Black History Month — Honoring A Man of Faith — Walter Giryer

Giryer Walter Mack

Black History Month 2018
In Honor of Walter Mack Giryer
October 6, 1919 – August 8, 2011

Several news outlets have been highlighting and paying tribute to African-American heroes. Within the African American community, who would I call a hero—a man to be remembered? Who has been a “black” role-model for me as a pastor? In writing this blog, who would I like to talk about? This Black History Month I share, some of my thoughts about a man who was a great influence on me and the church I served.

Walter Mack Giryer

You haven’t seen his name in the headlines. He wasn’t a national or global leader. You won’t see his name in history books. As far as I know, he never ran for political office. A man who was born in Buena Vista, Georgia died a the age of 91 in Saginaw, Michigan. He served in the Army as a Master Sergeant. Married to Ann, he had a lovely family with four children. He was a citizen and friend and member of the church I served for over a quarter century.

Walter Mack Giryer is a man who will not be forgotten! He was my friend. Along time member of the Wadsworth Avenue Presbyterian, he transferred to the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw in 1965. I presided over the funeral of his beloved wife Ann in 1991. A church leader, Walter served the church as an Elder and Deacon. Honestly, I never thought of him as being black or white. He was, simply, a lovely-loving man! Upon his death in 2011, I was honored to preside over his funeral.

Now retired and reflecting on my ministry, I can imagine looking out from the pulpit on any given Sunday seeing this tall, well dressed man handing out bulletins to members coming into the sanctuary for worship. I can see him sitting with his good friend Charlie Campbell. Charles Campbell died in 2010—greatly missed by Walt. Charlie, has a family that could easily fill up two pews in the sanctuary. His children and grandchildren need to be mentioned because they were members of Walts extended family. Truly a man to be honored and remembered this “Black History Month”—Walter Mack Giryer.

While pages could be written about this man and his involvement in the community, I mention a few things that make him a man to remember:

1. Walt, year after year, would volunteer to work with children during our Summer Magic program. He was the first to arrive in unlocking the doors. He was the last to leave. Our being an inner city church, he would always sit at the entrance to the Gym providing extra security. On hot days, he would go to the playground with jugs and cups to share water with thirsty children. Little things that didn’t go unnoticed. Walt was always ready to look after the well-being of neighborhood children.

Walt Giryer being a black man was a wonderful role model to the black children in the community!

2. A member of the men’s club, he was always ready to help serve Easter Breakfast. He would befriend members who might need a ride to church. He was always ready to help me out when I encountered a situation that required a sensitive heart.

3. Another good friend in the church was our custodian WG Turner. As good friends they were always seen together doing things around the church. Hey were also two of the best dressed men in the church. While I would often dress casual, they always wore their best clothes when working around the church. Deep down I think they believed it was their duty to give God – the church – their best! Just as it hurt Walt deeply when Charlie Campbell died, it was also a major loss for Walt when WG died in 2007. Another black man who should always be remembered.

4. I chose to write about Walt because he was a “quiet man of faith”. He was not a preacher. I wouldn’t volunteer to stand to say anything publicly. Behind he scenes, you could ask him to do just about anything. Walt Giryer would be ready to help. Regardless what I might need, I knew I could always call on Walt for help!

Thus, with a few short comments, I felt the need this “Black History Month” to write a little about this influential man. To learn more about Walt, I have attached to this blog the eulogy I shared at his funeral.

God continue to give glory to God and his faithful servant Walter Mack Giryer. May God continue to look after him and his family and friends along with all the “Saints who from their labors now rest”.



A Service in Witness to the Resurrection
For Walter Giryer
Thomas B. Cundiff
August 11, 2011

I Corinthians 13: 1-7

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


God’s unending love has brought us here today.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.

God’s promise is realized today. Walter Mach Giryer has achieved the goal. He has lived in God’s love for over 91 years….good and faithful years. Through faith in Jesus Christ, Walt has not perished. While physical life is gone, Walt has spiritually received eternal life. God’s Love has endured in touching us all….family and friends — churchman and friend.

Faith – for you and your children: God is with you holding you in his gracious and everlasting love today! God is holding all of you in his love this beautiful day.

Anika (Craig) Roy, Ft. Wayne
Morris, Toledo
Terrance, Toledo
Myron (Jennifer) Chicago

God’s love is deep and wide and as broad as anyone can imagine… in holding all of you. God’s love, as I said last night, is found in every breath we take. God’s love is found in every experience. From every hug to every smile…sitting on his lap, through moments of play, in times of grief, in values taught ….. memories to cherish – Walt has always loved you….and God has always been with you.

