This past week our church family bid a temporary goodbye to a deeply loved man and one of its longest-standing members in Kurt Gall. Though not everyone had the blessing of knowing Kurt well, those who knew him even a little surely felt as though they’d known him for years. Newer members of the Calvary family may be unaware of what a profound influence Kurt has had on our history, particularly on the building in which we meet every single week.
A Loving, Generous Servant
One thing everyone does know well is that Kurt was a vibrant, fun-loving man whose smile could illuminate a room and whose laugh was recognizable anywhere. Thousands of words could be written about his infectious personality and the playful teasing he would direct at his friends and church family. His love for people was abundantly clear – and there was clearly no one he loved more than his wonderful wife, Marilyn.
But among our church family, what Kurt was most known for was almost certainly his incredible woodworking skill. With a 2 x 4 in his hands and a pencil behind his ear, he was quite simply a machine. Jobs that would take mere mortals days or weeks would be done in hours – and the only reason they took hours is because he insisted on sitting down and having several good chats over numerous cups of coffee.
See, Kurt cared about more than his building projects – he cared about people. His love and concern for others may never have been more evident than it was when just sitting on a chair next to a stack of lumber or hanging out in a sawdust-covered garage. His abilities were not wasted, but rather they were invested in people, and he never asked for much in return. If you wrote him a check to compensate him for his time and efforts, it might never be cashed, or it might be shoved back in your shirt pocket when you weren’t looking. “That’s all I needed to know,” he would say.
Why was Kurt this way? Those who knew him best would tell you it was because he loved the Lord and he wanted to serve Him. Perhaps no better example of this could be found than in the numerous renovation and expansion projects he spearheaded for the church. “We’re working for the Lord, not for people,” he once told those who were struggling to maintain a proper attitude while working alongside him with few helpers.
And work he did. Kurt played the leading role not only in the massive addition of the upstairs area, but also in the foyer renovation, two auditorium renovations, and a nursery renovation. The second floor addition alone was 1.5 years of long days and tough labor. Kurt spent all day working to provide for his family, then on most evenings he would come to the church and work several more hours. And it didn’t matter what time of the year it was – frigid temperatures were no match for Kurt! “If you’re cold, you’re not working hard enough,” he said.
Through it all, Kurt was conscientious of Calvary’s finances. The church had raised just over $20,000 for the second floor addition, and Kurt made sure it was enough. The handrails on the stairs leading up to the second floor? Most people who need handrails would, well, buy handrails. Not Kurt. He took scrap 2 x 4’s and crafted them into handrails. The lights in the upstairs ceiling? Kurt found those in a warehouse in Joliet after they were removed from a torn-down Chicago building. And the kitchen cabinets? Naturally, they were made from scrap lumber. Not only was Kurt generous and hard-working, but he was wise.
A Changed Man
Those who knew Kurt well could go on and on and on talking about what they loved about the man. There was so much to love. So many different stories could be told. But those who knew him particularly over the last several years will all tell you the same thing – something had changed.
Kurt had come to Calvary many years before – almost exactly 24 years ago, in fact. In August of 1979, Marilyn visited for the first time along with two of her sisters. Marilyn came back and came back again, and soon Kurt was attending as well. As Pastor Steve Brady, the pastor at the time, will tell you, Kurt was stoic but was listening. And one day, Kurt stopped the pastor and said he wanted to be baptized. Pastor Brady was a bit surprised and sat Kurt down to talk. Kurt informed Pastor Brady that he had placed his trust in Christ for his salvation and had given his life to Him. Shortly thereafter, Kurt was baptized, and from that point he was, as Pastor Brady put it, a “quietly faithful” believer for many years. But that is not where Kurt’s story ends.
Kurt’s closest friends, his former pastor, and his current pastor, Ryan McCammack, are unanimous in their observations that something else had happened in recent years. For many years, Kurt had been resistant to attend church beyond Sunday morning services. But suddenly Kurt was attending Wednesday evening “small groups”, and not only that, he was an active participant – and recruiter! “I went to Bible study last night. There are a lot of good things going on”, he would say to his friends. “If you can make it next week, you should try to.” Kurt, as always, was masterful at gently counseling those closest to him in a way that they knew he meant business.
Few knew that for many months, Kurt was meeting with a couple other members of his group for Bible study on Monday mornings. When studying marriage, Kurt was quick to confess his selfishness and his desire to be a better and more God-honoring husband to his wife he loved so much. Even in his 60’s, as his working career was coming to an unofficial close, he knew his work as a Christian would never be finished.
And that – not his woodworking expertise – is really the legacy that Kurt leaves. Yes, he was an incredibly skilled carpenter, which was a gift from God. But what truly defined Kurt was a simple yet deep faith. Those who attended Kurt’s small group would become accustomed to hearing “it’s in the Bible” or “God said it”, and that’s all that mattered to him. That settled the issue. And that reverence for God’s Word carried him to the end of his life.
Pastor Brady would observe this in his final conversation with Kurt. Kurt was a different man. He was grounded in the Word of God like he had never been before, and he knew that the suffering he was enduring could not separate him from the love of God. Indeed, his primary wish was that God would be glorified – not that he would be healed. Kurt, a man once strong as an ox but now finally confined to a bed, was stronger than ever in his faith in God’s unfailing promises.
God was so gracious to Kurt in allowing him to grow immensely in his final years, and He was gracious to Calvary Baptist Church in giving us the gift of Kurt Gall. Never a preacher but always a teacher, Kurt’s life and death reflect several truths of God’s Word – not the least of which is that no one is ever too old to stop pursuing the Lord and seeking to love Him and His people better.
We will miss Kurt, but we who share the same simple faith in Christ can rest in knowing that we will be blessed to work, laugh, and worship with him again.