A Tribute to Father David Gierlach By Stuart Ching
[November 9, 2023] Saint Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church marked the retirement of the Rev. David J. Gierlach with a grand lūʻau on Sunday, October 15, 2023. Hearts were filled with gratitude for a beloved rector and faithful servant of God, who has led the parish for the past 14 years. Parishioners, family members, community partners, and fellow clergy gathered to honor a man who has exemplified, in large and small ways, the true meaning of being a disciple of Christ. Fittingly enough, the Gospel reading for the day was the Parable of the Great Banquet. Like the man in the parable, Father David invited all to God’s table throughout his years at Saint Elizabeth’s - including the least, the lost, and those left behind. Through his preaching, administration of the sacraments, and ministry of compassion, Father David clothed us in faith to receive God’s many blessings.
Every Sunday before Mass, Father David stood at the church door. He greeted everyone with a smile and a kind word, whether you were a doctor, a judge, or someone living on the streets. As an advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, he empowered parishioners of different backgrounds to take on leadership roles and to fully participate in the life of the church, as Vestry members, convention delegates, acolytes, or members of the bell choir. To reflect the multicultural composition of our congregation, he encouraged the reading of scripture and the offering of hymns in Chukkese, Hawaiian, Filipino, and Tongan during the Mass.
Father David’s impact on Saint Elizabeth’s went beyond his liturgical responsibilities on Sunday mornings. His early career as a VISTA volunteer serving the elderly of Honolulu’s Chinatown district, and as a drug and alcohol counselor at Hina Mauka, prepared him well for the challenges of urban ministry at an inner-city parish like Saint Elizabeth’s. He urged us to put faith into action by engaging in the corporal works of mercy. There were food bags to pack for distribution to the poor; meals to be served to those who were homeless; and demonstrations and protests to be undertaken to address the issues of poverty, homelessness, and healthcare coverage. He assisted our immigrant families by negotiating with their housing management offices to lower their rent and utility bills, and to connect them with other available community resources. All the while Father David would remind us that what we do at Saint Elizabeth’s is not social work but Gospel work.
Throughout his tenure at Saint Elizabeth’s, Father David was a shining example of true servanthood. Besides his responsibilities as rector, he was not averse to taking out the trash or mopping the floors after a parish event. He made occasional runs to the Food Bank and Costco to ensure that the parish food pantry was well stocked and there was enough food on hand for the Saturday morning breakfasts for our houseless guests. And, yes, he even scrubbed an occasional toilet or two.
The parishioners of Saint Elizabeth now send their best wishes to Father David for a restful and well-deserved retirement. We thank him for the lessons he taught us, both by his words and by his actions. We are grateful for his years of caring, guidance, and friendship. He will be truly missed.