Devil in the Details: A local pastor says he wants to help the helpless, but everything is not as it seems

Feb 3 2015  City Paper

Greg Gilchrist lost everything. His furniture, his car, and all of his belongings were swallowed and scattered during the deadliest and most destructive tornado outbreak in recorded history. In late April 2011, 355 tornadoes swept through the South and Midwest. More than one city was leveled to debris in just over three days’ time. Alabama suffered the most damage, with 238 of the 364 total casualties.

Gilchrist, an ordained minister, says he was living and studying in Birmingham when the disaster touched down.

“I was up at a hotel, you know, FEMA puts you up . . . and that’s when it happened,” he says. He was reading the Bible, a passage he’d read many times before. “This time it had a profound effect on my life. Suddenly I knew what direction I had to take.”

For as long as he can remember, Gilchrist has had an unfounded feeling that he belonged in Baltimore. Growing up in neighboring Washington, D.C., he’d visited Baltimore a few times, attended a conference once, but had never stayed overnight. He had no family in town, no connections, and no logical reason to explain why he felt this underlying push to be here.

Gilchrist says after attending college in Oregon and California, he moved to the South, and felt generally at home. And yet this idea that he belonged in Baltimore nagged harder and louder until he couldn’t ignore it anymore. Set up in his temporary home in the empty hotel room in the center of ruin as far as the eye could see, he resolved to make it happen.

It was a Friday evening, and the storms were finally subsiding when he started making the plan. “It’s gonna take years to get to Baltimore because I just lost everything,” he remembers thinking. “Everything. I don’t have a place to stay and I don’t know anybody.”

A few days later Gilchrist says he was asked to speak to the congregation at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Birmingham. The church offered to pick him up, but he decided to walk instead.

“I knew this church was on the same block as the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little black girls got bombed during the civil rights movement,” he says, and he wanted to see what was going on there. Directly across from this church is the Civil Rights Institute, and as he walked passed it, he says he saw 35-40 young people handing out water, food and clothing to the tornado victims.

Gilchrist remembers walking up to the group, and asking where they were from, and they said Baltimore. “I hyperventilated! I said to myself, wait a minute . . . it was just this past Friday I made the commitment. I’ve been wondering how in the world am I gonna get to Baltimore.” Gilchrist walked across the parking lot, where he recalls meeting Father Joe Muth of Blessed Sacrament Church in the Govans neighborhood of Baltimore. They talked briefly before he continued to the church for his service. But something kept nagging him, “‘Ask him. Ask him.’ So I asked him if he knew of anybody interested in renting a room.” Muth asked Gilchrist if he felt coming to Baltimore was his calling, and he said definitively that it was. Muth told Gilchrist not to worry. He would make arrangements for the pastor to stay at the rectory of the church.

Two months later, Gilchrist says, he was on the train to Baltimore with nothing but the clothes on his back. He got settled into his room at the 103-year-old church on Old York Road, but didn’t waste any time. He says he immediately started contacting homeless shelters and drug rehabilitation centers to pitch his enrichment series, called Lift.

The plan was to teach five days a week in five different facilities. Gilchrist arrived in Baltimore on a Monday, and by the following Monday, he was booked solid. The first class was held at The Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (WHRC, also commonly referred to as Code Blue) on Fallsway, which provides shelter for about 250 people a night. He brought a briefcase and a box of donuts, and eight or nine people showed up. A year and a half later, he says, local restaurants donate food and it’s standing room only for the 80 to 90 people who participate each week.

At a recent service at WHRC, eight people staying at the shelter gathered in a back conference room at 7 p.m. Gilchrist asked the group for testimonials while more parishioners trickled in. Some shared personal stories about how they got to the shelter, and others just offered a constant “Amen!” His praise and worship leader, a well-dressed woman with an air of high class, Jackie, took the podium, and filled the room with her jazz-inspired song. Curiously, Gilchrist would occasionally disappear somewhere in the building for 10 minutes at a time and return with more people, ranging in ages 20 to 65. Over the next 30 minutes, the room filled up one seat at a time as Gilchrist poached people, but the total never neared the 80 to 90 Gilchrist claimed, topping out at about 30.

