“He came to his interview in shorts, with a cast on his leg and scratches all over his face,” she said. The injuries were from a bicycle spill while on a youth outing at his former church. Despite his appearance, McElroy won everyone over with his self-deprecating humor and positive attitude.
“He has the ability to get along with everybody,” Jennings said. But First Baptist members are to be forgiven if they give McElroy a raised eye when he sidles up next to them for a private conversation, his face cloaked in piety.
“You just never know what’s going to happen or what he’s going to tell you,” noted John Dewaal, another longtime member.
Even being interviewed for this story, a question about the former churches where he served produced this: “Well, I was in Georgia for awhile. I was in Pakistan. I was in Libya . . . ”
Then McElroy cackles to let you know he’s kidding.
“Don” stories abound at FBC. Like the time he was in the middle of a magic trick and his prop broke, forcing him to adlib his way to the next trick.
“There was always a question as to whether it’s going to work as planned,” McElroy laughed. Or the time he punched holes in the senior pastor’s fishing waders worn beneath a robe during baptisms. The pastor also got wet that day.
Perhaps one of the more famous stories concerns a trick that was played on him by another staff member, former music and youth director Chris Krause.
McElroy was going to visit a church member in a hospital that was unfamiliar to McElroy so Krause gave him specific directions, telling him where to park and what door to enter.
“I noticed the entrance was kind of funny. I went to what I thought was the main door and it was locked, but a stairway was open. I had the Sunday school director with me and we walked right on in.”
After walking through another door, the pair found themselves in the middle of an operating room, with surgery underway.
“The doctor looked around and said, `What are you’ll doing here?’ I said I was looking for John,” McElroy remembered. He then addressed the unconscious patient: “John is that you?”
That’s when the surgeon ordered nurses, in no uncertain terms, to escort the lost pastor out of his operating room.
“The doc didn’t have a sense of humor. I have a request from a lot of people not to come and visit them while they’re in the hospital,” the pastor laughed.
McElroy’s laughter has been a “balm in the midst of challenging times,” said Dewaal.
“He made life enjoyable. His joking and his pranks have kept a smile on all the pastors he’s served with over the years,” Dewaal said.
“I really think what makes him special is his loyalty to the people. He was always there for us,” added Jennings.
While appreciative of Don’s humor, Rev. David Freeman, the church’s current pastor respects his co-worker for his concern for church members.
“Don has a wonderful gift. He has an ability to instantly put a smile on almost anyone’s face. But it isn’t humor for humor’s sake. Don takes his ministry very seriously and it shows in the way he serves people. It’s not unusual for him to be at the hospital before dawn or responding to a crisis late at night. It is in those moments that he is at his best,” Freeman said.
Another hallmark of McElroy’s ministry is his fondness for working with senior adults, primarily through the church’s Live Long and Like It program.
“They are wonderful to work with. They have an insight different from the younger ones,” he said. “Working at First Baptist has been a joy for me. Serving and working with the pastors and forming a team, that’s what I enjoyed,” he said. “I’ve had a ball. It’s been fun.”