Walt loved life as reflected in all the positive things he did throughout life. From Georgia to Saginaw; a retired Master Sergeant in the Army serving in the Korean Conflict….to his work at the Grey Iron Foundry….to serving this church and community in numerous capacities. Walt loved life—through all the seasons and ups and downs …. seasons of experiences with you—Walt has always loved you….and God has always been with you.

Walt loved his lord. He didn’t like to do things for an audience….I could never get him in front of a microphone to speak to the congregation….but Walt sure was the best well-dressed man in church! He was always a sharp looking man. I can only guess he is now the best dressed saint in heaven.

To Know God’s Love is to know that God’s presence penetrates all aspects of life — including the ups and downs – even death itself.

While Walt was not feeling well these past few months, he remained positive. He continued to think more about others than himself. In God’s love, he fought the good fight… finished the race…..kept the faith……staid the course to stay with you as long as he could. He then had to let go. He had to let God take him. We can be so grateful his passing into eternal life was graceful and filled with God’s presence and peace…..

Because of our love for Walt, his absence from our lives makes us hurt so much more. The grief we feel is indescribable. Yet with all the discomfort and pain these past weeks, we know that God always held Walt. God’s always loved and embraced him. You never stopped praying for him. Walt was never alone.

It would seem that death is something that separates us from loved ones. Physically, yes, When we are separated from someone, we can feel that love has failed us or cut us off from God. Quite the opposite is true. While death does separate us from loved ones, scripture assures us that even death cannot separate us from God….as Paul to the Romans says:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life…can separate us from the love of God, which is In Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Love is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Walt. As we pray today, let’s pray for the peace of God to enter our hearts: Let’s us know that God’s love seeks us out like a shepherd seeks out his sheep to protect them from harm. The lord is truly our shepherd seeking us out and loving us. It is faith in the Lord our shepherd that will carry us all of you through the days and weeks ahead.

These are powerful words: I LOVE YOU.

FAITH, with you and your family – all of your children — love is the positive, sustaining force of God holding you these past few weeks that will continue to hold you well into the future. While the death of your father has been tough…God and family have given you strength. You and your dad both knew when it was time for him to go.

Walt is now reunited with his wife Ann, who went to her eternal home in 1991. Walt and Ann are back together. With your family here today, think about the values your mother and father, grandmother and grandfather — shared with you, the moral resources they gave you, the life tools you will use for the rest of your lives. These are precious gifts your mother and father , grandmother and grandfather gave you….all in love.

Faith, the legacy of love you inherited from your parents has been passed on to your children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces. ….and again, I have to believe your parents are still reaching down, smiling upon you in love.
Listening to the words of Paul, love in your family has always been
“patient and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love contains all the values your parents taught you. The legacy of all that your father (and mother) have given you now lives on through your families…..and yes, in family love bears all things and endures all things….gifts of family, gifts of love, gifts for which we thank God in commending your father, this beautiful day, to almighty God assures us one thing: LOVE NEVER ENDS.


Walt Giryer has loved and worked hard in his beloved church for nearly fifty years – serving as an elder and deacon; preparing for communion, ushering, working on various committees; helping with our summer magic children’s program—yu name it and Walt was there.

I can think of at least two men out of many good friends and family, who recently died who are now reunited with Walt in eternal life. WG TURNER was a deacon and church custodian and friend who died in July of 2007. I remember the countless times I would see these men working around the church….or sitting in a corner just talking and laughing….I know Walt really missed WG.
Another brother in Christ, CHARLES CAMPBELL died in February of 2010, and they were best of friends. They enjoyed each other’s company, sharing stories about the war, lots of laughter….and countless visits to KFC with Charlie’s grandsons. I can only imagine, reunited in heaven, Walt along with all the Saints and friends who went to heaven before him, are now sitting around a KFC bucket of Chicken…..and I wonder if God likes the crispy-spicy or regular! (I sure wish I could find a way to send them these coupons!)

Many friends are now reunited with Walt….in what scripture calls that “Mansion with many rooms” — eternal life with God.

FINALLY, God will continue to hold you. Find comfort that Walt is at peace. He is being well cared for in his eternal home. Walt and Ann is also looking upon you saying: everything is going to be okay. As the hours pass through this day, hear these words of comfort from scripture:

In God’s eternal love, through all the seasons in life, these words from Timothy:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, my God, the righteous judge, will award me this day.” (I Timothy 4: 6-8)
May God bless you all and surround you in love and peace….




Doors Open for Children and Youth

A friend and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI, Rev. Ted McCulloch, recently wrote about his experience with children visiting his office and his display of Charlie Brown “stuff”.