Gilchrist hand-picked two people from the audience to be interviewed in a back room after the service.

Victor was a truck driver. His brakes failed while he was heading down a mountain at 65 mph. He was pitched from the 53-foot tractor trailer, and as a result of his injuries, he was unable to work or afford his medical bills, and became homeless. He now walks with a cane, and has been at the Weinberg facility for almost two years. He attended Gilchrist’s first service.

“You never know when it’s your day,” Victor says. “I didn’t want to take the opportunity for granted. This was an opportunity to change my life around. I just took it, and went with it.” He says he’s been attending the services ever since. “I love his teaching because you listen to these other pastors and they tell you ‘this is so’ but they don’t back it up or show you proof. With his teaching, he takes you to the verses, and he gives you the definitions and he backs it up.” Gilchrist is known for his scientific and complex interpretation of the Bible.

Andre says he was a cocaine and heroin addict when he became one of the first clients at WHRC about three years ago. He also attended Gilchrist’s first sermon at the shelter. “It empowered me, and allowed me to see myself differently.” He says that although he isn’t where he wants to be in his life yet, he can see himself growing. “I’m definitely not where I used to be, and I have hope. I’m focusing because there are things that I would still like to do better.” He is currently in transitional housing, and out of the shelter. “I was out there real bad. I was highly addicted. I was homeless,” he says. “There were some times I was so bad, I had to sleep outside on the ground because I wasn’t allowed to stay in the shelter because of my behavior. I’ve been in tons of programs. I’ve been incarcerated excessively. It was just one thing after another. I made a trail of shame, guilt, embarrassment, torture. I didn’t think I could turn around inside the shelter. In here, I was close to give-up mode.” Andre’s eyes well up as he explains the dangerous cycle.  “A lot of people in here, they give up. I used to wait for whatever handout came in, and I almost accepted this as my life. I remember when I was almost coming alright with that, but God said ‘no.’ He could see something in me, something powerful, that wants to see me out of here.”

Gilchrist says he got the idea for the name of his program, Lift, while he was taking pilot lessons many years earlier. His flight instructor explained the law of lift. This law is what allows planes to break free from gravity, maintain altitude, and go even higher. “I was thinking about how the law of lift can supersede the law of gravity. Cause the law of gravity is an unseen law that brings objects together,” Gilchrist says.

Gilchrist describes how addiction is a lot like gravity. During his service he holds up a brown rag he’s been using to wipe his brow, and lets it fall to the table. He says that addicts are attracted to things that are attracted to addicts, and the bond is seemingly unbreakable, but if the law of lift is applied instead of gravity, the addictions repel and the bond will break.  Dressed in jeans and a navy blue sweater, Gilchrist’s street-speaking cadence gets the room raising their hands in agreement. The room smells likes urine and one woman frequently interrupts the service with loud mumbling. After nearly every sentence, Gilchrist checks in. “Are you following me? Are you getting this? This is important,” he says. And he doesn’t shy away from grabbing wandering attention. Those on their phones or interrupting the message are firmly kept in check, without being shunned or turned away.

He compares other existing initiatives to an old car battery. “If you’ve got an old battery in your car, you can jump start it a few times, but it’s still gonna wear out. Billions of dollars have been poured into our community to these programs, and yet the problem is still there, and in some instances, even increased.” He says that many of these programs provide a jump start, but the catalyst people really need has more to do with teaching them how to sustainably recharge their lives on their own.

Gilchrist’s Lift program focuses on a variety of internal handicaps. He points to physical and emotional abuse during childhood that many people in the room seem to relate to. He addresses “addictions, emotional and psychological challenges that can cause a person to lose their sense of dignity, worth, and value.” And he suggests that when a person loses that aspect of his or herself, they are no longer able to take the first step or initiative to make a lasting change in their lives. And so the cycle continues.

