On Sundays, George Gorman rises at dawn and arrives at the Palmyra United Methodist Church ahead of the 8:30 a.m. service.
Before preaching, he takes a manuscript of his sermon across the street to a 93-year-old parishioner’s brick house, and keeps other copies in the pews for other congregants who are hard of hearing. He tries to shake hands and greet each person either before or after each service service — one of the joys of a small church, he says.
“I consider Sunday, for me, to be the culmination of my week,” said Gorman, who has served as the pastor at Palmyra for six years. “Worship is a highlight of my week, and prior to Sunday I have spent a considerable amount of time preparing, particularly the sermon … In music it is kind of like a crescendo, wherein the week is building up to Sunday.”
Sunday rituals may be common for pastors, preachers and other faith leaders across the world, but parishioners are adamant that Gorman is one-of-a-kind.
“From the get-go we just fell in love with him,” said Sharon Sutton, who made a bookmark to commemorate one of Gorman’s frequent sayings.
Gorman is active in the church’s ongoing ministries, and looks for ways to expand them to meet more needs. As a member of the board for Fluvanna County Meals on Wheels, he and church member Bonnie Nix realized that the organization provided meals for senior citizens only from Monday to Friday.
“I don’t know about you, but I eat seven days a week,” he said, in a story that has become oft-repeated by the church.
After six months of planning, a team of volunteers from Palmyra United Methodist as well as Cunningham and Salem churches began delivering weekend meals, funded by the parent organization. The project not only ensures that senior citizens and other “wisdom folks” — a term a female pastor first recommended to Gorman as a kinder alternative to shut-ins — receive additional food as well as some conversation or even care.
The increased commitment to Meals on Wheels — finding the gaps and increasing aid for people in need — encapsulates Gorman’s approach to ministry, according to people who know and work with him. Gorman says it’s just part of the job.
“We’re a small church, but we’re an active church,” Gorman said of his congregation.
He also preaches two Sundays a month at Haden Chapel, an African American church, and conducts a monthly nondenominational mass at Our Lady of Peace.
Gorman began a second career as a Methodist minister in his 50s, when he was in the midst of a successful career in logistics management.
The call may have come late in life, but it was persistent, he said, and eventually he couldn’t run from it anymore.
Gorman was raised Catholic and in a military family; he attended a minor seminary — a high school for boys interested in becoming priests — as a child but decided to go to a secular college. He then entered the U.S. Army, where he became an Airborne Ranger and a military policeman.
“Then I got married, and I wanted roots,” he said.
His wife, Rita, is lifelong Methodist, and Gorman joined her church several years after they were married. As he worked on his career, he again began to feel a call to ministry. After several years of talking with church elders, he began working part-time for a church in Franklin County.
That turned into an assignment to pastor the small Fluvanna churches in 2013; he says his family loves the area and plan to remain after his retirement.
The Methodist church requires pastors to retire at age 72; Gorman, who will celebrate that birthday in May, asked his bishop for permission to serve his churches in a retirement status. That request was granted.
Many ministries were up and running when Gorman arrived in Palmyra, but parishioners say he has brought new life and energy to the work.
The church sits on the route of the Trans-American run, and congregants often host passing bicyclists in their homes for a meal and a hot shower.
A church member set up a donation effort to collect clothes and toiletries for women released from the nearby Fluvanna Correctional Center.
“They are so appreciative,” Gorman said of the women. “They appreciate the stuff, of course, but the most beneficial thing is sometimes we are the first people they see besides their families outside of prison, and we are saying that we care about you and we are here for you.”
Other parishioners described Gorman’s ceaseless efforts to find housing for someone sleeping in their car; to talk with and pray for homeless people in downtown Charlottesville; to visit sick people in the hospital; and to comfort people after a loved one’s death.
Clare Donahue, a musician who recently moved to the area, said she was not religious but had found the church to be a much-needed place to pray and meet people. Gorman guessed she might need help with housing soon, and offered to find her a new place to live.
“I’ve never had anyone offer to help me like that before,” Donahue said. “He’s one of the people who really changes the world, by reaching out to people one-on-one without judgment.”
“It’s not just a job or a vocation; it’s a way of life,” he said. “I love pastoral ministry and visiting with people and being there at their most vulnerable times. I’m blessed to do it.”