Ten Minutes with Terry Elsberry
A man of the Lord
Photo by John Rizzo
Terry Elsberry recently retired as rector of Bedford’s St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church after 23 years of service. He took a somewhat circuitous route to the ministry, having had an illustrious career in publishing at Better Homes & Gardens and Apartment Life before moving into corporate communications for a commercial real-estate company in Atlanta. A fifth-generation Iowan, Elsberry is married to Nancy Olds and has four daughters and nine grandchildren.
What was your religious epiphany?
God got a hold of my life when I lived in Atlanta. I had emotional problems and was truly tormented. I tried everything but nothing helped. Then people started praying for me, and I was completely healed. It was a true miracle, and I knew then that I needed to put myself in God’s hands. There are times when you get the feeling that God is somehow extra present, where you can almost feel the air turning into a kind of liquid gold. It doesn’t get better than that!
When did you decide to become a minister?
I never thought I would—I was actually quite a hell-raiser. Although the ministry came quite naturally to me, I needed a lot of convincing to take that step. One day, the rector of my church told me I should be ordained. So, I asked God: “If this is what you really want me to do, give me a sign.” The very next day, a woman from the congregation that I didn’t know well, says, “Hey, Terry, you should be a minister.” Then I asked God that if he really wanted me to do this, to have someone in a high position in the church tell me. I went to a diocese convention and ended up sitting next to a bishop who told me—you guessed it—that I needed to be a priest. I entered the Virginia Seminary in 1981.
Where was your first assignment?
I spent three years in Alexandria, Virginia, working across the street from the White House at Saint John’s Lafayette Square.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment at St Matthew’s?
When I started at St Matthew’s, the capital campaign raised enough money to double the size of the parish house, restore the interior of the church and the exterior of the rectory. Several years later, we raised money for a church addition, including a new sacristy and a multi-purpose altar-guild room. I’m also very proud of our pre-K school, which opened in September 2010.
What was the most unusual service you led?
In 2004, we held a worship service as it would have been in 1804 as part of our bicentennial celebration. People got into the spirit and dressed in Federal-period clothing and arrived on horseback or carriage. We used the 1798 Book of Common Prayer for the service.
What’s best part of retiring?
Getting time to spend with my wife. After all, I’ve worked nearly every weekend for the past 23 years!
I will be helping out at Christ Church in Greenwich as a part-time associate. I also plan to write some books. The Bible in 60 Minutes is written, but not yet published. Another in the works is A Closer Walk With God, and I’d like to do a book for new ministers.