Fast-forward to January 2014. Gilchrist has established his nondenominational church, Living Image Under GilDan Ministries, which he says holds Sunday services at 11 a.m. at University Baptist Church in Charles Village, and 7 p.m. at Code Blue on Fallsway, though the schedule can’t be confirmed. He says there are more than 120 members with still more joining up every week. The church’s message is “to seek and save that which is lost.”  

As a part of his outreach, Gilchrist says he visits inmates at area prisons to offer prayer and support. And on one of these visits he says he had a realization. “I was in Hagerstown, and I had one guy I was praying with, and I asked him if he had a son out there I could reach so that he doesn’t come in this place, and he said ‘Too late. He’s on Ward F.’ And I went on Ward F, and I reached out to that guy, and I asked him does he have a son I could reach out to, and he said ‘Too late. He’s on Ward E.’ We had the grandfather, the son, and the grandson all in one prison. All doing over 10 years or more. It broke my heart. That’s three generations that are incarcerated.”

Gilchrist goes on to explain that without a better system in place, life outside of prison will continue to be difficult for them. “I’ve shared this story dozens and dozens of times, and every time, it still hits me. There is something awfully wrong with this picture. And I felt that we, as a church, not the government, need to do something about this. We sing our songs and pray, and say we worship a God who can do miracles. So let’s put it to the test.” So Gilchrist had the idea to create a program called Alternative To Prison through his church. Only, he didn’t know where to start.

Greg Gilchrist preaching at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center (J.M. Giordano)

Not long after that, he says he was making arrangements to counsel and donate clothes and food to the D.C. General Hospital, which had been turned into a homeless shelter and shares a parking lot with the D.C. jail. While he was walking back to his car, he says he saw a woman. “She was crying, and I asked her if I could be of any help, you know,” he says. “And she said her brother’s being sentenced to 12 years for burglary. I got his name, and went over to see him at D.C. Jail, asked him would he be interested in the program. But he didn’t really think it could happen, because he had 28 prior convictions.” Gilchrist says he talked with the man’s lawyer who told him when the sentencing would take place.

“I showed up, and the lawyer said, ‘I’ve got a pastor here who would like to address the court on behalf of this gentleman.’ And I did,” says Gilchrist. “I asked the judge to sentence him to us, that this will be the only program he will ever need, and it will literally help him change his point of reference. And when a person can change their point of reference, they can truly change the direction of their lives. And against the objection of the D.A. who said ‘No, he’s gotta go to prison,’ the judge said, ‘I’m gonna go with the pastor.’”

Gilchrist says the prisoner’s sentence was reduced from 12 years to six months with the understanding that he would participate in the two-year Alternative to Prison program after he serves his time, and that if he is written up for anything while he is in prison or the program, there will be a warrant for his arrest and he will serve his full sentence. After two years, once he has successfully completed the program, Gilchrist says, his case will go before the judge again to be re-reviewed.

Gilchrist explains how the program works: He says he’s partnered with a halfway house, which is located on 20 acres in Waldorf, Maryland. The program lasts at least 18 months, he says, and it’s a residential drug treatment and alternative-lifestyle program which can house up to 60 people.  There are dormitories, a day room, an auditorium, and a cafeteria. Residents have to participate in sessions from the time they wake up until they go to sleep every day. Alternative To Prison acts as a vehicle to get prisoners to the halfway house. And although some people join the halfway house voluntarily, Gilchrist’s people are there under court order.

On the front end, he says, his main job is to hand-pick prisoners he feels will be successful with the program, and to represent the Alternative to Prison project to the court during sentencing.

On the back end, Gilchrist says he meets with each of his clients at the halfway-house facility once a week. As a pastor and counselor, he uses coaching and a kind of self-taught talk therapy to fix to the seed of the problems his clients face. And once or twice a month, they shuttle to Baltimore to sit in on his services at Living Image Church in Charles Village.