“…..I enjoy Charlie Brown and I knew I had quite a bit in my office but I didn’t realize how much.  There’s Snoopy on a motorcycle, a couple of different golf and baseball themed ones, four different Nativity sets plus a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and a Charlie Brown pipe organ one……”   (Thoughts from Ted, Happenings, May 2017, Vol. 180, Issue 5)

Ted is a ‘pastor-artist’ with a special gift in relating with children.  Young and old, I hear from others in the community that children are always around him.   I also know that Ted is intentional  in remaining accessible to the youngest members of the Church.

Ted wrote to the congregation to help motivate them in taking time during the summer months to help children continue in their faith journey to know Jesus – “giving thanks for welcoming the next believers in Christ”.

Thinking about these words from Ted, I sat at my desk contemplating my experiences through the years in working with children and youth.  My first call to the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa, forty years ago, was with a focus on ministry with children and youth.  Dr. Marcus Priester from McCormick Theological Seminary influenced my decision to focus my early ministry in working with children and youth.  Do our Presbyterians seminaries still have professors who specialize in Christian Education?     It was early in my ministry I made the decision that the door of my office would always be open to children and youth.

Reflecting on my experiences:  My earliest memories as a child and teenager at the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.  The pastor’s office had an entrance in the hallway leading to a lounge and some Sunday school rooms.  I will never forget the day I walked through that door, at the encouragement of an Assistant Pastor Rev. Robert Meanor, to tell Senior Pastor Rev. DeYoung  I wanted to visit with him about my thinking about ministry as a career.  I was in eight or ninth grade at that time.   From that point on I was invited to be a worship leader.

I will never forget the day Rev. DeYoung told me my paisley tie I was wearing wasn’t appropriate.  He took me to a closet and pulled out a solid black tie for me to wear.  He taught me things I held onto through my entire ministry — the need to keep my feet planted squarely on the floor in not crossing my legs while sitting up front but one example.  He also required me, when leading worship, to come in on Saturday mornings to practice my readings.

Another note from my home church:  These two pastors and Christian Education Director were always in the office on Saturday mornings.  They dressed casually.   It was a good day for people to come into the church to prepare for Sunday!   The doors of all the offices were always open!   A lot of programming, including confirmation classes for youth, took place on Saturday mornings.

How many pastors maintain Saturday morning office hours?

From this point on, as a young pastor, I was sensitive to how pastor’s present themselves, always in appropriate ways, to children and youth.  Where are the offices located and are office doors open or closed?   Are children welcome to visit the pastor?   How often do pastors visit Church School classes or attend youth retreats.

As a maturing pastor, I have always tried to have an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to children and youth visiting me in my office.  When active as a pastor, I always had toys and stuffed animals and puzzles for the kids.  Toddlers would find  in my office a dancing monkey.   Sometimes I would have a small gift – a cross or a “warm fuzzy” or a picture and story about a biblical figure.   I would also let them see and touch things i.e. where I kept the ashes used on Ash Wednesday or the communion kit used to serve the sacrament to homebound members of the church.

All of us as professional clergy need to remember Ted and those pastors who have their doors open for children and youth to enter.  WE need to celebrate having children in our midst.  We must remember, as ‘pastor-artists’, the text:

“Knock and the Door will be opened for you.”  (Matt 7:7)

Thank you Ted and Bob and Tony and Herb and Marcus and many others – for keeping your doors open for me — and all children and youth who long for the desire to learn more about Jesus and the church.



Remember Your Baptism

Now retired, I am going through some new experiences as a pastor who served congregations dating back to the 70’s.    That’s a long time ago!   In particular, I remember and continue to miss the congregation I served the beginning of my ministry, the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa.  This is the church where our daughter Emily was baptized (April 12, 1981).   I will always remember this day.  Standing as a parent I was asked by the pastor the name of my child.  I answered with confidence – “Susan”!  Everyone started laughing.  I couldn’t understand why everyone would laugh at such a sacred time.  The pastor leaned in and asked: “Isn’t your daughter’s name Emily?”  An Associate Pastor in that church, I’m glad I was standing with my daughter as a dad instead of pastor performing the baptism.  “Susan” is our daughter’s middle name.   I have no idea why my brain told me give the wrong name.  I now wonder what kind of holy-mistakes my nerves would have caused me to make if I was actually doing the baptism of my own daughter?  I will always remember this baptism!

Another church I that will always be close to my heart – the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.   I served this church as pastor from 1985 until my retirement in 2013.  Through Facebook, I recently experienced the birthday of a member of this congregation who just turned 30.  I will call him BJ.  In looking at all the people wishing him a “Happy Birthday”, I realized with a smile on my face that this church continues to be BJ’s “family’.  All the congregations I have been blessed to serve through the years of ministry are members of this family.  And this is the truth:  I remember your baptism!

