When you listen to David Eardley’s comfortable delivery of a sermon or his ease conversing with others, you’d never guess that he stuttered as a youth.
“The hard consonants were always a challenge. Whenever I had to stand up and introduce myself, that made me very anxious,” said Eardley, 55, who became GPUMC’s pastor on July 1. Eardley arrives with his wife Sara, son Ryan, 17, who is a senior at AIM High School in Farmington Hills, the family dog, Chester, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-Coton mix, and Princess, the family cat who lives up to her name.
Working with a speech therapist during middle school was an experience that Eardley calls transforming. “It really was an answer to prayer. Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh. (Stuttering) doesn’t go away. You never stop being a stutterer. But you can learn how to adapt and work through situations,” he said.
He’s also acquired skills from the experience. “Being a stutterer has given me empathy for children or other adults who deal with stammering. I’ve learned to be more patient with people and not try to speak for them when they’re trying to put their words together. I’ve learned that you have to give everyone time to speak their words,” he said.
Eardley brings that empathy and a passion for community outreach to GPUMC, his sixth appointment as a United Methodist minister. His 29-year career has included stops at three small, solo-pastor churches plus two large churches with multiple ministers and large staffs (Ann Arbor and Rochester).
At his last appointment as senior pastor at Rochester St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, he served a congregation of nearly 2,000 members and worked with three other ministers plus a staff of 19. His arrival at GPUMC marks his return to a much smaller church where he is the only minister and works with just four part-time staff persons.
After nine years in Rochester, he was ready for a change. “About a year ago, I was feeling like my call in Rochester was concluding. I had done the ministry that I was called to do. I was open for a change,” he said.
“I knew that I probably would be moving to a smaller congregation. In a smaller church, there’s a whole lot less administration, a lot less managing, and, when there are fewer people, there’s often less drama. I’m looking forward to all of that,” he said.
The appointment in Grosse Pointe also means a return to familiar ground. Eardley grew up on Detroit’s east side and attended Lutheran High School East before earning a degree at University of Michigan. His family attended the now closed Mt. Hope UMC on Seven Mile Road, and he was part of the youth group at Redeemer UMC in Harper Woods.
Although he grew up in the area, Eardley doesn’t know Grosse Pointe well. “Most of my experience in Grosse Pointe was driving through and looking at the Christmas lights,’’ he said.
As he looks ahead to shaping his ministry in Grosse Pointe, Eardley expects to do a lot of listening.
“I want to listen to the congregation about where you see God at work and where are the gaps. What are the things that aren’t happening? What needs aren’t being met in this community? How can this church help meet that need?” he said.
GPUMC, like all churches, needs to “to meet people where they are,” he said.
“We need to meet the community that’s here now, not the community that we remember, not the community that we wish we had. We need to be able to provide ministry for who’s around us and not forever worry about who’s not there. For example, we have to be comfortable with recognizing the power of older adult ministry. How can we meet them as they wrestle with life’s choices and decisions about meaning and purpose?”
He wants to develop a ministry that assures members and others that the church cares for them. “People want to know if we’re going to care for them today. Are we going to love them today?
Are we going to welcome them today? Are we going to accept them today?”
When he considers the overwhelming political issues of the moment, both in the church and more broadly in the country, he is frustrated by “how much of our identity is wrapped up in our politics and not our faith.”
“On Twitter, I saw somebody saying that the nation had let down the people. I think that’s wrong. I think the people have let down the nation. We the people have let down the nation. It’s a group effort that got us into this, and working together is the only way to get out of it.
“Part of our call is showing that we are really living Jesus’ words and not just speaking them. The world around us has written off Christians and understandably because they see too many Christians talking one way and living and acting another. We have to show who we are, how Jesus is calling us to be in this moment,” he said.