Gilchrist says his first client has been in the program for six months and is doing really well. He says the biggest change he can see in him is “hope. I see hope and I see a contentment with who he is now. He says it’s never been there before.”

In the last 10 months, Gilchrist says, eight other people have enrolled in his Alternative to Prison program at the halfway house, and about 20 more are in prison with open cases awaiting their day in court for sentencing re-review. He claims to have a very strong success rate so far, in that only two people have been dismissed from the program while they are still in prison.

“If you break the law while you’re in prison, who’s to say you won’t break the law outside of prison?” Gilchrist says. “So the chief of security lets me know about any candidate who has been written up, and so far there’s been two that have been red-flagged, and I have to write them a letter to let them know they’re no longer a candidate. We can’t do everybody.”

He says his sister has been compiling a stack of 40 to 50 letters from other prisoners who have heard about Gilchrist’s program and want to be considered for it. At this point, he says, the number of clients he can continue to take on is simply a matter of resources and how much time he has.

Looking through his case files, you can see that Gilchrist doesn’t discriminate by the crimes his potential clients committed. He will represent those convicted of burglary, assault, and even murder if he feels the person has a good chance of succeeding in changing their life.

“Everybody in this file, I’ve interviewed,” he says. “I believe in my heart that they could be a good candidate. The charges are heavy, but they’ve already done some great things in prison, and I’ve talked to the chaplain who knows some of them, and I’ve contacted the guards.”

Gilchrist says he  also contacts the prisoner’s families for initial interviews, and he bases his decision on the prisoner’s letter, as well as from a face-to-face meeting. If the candidate has no family, and no one on the outside, he will still consider them based on his interview. He says he’s got to be smart about who he picks. “You gotta watch out for the slick ones,” he says.  But he’s gotten pretty good at reading those who truly want to reform.

“One clerk says, ‘I don’t know if you know the power of what you’re doing,’” he says. “And I really didn’t. I’m thinking ‘OK, I’m just getting guys in the program.’ And particularly in Montgomery County, the judges want me to do this for the youth. They’ve asked me to start a program for the youth so we can stop them before they get to this stage. And I thought, yeah, that’s easy for them to say, but it takes time, and . . . time, time and faith. We’ve got great people that are helping us. People from the church. People who are identifying with the ministry. It’s black and white, you know, and I smile when I think about it.”

Gilchrist addresses me at the end of the interview. We’re in my car because he asked if I could take him to West North Avenue. His church donates what they can each month to a new shelter there called Mission Possible. His van had just broken down, but they had to keep the lights on. On our way back to Charles Village he says, “Rachel, I can’t talk enough about faith. It’s real. It works. I don’t think that people understand. The law of faith, we use it one way or another. You’re gonna believe in something. You’re gonna believe in un-belief. You’re gonna believe in not believing. Because that’s the way life is, you know? It’s a law like gravity, right? You throw something up, it pulls it down. We have a saying in our church, and I don’t even have to say it before they finish it. It says ‘where the focus goes the power flows.’ Whatever you focus on, Rachel, if you focus hard enough, it’s impossible not to achieve it.”

Greg Gilchrist lost everything, but how or why, I don’t know. He was living in a group home on North Charles Street in Charles Village with one of his parishioners and two doctors when I met him. The parishioner is a registered sex offender, and I’ve seen no evidence that the doctors exist. I met Greg in the alleyway we share. He often waved to me from his large navy blue conversion van as he passed my house. One day he rolled down the window and said that I shared a cab with his daughter one time, and I had. We were both headed downtown. She was beautiful and kind and had a good head on her shoulders. Even a year later I remembered that spontaneous ride. I liked her.