Honestly?  I remember BJ’s baptism because one of the cherished files I keep is a written log of all the baptisms I have performed throughout my ministry.  I often find myself looking at this log of baptisms.  I don’t remember the actual day this young man, as an infant, was sprinkled with sacred water with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.   I don’t remember what he was wearing or what I was preaching.   I do, however, know he was baptized the same day another baby was baptized.  I remember the parents of these children who continue to be active members of Christ’s family.  By the way, BJ was baptized on September 20, 1987.  He is still an active member of he Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.

BJ and all those baptized on the chancel steps of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church and churches around the globe are members of the huge family named “Christian”.  This 30 year old man, BJ,  is now a police officer.  I am sure proud of him and all of his accomplishments!  I thank God for the opportunity to watch him grow as an active member and officer in the church I once served.

And my point?  REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM!   Remember who it is who pronounced faith in Jesus Christ prior to your being sprinkled with sacred water–your parents.  Remember who continues to hold you and protect you–God.

This Holy Week, remember who lived and died and rose from death to be our Lord and our Savior.


I’m glad I’ve gotten back to writing in this blog.

I. Church and Family-“I Belong to God”


I’ve given my life to the church.   I also know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support and encouragement of family!  This is a first of many entries under the theme:  Family and Church!   

I thank myimg_2854 parents, Sanford and Helen Cundiff, for being parents who made sure church was part of my life.  Born in 1951, my parents introduced me to the church through baptism on April 15, 1953.  I was baptized in a small chapel by Dr. John M. Pattison at the First Presbyterian Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  While born in Cheyenne, our family soon moved to Denver.  I was only three or four years old.   I had an older brother, David, and a younger sister, Susan.



It was in Aurora, Colorado where my parents introduced me to another Presbyterian Church—the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.   I belonged to this church until I was ordained.



When we moved to Colorado we initially lived as a family of five at the Ranger Motel on Colfax in Aurora.   My dad was busy helping to build our first Colorado home.  That motel is still located on Colfax.   I remember, in our downstairs room, the pay-television.  If I recall, we had to put a dime or quarter in a small machine on top of this television order to get thirty minutes of programming.  This was much like the machine that controlled a vibrator on the bed. 🙂

This motel was across the street and of block away from the First Presbyterian Church on Kingston Street..  As a family, we were active in this church.   I have always been a Presbyterian!   While we never really talked about it, this Presbyterian church was an anchor for our family.  With my family and this church I discovered early in my life, to borrow from some creeds, “that I belong to God”.  Church became for me, through this First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, a second home.

I attended Sunday School classes and youth fellowship.  I sang in the youth choir.  I remember, as a fifth grader, shooting a rubber band at my dad who was a Sunday school teacher.   Everybody learned that he had quite the voice when it came to showing his temper.  I may not remember the lessons taught in those Sunday school classes, but engrained in my heart was this sense that I belonged – and family church were the core of this belief.

While we moved into different houses that my dad helped to build, this First Presbyterian Church remained my church home until I was ordained in 1977.  I remember the long Saturday morning sessions in confirmation class – and learning and memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism—confirmed in the mid-60’s.

I was introduced to worship leadership with the Rev. CVR DeYoung.   I would read scripture and sing an occasional solo with the choir.  Oh yes, private music lessons and choir under the direction of Ken Graham were an important part of my life in belonging to the church.

Rev. DeYoung and Rev. Meanor, the Assistant pastor, were always giving me opportunities to help lead worship.  This was unusual in the 60’s in Presbyterian Churches!  Rev. DeYoung once took me to his office on a Sunday morning.  Opening the closet door he pulled out a black and blue tie.  He had me pick one.  The paisley one I was wearing wasn’t appropriate for a worship leader.    I learned many things in leading worship.  For example, I must always sit with both feet flat on the floor in front of me.  These pastoral mentors saw what my parents always knew – I was a wiggly, squirmy kid always on-the move.   They also saw some potential in my becoming a leader in the church.  They may have been wondering:  “Would I become a pastor?”

From early in life, I learned that I belonged to God.  I was greatly influenced to be open minded, if you will, a progressive thinker.  I also learned to accept others from where they were in their faith journeys.  These teachings came from both church and family.  I had people around me, family and friends and mentors, who helped me recognize a “calling” to be an ordained pastor.

Now forty years after ordination I am turning 65.  Thanks to my mom and dad for introducing me to the church through baptism.  Thanks to the church for giving me a life-long sense that I belonged to God.  In retirement, I now have time to write about this journey – and what better place to write than in this blog.  There will be more to come!