The Center For Progressive Christianity
July 2010
Remembering Rev Gary Wilburn
Friend, leader, pastor, compassionate giver
3/8/1943 to 6/28/2010

Gary WilburnI met Gary at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canann, in Connecticut, where he had been the pastor for over 12 years. I was there at Gary's invitation as the keynote speaker for a TCPC Regional event. We had become friends over the telephone months before we ever met. I knew I was going to like this guy the first time I heard him laugh on the phone. His laugh was natural, easy and free. When we finally met in person, I noticed that his beautiful smile was just an extension of that laugh and I realized quickly it came from a big heart. It was clear to me that this man exuded love. We talked at some length about ways that Gary could become more active with The Center for Progressive Christianity, after his upcoming retirement, and I was very excited about having him on the team.
It was only a few weeks after my visit that I received an email from Gary explaining that he had ALS and that was the main reason for his early retirement. He was adamant that he was going to find a way to at least slow the progression down because he had a couple more books to write. And most of all he wanted to do whatever he could do to help TCPC get our message out. "I don't want to let you down," he said. And he never did. He called, wrote and once flew a long distance to attend a planning meeting.  He would have come to every one but he became too weak to travel. But he never stopped writing. I had no idea what a deep thinker and scholar he was until I started reading his books. He left us three amazing books- The God I No Longer Believe In, Lots of Love, and Lots of Hope- and one on the way- Faith, Love, and Hope: the Pillars of Progressive Christianity.
I had the opportunity to talk to Gary several times before if became too difficult for him to breathe and talk as his lungs slowly closed down. However, in one of the last conversations that I had with him, he gave me a beautiful, poetic description of the setting sun, the rolling waves, and the warm sand that he was enjoying at that moment as he stood in front of his little house in Baja, Mexico where he and his lovely wife, Bev lived after his retirement.  Even though he was struggling to breathe, he cheerily said "God Fred, I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world right now. I am one lucky S.O.B."  
Gary was truly a lover of people and of life and he lived that way right up to the end. His books continue to be some of our best sellers and we still receive wonderful emails from folks thanking us for introducing them to his work. Bev told me that he never stopped talking about TCPC and the important work we were doing, right up to his last days. He promised that his spirit would continue to be with us. He did not need to make that promise. His spirit will always be with us and his example will lead us. 
Thanks dear friend.  You will be missed.
Yours in the Spirit and in Hope,

Gary Wilburn 2Tributes to Gary
Many people wrote and shared their tributes to Gary.  Take the time to read these and know that no energy is ever lost in the universe. His work will continue to inspire and guide us and those that come after us.

"...he had such a sense of urgency to share the loving message of an inclusion and open faith. I am so glad to have met him."  Rebecca

" He will never be replaced, but he is breathing and talking again.  I will continue to pray for the work you (TCPC) are doing.  Keep the faith and please remember how much Gary believed in what you are doing and so wanted to be a vital part or the work." Bev

"I had the opportunity to meet Gary at the strategic planning meeting a few years ago. I was immediately touched by his sharp mind and vast heart. Gary's was a big tent and, as such, he seemed to me the embodiment of the very core of progressive Christianity. In the tradition of great leaders, he used himself up in an earth-bound project that will outlast us all, but I feel like Gary left us with an unforgettable and inspiring legacy with which to carry on. I think he became missed as soon as he became ill but his remarkable will to contribute never ceased and it is my sense that his guidance to our community will remain ever-present." Dan

"Though I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, I feel his impact deeply." Ian

"Gary stole my heart in about 2 minutes with his spirit filled eyes, his smile, and his passion.  In the few years that I knew him, even though his health declined, he was always positive, strong, and vibrant.  It is an honor to have known such a man and he is someone that will always inspire me." Deshna

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
- Matthew 5:3-9

Articles and More Thoughts

Gary's Obituary
The Rev. Dr. Gary A. Wilburn quietly and peacefully passed from the arms of his wife Bev and son Sean into the arms of God on June 28, 2010, at their home in Playa La Mision, Baja California, Mexico.  Born March 8, 1943, in Seattle, Washington, Gary was raised in Southern California.  Throughout his three-year battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS) Gary insisted on living fully and with hope.

My Friend Gary, By Ken Watts
Last weekend, I attended the memorial service of a life-long friend. Gary Wilburn was a Presbyterian pastor.  In these days of acrimony between religion and atheism, and between one religion and another, it's good to remember that not all religion has to be toxic or divisive, and that in the end it's the character of individual human beings-and their individual spiritual journeys-which matter most.  My friend Gary is an example of this. The first sound that comes to mind when I think of Gary-among fleeting images of kilts and beaches and margaritas-is his bark of a laugh.  His sudden explosive "HA!" that could fill the room, and then be gone almost before you heard it.  And then I remember how he enjoyed the conversation of his friends-often in his own home: that center of community which he and his wife Bev created together everywhere they lived.  How he would listen with sheer pleasure to the give and take, the flow of ideas.  He most loved it when someone came up with a completely new perspective, a way of looking at or thinking about something that put it in a whole new light.  His grin would stretch beyond its usual boundaries then, and his eyes would sparkle with delight.

Heaven's New Coaches,By Michael Turpin
"I am struggling to climb out of a deep canyon of mourning and mortality as I lament the loss of my friend, spiritual coach, and former Presbyterian pastor Gary Wilburn.
Gary's spiritual pursuits were sparked by his life experiences--a recognition that we were all flawed and fallen but that within us, a divine spark flickers and cannot be extinguished. His mission was to free that light from its prison of self pursuit and self interest."

Town Recalls Former Pastor, By Carrie Schmelkin
Warner Depuy still remembers the first time he heard the Rev. Dr. Gary Wilburn preach at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan.  "I remember Gary standing at the front of the church and opening his arms and saying that this wasn't a Presbyterian table, it wasn't a Jewish table, it wasn't a Catholic table, it was God's table," he said. "I remember thinking to myself, you've got me."

    "My experience over the years - not as a preacher, but as a person who gets up each day and tries his best to make some sense of it, and some difference in it-
is that...

    No suffering is too great to comforted.
    No sorrow is too great to be consoled.
    No slight is too personal to be forgiven.
    No structure of a selfish society is too great to be converted.
    No scourge of war, nor violation of human rights, nor destruction of the earth is too devastating to be reversed by good people and the solidarity of civilized nations banding together to work for justice in order to live in peace."
~Gary A. Wilburn

Call Me by My True Names
By: Thich Nhat Hanh
Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
Thank you for celebrating the incredible life and work of our friend Gary with us.

Fred Plumer
and the team at The Center for Progressive Christianity
253 303-0022-