A few days after I formally met the pastor on the street corner, I was walking through the alley to get to a bar for a cheap beer. He was standing there somewhat suspiciously, but once I caught a glimpse of the cigarette he was hiding, I let him know that I was a smoker, too, and he relaxed at once. I pulled out a cigarette to prove it and joined him for a few minutes. He told me his story in Cliffs Notes—about the prisoners and the sermon and how he got to Baltimore. I had just lost my job and was looking for freelance work. I had finished a profile for the City Paper the week before, and was looking for my next subject. Gilchrist’s story was irresistible and it seemed worth pursuing.

I got the green light from the paper to write it, called the pastor, and scheduled an interview at his home a few days later. He gave me his address and said to call when I got there. He called me a few times over the next few days leading up to it to confirm that we were still on, and once he stopped at my house unexpectedly to ask if I could spot him $5 for one of his guys who needed a bus pass for the day. I reminded him that I just lost my job, but he said any little bit I could contribute would help. I gave him the money.

I walked two blocks from my place to record the interview with my phone. Above the front door in thick, sloppy permanent marker is this verse: “No weapon before me shall prosper, every tongue that rises against me, the Lord shall condemn.” Gilchrist said he didn’t know who put it there, and said it’s from Romans, but the verse is from Isaiah, or “The Book of Salvation.” I called the pastor and five or 10 minutes later he came to let me into the living room. The house was hardly decorated. Thrift-store knickknacks, a pile of mail, an old collection of encyclopedias, and tan couches which faced an old, boxy television set.

Gilchrist started at the beginning of the story, but stopped me about a minute in to ask if I could give him a ride to North Avenue after because his van was broken down again and he needed to drop off some money to a shelter there. I said I could, but I’d have to go back and get my car. Then he asked me if I had any money to spare—he had called and told me the day before about a mother and her six children who would be separated at the shelter, so he wanted to help her pay to keep their electricity on. He reminded me of this and said he was still about $75 shy of the $693 total. I looked in my wallet and found a $20 bill. I asked if he could give me $5 in change. He said he didn’t have any change on him, but he would get me back the next day. I reminded him that I was recently unemployed and would need it as soon as he had it, and he assured me it would be no problem.

Gilchrist’s story was impressive, and he captivated my attention for over two hours in that living room. At one point he went to retrieve some papers from his room upstairs and I heard him answer a call and talk for a while. He was gone for more than 20 minutes, but I didn’t mind. I looked around the room for any sign of hominess to paint a picture, but the group house was still so void of personality. When he returned he said he forgot his sister had most of his paperwork, but boasted that if I had seen the pile, I’d be amazed. They’d stack a mile high. He did have a portfolio of some handwritten notes which seemed pretty authentic.

As we were wrapping up, Gilchrist’s roommate came home and walked past us with a slight hello. I got the feeling he didn’t want his roommate to hear what we were talking about because the pastor quickly sat up and said it was getting on time for him to get to the shelter to drop off the money. He said he had to run to the bank first and to meet him on the corner after I got my car. I picked him up by the bank, but he seemed distraught. I offered him a cigarette and he quickly accepted it, but asked me to keep the smoking between us because public officials shouldn’t be seen smoking cigarettes, and he said he only had one or two a day. He guided me the back way past Mondawmin Mall to West North Avenue because he said he wanted me to see the hard kind of places he was helping. I tried to tell him I lived in Reservoir Hill in a rough spot for a few years and was familiar with the area, but he was still distracted. He cut me off and said there was a problem with his bank statement, and he needed to call to see where some money went. He got on the phone while he pointed me straight and left and left, but he I didn’t hear him speak to an agent.

He showed me the shelter on the other side of North Avenue. It had a big yellow and black sign across two rowhomes that said “Mission Possible.” I asked if I should make a U-turn, but he said the owner also owned a little convenience store on the corner, and that’s where he was headed to meet the gentleman to drop off the money. He started to get out of the car on the heavily populated street, but stopped halfway and said, “You’re gonna be alright out here. Just keep the doors locked, and I’ll be right back.” There was a young mother sitting on a stoop with her baby and a few teenagers milling about. A drunk passed by in a staggering hurry. Jaywalkers stopped traffic whenever they felt like it. A few minutes later the pastor returned.

