It is with deep sadness that the Staff-Parish Relations Committee shares the following message from Pastor Gary Upleger:
Dear Church Family,
You all know that I have lived my life as a rather open book before you. Over the years I have shared with you many stories of my life and struggles. And so I come to you today to share this latest segment of my story. This is both a difficult letter for me to write and probably a difficult letter for you to read, but I will be open and honest with you.
As you know, I have been dealing with some respiratory issues for several months and my condition has not improved. I have recently been to a pulmonologist and a pulmonary specialist. Of course, that involved several different tests. With those results they have been able to offer a diagnosis: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). It is a lung disease, but we don’t know what has caused it to develop in me. With this disease there is a buildup of scar-like tissue in my lungs that hinders/prevents the effective transfer of oxygen into my bloodstream, as well as an eventual stiffening of the lungs themselves.
Perhaps you have noticed over the last few months that I have been at times breathless and breathing more heavily than ever before. It has also affected my voice, giving me a persistent raspy sound, as well as coughing and causing me to run out of air, leaving awkward pauses and dropped words at the end of sentences. Because of my body’s inability to provide the full level of oxygen I need, I have lacked energy and focus, I have been very tired at the end of most days, and exhausted after worship on Sundays. One result of this is that, starting this week, I will need the use of oxygen most of the time – unless I’m simply sitting still and not even carrying on a conversation.
IPF is a progressive disease, meaning it will continue to get worse, and to date there is no cure. There is a medication which can to some degree slow the rate of progression for a period of time. Ultimately, the only medical solution is a double lung transplant. IPF is also a fairly aggressive disease and where my health stands at the present (without treatment and transplant) the prognosis is that I will have a life expectancy of 1.5-2 years, perhaps 3 under the best of circumstances.
Of course, I never envisioned my life taking this turn, no one ever does. But it has taken this turn and with it comes difficult choices and actions that are necessary. All of this taken together means that, though I do not yet know the specific time frame involved, I will need to step down as your Pastor in the very near future.
I understand that this news is shocking, it was to me. It will take some time to digest it and come to grips with it. With that comes a range of emotions—everything from sadness to anger and back again—that is normal so go with it and let yourself feel it. If you at any point find yourself angry with God and you want to give God a piece of your mind, that’s okay too. God is big enough to take it and actually wants to hear that from you. If you doubt that, just look through the Psalms and notice how much anguish and anger is expressed toward God in the difficult times of life. But also notice how most of those psalms have a “and yet” turning point near the end. After they have poured out their souls to God and laid it all on the line, they can still say, “and yet, O Lord, I will trust in you.”
That is where I find myself right now. Since my early twenties I have tried to live my life to the glory of God. Sometimes I’ve done much better at this than at other times, but that has been my focus. I find myself in the same place today.
God is God and doesn’t need my permission for anything. Yet, I find that often God desires my cooperation. I have had a couple of weeks to come to grips with this diagnosis and prognosis. By the grace of God I’ve come to the place where I can genuinely say that I’m willing to follow this path through whatever it leads for the glory of God. If that is a form of miraculous healing such as we read about in the Bible, let it be for the glory of God. If that is through a transplantation, let it be for the glory of God. If that is through living each day and cherishing each breath I am granted, let it be for the glory of God.
It has been my distinct privilege and honor to have served with you. You hold a special place in my heart and in the lives of my family. I continue to pray God’s richest blessings to be poured out upon you to the glory of God.
Peace be with you,
Messages of support may be sent directly to Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to 2701 Shoemaker Lane, Mount Dora, FL. 32757, but visitation is prohibited at this time due to COVID-19 concerns. Know that your messages are appreciated, even though Gary may not be able to respond right away. Thank you for your patience and understanding! If you would like to support Gary financially, donations may be sent to the church (payable to FUMC Mount Dora, note “Love Offering for Pastor Gary”).
Guest preachers are in place for the coming weeks while the SPRC works with the District
Superintendent and the Bishop to secure interim/new clergy leadership. We will update you as information becomes available.
Our thoughts are with Gary and his family as well as our ministry staff, volunteers, members of the congregation, and friends of the church during this difficult time. We look to God for guidance and strength as we move through this time of transition and for the comfort and peace only He can provide.
In Jesus’s name,
FUMC Staff-Parish Relations Committee