Suffolk mourns beloved pastor

Published 9:29 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Suffolk community is grieving for a cherished pastor known for kindness and care, both in church and throughout the community.

The Rev. Greg Ryan passed away on Wednesday at age 54. The Oakland Christian United Church of Christ pastor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in May 2016. He was receiving treatment at the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, N.C., after the cancer returned from remission in February.

Ryan had been a pastor at Oakland Christian UCC since he and his wife, Terry Schaefer Ryan, moved to Suffolk in 2013. He was a warm and friendly face for the congregation as he engaged them during service, with a distinct passion for music.

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“He worked hard to keep the music interesting and very prominent in the service,” said Oakland Christian UCC moderator Lou Haddad. “It really made the service very lively.”

Ryan believed that community outreach was a crucial part of the church, and he led the members to participate numerous community programs.

The Suffolk Night Stay Program, a ministry of Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk, houses the homeless overnight during the coldest months of the year. The Fourth Friday dinner club allows members to break bread and connect with community residents.

He broke down walls between his church and other congregations, and he loved working with kids on camping retreats, his wife said.

All of this adhered to the church’s creed that “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

“He was the embodiment of that,” Haddad said.

Members of the Suffolk community at large responded in earnest when Ryan was first diagnosed on vacation with his wife in Hawaii. A 12-hour community prayer vigil was held at Oakland Christian that May, and a “9-1-1 for Pastor Greg” fundraiser was held to help offset the cost of his medevac to the Duke Cancer Institute.

“He was such an advocate for the greater community,” Haddad said. “We’re going to do our best to continue his work.”

Outside of church, Ryan’s other passions were running and golf. He had run two full Disney marathons in Orlando, Fla., plus several other half-marathons, and was a member of running clubs that met in the early hours of the morning, Terry said.

“Once he was up, he was all about it and he was really invigorated,” she said

But according to her, his first love was golf.

“You never saw anybody get out of bed so fast in the morning when it was golf day,” she said.

He started his lifetime love of the game at age 12 when he worked at a golf course by picking up the balls on a driving range in Clearwater, Fla. For his 40th birthday, Terry gave him tickets to the Masters competition, where he met famous golfers.

“That was really phenomenal,” she said.

Greg was a Catholic priest in Florida when he met Terry. He left the priesthood in 1996 to pursue their relationship, and the two married in 1998.

He then became stepfather to Terry’s daughters, Justine and Kate, who were ages 16 and 14 at the time, respectively. She said that he had lived in a Catholic house filled with men most of his life, and then he was in a house with her and her two daughters.

Even their rescue dog was female.

“It was an adjustment for him to say the least, but he rose to the occasion,” Terry said.

Leaving the priesthood was not easy for Greg, and when he and Terry joined the Tampa UCC Church in 2009, he decided he wanted to go back to the ministry. He received privilege to call and applied to pastor position openings, eventually being accepted to Oakland Christian UCC.

Terry said pastoral work was incredibly important to him. That passion showed in his positive legacy on the Suffolk community. As Haddad described Ryan, “His whole persona made you feel welcome.”

“He was kind, generous, peace loving, caring, and for me the love of my life,” Terry said.

Parr Funeral Home in Suffolk will hold visitation this Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. The service will be held at Oakland Christian UCC on 5641 Godwin Blvd. Monday at 11 a.m.