“I love [Gilchrist’s] teaching because you listen to these other pastors and they tell you ‘this is so’ but they don’t back it up or show you proof. With his teaching, he takes you to the verses, and he gives you the definitions and he backs it up.” (J.M. Giordano)

I dropped Gilchrist off at his place, and a few hours later I started writing the profile. It was supposed to be a 1,200-word profile, but when I was finished it actually clocked in at 3,000 words. I sent it to the managing editor around midnight the same day, and he said it didn’t need to be cut—that it might be worthy of a cover story, but I needed more quotes from people connected to Gilchrist.

Gilchrist called early the next morning and pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day, for the next few weeks. He said I should come to his sermon to capture the flavor of his message in person. He said some prisoners were shuttled in once a month for the service, and maybe they’d want to share their story with me. I set it up with the photographer to meet at The Weinberg Center the following Sunday. That day the pastor called twice as much as usual. He asked me to call his praise leader, Jackie (who asked that we only use her first name), when I got there so she could show us in. We got to the front desk and asked for Jackie. The security team didn’t know of any Jackie, but spotted the credentials on the photographer’s jacket. He’d worked a story here before and knew the drill—that we would need permission from Catholic Charities to sit in or document anything. The pastor kept calling my phone, so I stepped aside to see if maybe he could help us get in. He was already 30 minutes late. I told him we were at the front desk, and he became furious. He repeated over and over that we were not to walk through the front door. We were supposed to wait outside for Jackie. He hadn’t explained that earlier. He said we should just wait outside and she would find us and bring us in through the side door.

The photographer said that we shouldn’t go through the side door. We needed to follow the protocol. I felt stuck, but I knew we wouldn’t be getting any more quotes that night. Jackie found us and whispered for us to follow her. We explained that we couldn’t. She insisted, and we still said no. We would have to come back once we had permission. She smiled through her teeth that clenched like a leather strap.

Gilchrist called one last time while we were walking away from the shelter and expressed his disappointment that I hadn’t followed his directions. I was taken aback. I tried to explain our predicament and that we couldn’t enter the shelter the way he wanted us to.

The next morning Gilchrist seemed a lot more at ease about the situation. I texted him numerous times the night before explaining that everything would be fine, just delayed a bit. He grew comfortable with the idea. We set up a time to meet a couple of weeks later. I got Catholic Charities’ permission and a PR rep agreed to meet with us to make sure we followed all of the proper rules. They weren’t familiar with his services, but allowed us to proceed. I coddled Gilchrist’s fears about having the rep there. I said everything was exactly how it was before, except this time, it was through the front door. That seemed to irk him.

The sermon was more than twice as long as we had been told. The Catholic Charities rep and photographer asked numerous times how long this thing was supposed to go on for. I told them I thought it would be 45 minutes, but we were nearing 90 minutes and Gilchrist was still going strong. At one point I asked his roommate who was sitting in the corner if this was just about over, and he said it was hard to tell.

Over the next couple of weeks I heard from Gilchrist regularly. He wanted to know when the story would be published and kept asking which paper it would be in. Once he stopped by my house to ask me for cigarettes—not for him, he said, he quit. He asked a couple of times if we would make a mention about where people could send their donations. The story was filling in. I added some quotes from the guys who were his regulars, but as we neared the deadline, the editor said I still needed to get some additional quotes from people who worked with the pastor. I started going through the article to see who I could contact for a quick quote. I tried to get in touch with the reverend who had welcomed Gilchrist to Baltimore, but after a half-dozen tries and no response I gave up. I called the halfway house next. I explained who I was and what I was writing about. The woman in charge who answered barely held the phone away from her mouth when she said to someone, is that the guy who never shows up for meetings? And then quickly told me she and her organization have no relation to “that man” and insisted that we not include their name, or hers, in any story having to do with him. She said she didn’t know him well at all, but that I should watch out. I was shocked. I went back through my interview and listened again in case I had gotten the place wrong, but I hadn’t. I still had hope when I called the shelter on North Avenue. The man who answered said he’d never heard of Gilchrist, but if Gilchrist had made any kind of donation, he certainly would have sent a thank-you card. I asked if he owned a convenience store. He said he didn’t; he was a house painter for a long time, but was retired now. And the shelter wasn’t new.

