rebuild Upstate team.
We are proud to recognize his love for the city of Greenville during Pastor Appreciation Month.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m from a small town about an hour from here – Ninety Six, SC. It’s the only town in the world with its name in its zip code! I then went to Furman for undergrad and, after that, pursued a joint law degree with a master in theological studies at Duke. When I was growing up and attending my family’s Presbyterian Church, I never thought about being a minister, but, while at Duke, I was really drawn to the liturgy in the Episcopal Church. After I started worshipping in the Episcopal Church, I began to be drawn to the priesthood. During my last year at Duke, I started dating another student, and she ended up getting a fellowship to do service work in Zimbabwe and so I followed her there! I ended up doing mission work through the Episcopal Church, teaching and living in a seminary community in Zimbabwe. After the year in Zimbabwe, we got married and moved to Charleston for her to start medical school, and I started work at a law firm. Ultimately, it took more than ten years to get to become a priest, but, over that time, I continued to be more and more drawn to ministry.
What are your hobbies? Favorite book/movie? What are you passionate about?
My favorite ways to pass time are with my family, with my wife. My favorite place in the world is the space right next to my wife. I love to hike, I love the natural beauty of this region, we do family bike rides on the Swamp Rabbit Trail once a week. My favorite book is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, probably read those 4 times all the way through. I just finished reading those to my son. My favorite thing about Tolkein’s books is the history of the unnoticed people. How the Hobbits moved history, and I think there’s a lot in what Christians can take from that. How our work can be changing and world-surprising even though the work may go unnoticed. I find it very similar to the work that a place like Rebuild Upstate does.
How long have you been a pastor? And what is your favorite thing about being a pastor? And about your church?
That’s a challenging question. Because of the times we’re in, there can be some sadness to thinking about the things that I enjoy most — because our ability to be present with people has been so limited in recent months. But, I treasure the opportunity to be with people in moments of deep meaning and anxiety — to help remind people that they are not alone. God is with them when their loved ones are dying, or in the face of disease, or economic stress. Being with them in the presence of the Lord in the midst of the fragility of the world. To be there to help and remind people that God is with them through that. It’s a mutual recognition that I can see God through them and their faith, and they can see Him through me as well.
One of the key things that drew me to this place [St. Andrews] and what continues to be a great joy for me is how this parish serves the least of these. That includes feeding the hungry and providing shelter to those in need. This has been a core part of the mission of Saint Andrew’s for decades. Project Host, which is a local soup kitchen, was originally started in St. Andrew’s parish hall but moved a number of years ago because they needed more space. We then started Feed Thy Neighbor, so that every Saturday morning people can come here and get a hot breakfast. The church, which is located right across from Greenville Drive’s stadium, was built in 1905, and for many years was in a very economically distressed area. As the neighborhood around us changes, our church also wants to help make sure that folks don’t lose their homes because of the increased costs of living—and supporting Rebuild Upstate’s work is one way to do that.
The second key characteristic of this place is our worship style. We are Anglo-Catholic, which means we are, as an Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican communion but our worship leans more catholic and traditional. Sung liturgy, incense, etc. An interesting thing about the Anglo-Catholic tradition is that, in addition to the traditional worship style, it also emphasizes social justice, which takes us back to the mission and outreach piece that I described first.
The third key characteristic is that, for decades, this church has been an affirming church, which means that we are a church where gay couples can openly come and worship — and know that they will be welcomed joyfully. And we affirm their love and commitment and celebrate they ways in which God’s love is revealed in and through them. It was very important to me and my wife that our children be raised in an affirming church where they could see God’s love revealed in a diversity of people and relationships.
How and when did you first hear about Rebuild Upstate?
When I first got to St. Andrews, we needed to raise a substantial amount of funds to renovate and restore our historic church building. As we considered how to go about raising that money, I challenged the church to consider taking 10% of the funds raised from the campaign and set it aside as a tithe to support those in need in the communities around the church. We decided to move forward with that plan and ultimately raised $400,000 in contributions and pledges to be paid out over several years and pledges—with 10% of that money being set aside as it was received. Then we formed a committee to go out and seek out the needs of the surrounding community, and they identified that housing-related issues were the key need. They then identified Rebuild Upstate as a place where we could invest our money in and all invest our labor. When they came back to the church with news on Rebuild Upstate and told us about what they did, I was blown away. The fall of 2018 was when we committed to supporting Rebuild Upstate, and March 2019 was when we did our first build with them. We have been delighted to work with them since. We have been blessed to have our name associated with Rebuild Upstate over the years because they are doing outstanding work, and it has been a great source of fulfillment and enrichment for our Parish. Rebuild Upstate’s work fits into our mission. As one of our parish leaders described it recently, we’ve been involved in feeding our neighbor and clothing our neighbor for a number of years and now, through our work with Rebuild Upstate, we are helping to house our neighbor!
How does your faith tie into your volunteering?
There are all kinds of things that can be sources of disagreements across churches, but one for sure thing in the Church is that it’s hard to follow Jesus without serving those in need around us. Jesus made it very clear that we need to care for those who are in need around us — giving drink to the thirsty and shelter to those without, etc. It is essential in my faith that I am involved in that work. Also, it’s fun and rewarding! I enjoy doing this. There are different types of service that people enjoy but serving God by serving others is essential to Christian life. The more we learn to give up our time and resources, the more we can appreciate the things that God has given us.
What has volunteering done for your church community and staff?
Anytime you have a church that’s growing and is a living community, you have the challenge to build the community — for people to get to know each other and for people to see each other as people that they love and are connected to — so that they can take care of each other and allow themselves to be taken care of. To recognize that they are working on proclaiming the gospel together. The opportunity to work together on a build [volunteer build day] is important for those relationships to be built. Normally they may only get about an hour or two a week at the church on a Sunday together to build those relationships but a build day gives more extended time for those relationships to grow and blossom. This is the type of work that people can do together and enjoy. The friendships made through this have made our church a more full and richer place to worship and I’m grateful for that. You also learn a lot about your church members! Like I didn’t know that so-and-so was so handy!
What is your favorite part of your build day? Something you wish you had more of on your build day?
It is incredibly rewarding to be there in the presence of my church. Hearing the laughs and jokes and banter. My second favorite part is the conversations that we get to have with the homeowner. Rebuild Upstate instills dignity in the homeowner and I really enjoy being a part of that. I also love working on a saw. I got to do some work on a table saw and loved it… I wish I could work more on the table saw!
Other than that I don’t know what I would want more of, other than more chances to do it! I love seeing the final product of being able to help our neighbors and see how their living has improved.
Spiritually, what is the biggest takeaway that you want yourself or your volunteer group to take away from volunteering?
To experience the love of God in their own labor, so that people will experience God’s love and see that they are agents of God’s love through doing work like this. When we understand that our church is the body of Christ, working on a Rebuild project is a dramatic representation of that. We are physically loving the people in that community and in that house.[Also] to experience how easy it can be to have that impact on someone. Rebuild Upstate helps a lot with making it possible but the ease is through God providing so many opportunities for acts of service. My hope is that we can make our members hunger for more opportunities like this and experience this type of love.
To learn more about putting your faith in action with Rebuild Upstate, contact our team here.