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Calvin Presbyterian welcomes new pastor Robert Garwig

Formerly from Michigan, Garwig looks forward to growing his flock and exploring the Northwest
by: Barabara Sherman, READY TO LEAD THE FLOCK — New pastor Robert Garwig sits in the sanctuary of Calvin Presbyterian Church recently, where he admitted as he walked in, “I don’t know where the light switches are,” although he expects to soon be up to speed on the congregation and the facility.

TIGARD - A new pastor has come on board at Calvin Presbyterian Church with a long list of credentials as well as a desire to get to know all the members of his new flock and provide spiritual guidance for them.

Robert Garwig most recently served in Detroit, Mich., before coming to Tigard, and he and his wife Laura are anxious to get settled in their new Tigard house and explore the area in their free time.

Two weeks ago, the moving van arrived, and Garwig was going back and forth between home and office unpacking boxes and getting settled in both places.

He is thrilled to be at a church with a large, stable congregation of about 1,000 congregants that should only continue to grow.

'I have served churches that no one else would serve,' he said. 'They were down and out and scratching for pastors. I'm not perfect, but I would call my sermons pretty good. Many people have found inspiration from what I've said.

'It's a form of synergy - encouraging people in their hope. I've always wanted to give messages of hope.'

Garwig, 50, graduated from the Big 10 school of Ohio State. 'I played in three Rose Bowls - as a trombone player,' he said.

He graduated from Princeton Seminary and then earned his doctorate in preaching from McCormick Seminary in Chicago, serving churches in Ohio, North Carolina and Texas before moving to Michigan.

Garwig was in the Detroit area for more than six years serving a multi-cultural, interracial congregation with about 550 members that was the largest Presbyterian church in the city of Westminster.

'It was becoming a way station for people moving from Africa,' Garwig said. 'Our social life was very enriched by them. Also, we had community outreach programs for feeding people, providing clothing and running after-school programs. Only a handful of churches were doing this on this continent.

'I loved living in Detroit. There are strong religious affiliations. I was in the minority (race wise), but I learned a lot about my faith and myself.'

Garwig was looking for a new church when Calvin Presbyterian contacted him in its search for a new pastor, he said.

'Calvin had more than 150 candidates for this position, but they invited me to come out,' Garwig said. 'God opens doors, and I was happy to walk through.'

Calvin's selection committee interviewed Garwig on June 4, and he became one of three finalists for the position, learning at the end of June that he had the job.

'From the beginning, my heart felt good about meeting the staff here at Calvin - everyone told me it was a good place,' he said. 'Something like this is never really in my control.

'On July 9, I gave a sermon, and the people voted on whether to accept me. The vote was 97 percent in my favor, and I think I've already made friends with a couple of the no votes.'

At Calvin, Garwig follows Pastor Gary Lawson, who died in December 2003.

'He was very loved, very respected,' Garwig said. 'But I think people are ready to move forward and start a new chapter. This church isn't broken - I don't need to fix anything.'

Garwig, whose first day on the job was Aug. 14, said he is looking forward to interpreting faith to a new generation 'while encouraging folks who have been here all their lives.'

He added, 'Change brings tension, but there is a lot of love in this church that needs to continually flow out. I'm interested in attracting more young adults to help our church family get stronger. I may look into family fellowship programs, offering classes and workshops. I think I have some good ideas.

'One of my goals is to learn as many names (of members) as I can. I knew every name in that 500-member church.'

Garwig may also start writing in the future - 'I know there's a book in me or some articles,' he said.

His favorite Bible verse is 1st John, Chapter 3, Verse 18: 'Let us love not in words and speech but in truth and action.'

'That's a real match,' he said. 'I've always wanted to live in the Northwest. This is a great place offering open thought, intellectual exploration and great faith - it's good to be here.'

When Garwig first became a pastor, his dad predicted, 'Some day you'll be the pastor of a church in the piney woods of Oregon.'

'There's a pine tree outside my office, and I'm pleased to have fulfilled his prophecy,' Garwig said.

Garwig, who likes to hike and is a runner and looks forward to competing in the Hood to Coast relay in the future, has two grown children - Gwen, 23, who lives in the Los Angeles area, and works for Direct TV, and Andy, 19, who is a student as Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

Garwig's wife Laura has been an attorney in private practice doing work in such areas as wrongful injury and civil rights.