I quickly emailed the editor with my findings. I called the editor and left a message explaining the surprising situation that many of the things Gilchrist told me did not seem to be true. The editor asked if I’d spoken with the pastor about all of this; I hadn’t; he said I should. I called Gilchrist and he picked up. I said I called the halfway house, and before I finished the sentence he hollered. I couldn’t get a word in. He said he never gave me permission to call anybody. He said it like he was strangling the devil out of my stained and wicked soul. He hissed and jumped and snapped. I fought to finish; I fought to start; I asked him to tell me the real story. He said that this whole thing wasn’t working for him anymore and he needed to consult with his board. He said his board had two, three, four members, as if it were growing by the second.

The next morning he texted me: “After receiving counseling consideration some people to whom I trust I’ve decided that I do not want any article done on me no profile we feel like we were getting out of order because the real credit should go to Jesus Christ I noticed that you haven’t said anything about giving Jesus credit I don’t want any credit and I don’t seek the credit I give all praise and all glory to God besides things got complicated from beginning at cold blue when I informed you not to go in and  you went in any way you were insulting from the very beginning you inform me quote we want to make sure that things are done right as though we haven’t been doing things right ATcold Blue we’ve been going there for almost 3 years so please get rid of all personal information that I may have given you make this very clear I do not want any article down on me thank you for your consideration if there is anything done or anything written about me I will seek legal action as I said we would rather for you to write about giving Jesus Christ the glory not Greg Gilchrist be blessed and please no response is necessary please respect that”

I Googled his name and the organization, GilDan Ministries, left and right and up and down and couldn’t find anything but one similar story about his coming to Baltimore in Baptist News Global from 2012. No published books like he claimed, no education on the record, and virtually no existence outside of the story he told me that day. His navy blue van hasn’t been parked behind his house lately, and he hasn’t come through the alley since. He hasn’t asked me for money or cigarettes, and he hasn’t repaid the $5 he owes me. I listened to our interview again in its entirety a few times over, and wondered how anyone could carry on like that, and how I could have believed it.

When City Paper decided to run the story of how Gilchrist’s tale unraveled, I called him and asked if he would like to explain or set things straight. He said he had nothing to say to me and insisted that he was only guarding and protecting those with whom he worked.

I asked about his church’s relationship with Mission Possible. Initially he said we were dropping off money to the man who “ran” it, Rev. Carter, who supposedly also owns a convenience store across the street—all of which was found to be untrue when I spoke to the actual owner, James Roberts, who has owned this place for 11 years, never heard of Rev. Carter, and never heard of Gilchrist. The money we dropped off was initially to “keep the lights on” at the shelter, according to Gilchrist. Roberts says, “No, we’ve never had to beg like that.”

Gilchrist told me that I had my story twisted and insisted that he never told me anything about Rev. Carter. He said that when I drove him to North Avenue, he was helping out a guy who was not affiliated with Mission Possible at all—he was just staying there. He said he would sue the mess out of me. He said his ministry has fed over 14,000 people at Code Blue and reminded me of the men I met there. Then he said he was driving and couldn’t talk anymore and hung up the phone.

Greg Gilchrist may be doing some really great work for the forgotten, fallen, and lost, but his sudden change in character and his emotional instability speak to a different, more difficult and disappointing reality. I wanted to believe his story, so I did. I wanted to believe that a person could lose everything and find themselves better off in the end. That I could find myself. I had just lost my job and my boyfriend, had an infected tooth extracted, and quit smoking in less than three weeks. I needed to have faith in something, but that damned gravity stole my salvation somewhere down in the dark places where most people would rather not see.

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