The Saratoga Sun -

An end of a preaching era

Med Bow Pastor retires after 25 years


Mike Armstrong

Gary Wilken the minister at United Methodist Church in Medicine Bow says goodbye after 24 years to his congregation that gathered after his service.

Gary Wilken has been a minister at the Medicine Bow Methodist Church for just shy of a quarter century.

Wilken went to Colorado State University (CSU) and attained his undergraduate degree and then went to Berkley for his masters in religious studies.

While at CSU Wilken became acquainted with police officers of the town.

"They shared with me the need for a chaplain," Wilken said. "Because of all the divorce, suicide and stresses that come with law enforcement and that sort of became the focus of what I wanted to do in the ministry."

Wilkens said, unfortunately, police chaplains don't get paid well, if at, all in this country.

"There was no paid position for me, so when I was studying at Berkley, I became a reserve police officer in Oakland and got all the training," Wilken said. "It was some of the best training I could get. I was a reserve for three years while studying and then another four years as we tried to get a chaplain program going."

Wilken said he had to make a decision after about eight years whether to go into the ministry or go into the police department.

Once he decided to go with the ministry, his bishop moved him to Last Chance, Colorado.

"It is about 80 miles west of Denver," Wilken said. "Back in the day, it was the last opportunity to get water as you headed west. It is a nice little farming and ranching community."

His wife Bernie is also educated in theology. When later they were moved to another small community in Colorado that had two churches, she ministered at one of them.

"But Bernie felt it was more important as a mother to focus on raising our two sons," Wilken said. "We were in northeast Colorado for four years and then moved to southwest Colorado for three years.

Then in 1994 he came to Rawlins to minister.

"I was there for three years and then I took a leave of absence," Wilken said. "We moved to Laramie and got a job in the Sheriff's Office. I worked at the detention center for 14 years."

Due to eyesight issues, Wilken had to go on disability because he couldn't pass firearms testing. Next he went to work for Albany County in the planning and zoning board.

While working in these jobs, Wilken started to minister in Medicine Bow in 1997.

"They haven't had a resident pastor for some years," Wilken said. "There has been some student pastor, but there was no steady pastor."

During his tenure at Medicine Bow, one of the activities he enjoyed was going to Old Carbon Cemetery on Memorial Day.

"It is an amazing place when you think about how many people were there once and now it is gone," Wilken said. "I have conducted around a half dozen services there and a few funerals. I enjoy the area around Old Carbon."

Wilken did minister in Denver for a period of time and said he prefers the small communities.

"You really get to know your congregation," Wilken said. "It is a bit hard to do when the church has over 1500 people. It is not to say ministering in a large church doesn't have its rewards, it does. But I started in a small church and I am ending in small churches."

Wilken also ministers every five weeks at a church in Walden, Colorado.

He said, over the years, the biggest change Wilken is noticing is that there are more local part time pastors serving the communities instead of a full time pastor.

"The education of school is very expensive," Wilken said. "People are coming out of seminary school with $80,000 debt and sometimes economically it can be daunting to new students who want to attend."

Turning 70 recently and having some health issues crop up - plus taking care of his of mother 24/7 - made him realize it was time to retire.

"It is just time," Wilken said. "It doesn't mean that I won't miss the congregation or ministering here."

At 26, Wilken started out a minister at a small church in Colorado and now a little over 70 he is leaving two small churches, one in Wyoming and one in Colorado.

"It has been a rewarding life," Wilken said. "I will miss it and I have to thank all the congregations that have supported me over the years."

The party given to Wilken after he preached his last sermon made it clear, they still support him and he will be missed.


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