Take On Life

Brian Koonz on life in Greater Danbury

Danbury pastor turns tragedy into triumph


Hi everyone,

There wasn’t room in the newspaper last week for a box about Friday night’s gala to celebrate the 25th anniversary of His Vineyard Christian Fellowship and the church’s co-pastors, Gary and Keri Baldelli.

I’ve included the gala details below as well as the text of my “Take on Life” column from Sept. 7 in case you missed it.

Thanks for reading!

WHAT: Twenty-fifth anniversary gala to honor co-pastors Gary and Keri Baldelli and their church, His Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

WHEN: Friday at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Amber Room Colonnade, 1 Stacey Road, Danbury.

ADMISSION: Tickets cost $100 and include dinner, dancing, a silent auction and a Chinese auction.

INFORMATION: Call 203-790-1600.

 Here’s the column:

If anyone had the right to have a beef with God, it was Gary Baldelli.

A former Danbury High football star, Baldelli was young, handsome and a promising pilot. He could see his whole life ahead of him from the cockpit of 1981.

For the 24-year-old Baldelli, the sky was indeed the limit until the day he suffered a spinal cord injury playing rugby at Rogers Park. The accident left him paralyzed and changed his life forever.

But not necessarily in the way you might think.

Instead of raging a one-man war against God and fairness, Baldelli launched a spiritual crusade with his wife, Keri. Together, the couple founded His Vineyard Christian Fellowship in their Brookfield living room in February 1988.

“There were three of us at the first meeting. We met in our tiny little apartment on Route 25,” Baldelli said Thursday. “Three months later, there were 26 of us and the apartment was busting at the seams.”

Not to worry.

Gary — like God — had a plan.

After stops at the Brookfield Library and the Ramada Inn in Danbury, the little church that could has grown to 150 members worshipping at 8 Grassy Plain St. in Bethel, the same address the church has rented since 1997.

But not for much longer, it turns out.

Baldelli’s next pulpit — and presumably his last one — will be at 2 Vail Road in Bethel, just up the street from Target. The church recently bought the property for its new sanctuary and offices.

While the church hopes to move in by Christmas, early 2013 might be more realistic, Baldelli said — just in time for the 25th anniversary of His Vineyard Christian Fellowship.

Toward that glorious end, the church will hold a benefit gala Sept. 14 at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury. Proceeds will help pay for work on the new church.

“We never tried to put the cart before the horse. We were never worried about getting our own building,” Baldelli said. “We were always more interested in building people. That’s our mission.”

Baldelli should know.

It would’ve been easy to throw away his future in a mountain of tissues. It would’ve been easy to lock the brakes on his wheelchair and never move forward with his life.

But Baldelli, who played football for the interminable Gus Edwards on Clapboard Ridge, would have none of it.

“I had two choices: I could either be bitter or I could grow and get better,” said Baldelli, 55. “I chose to grow and get better because of my relationship with Christ. I knew there was no other way.

“I was determined to overcome this so I could be a blessing to others,” Baldelli said. “Our pitfalls can be our mountaintops if we have the right perspective in Christ. I stand on those words that He spoke to my heart. He’s a healing God, but he heals from the inside out.”

Amen, pastor.

Bela Soares, who is organizing the 25th anniversary gala with fellow church member Bethany Zupnyk, went to Danbury High with Baldelli.

They graduated a year apart, but they’ve never been closer than right now, Soares will tell you, united by a commitment to their faith and their congregation.

“He’s an inspiration to all of us. He’s never used his injury as a crutch in life,” Soares said. “If anything, he’s used it to bless everyone that he comes in contact with. He has such a kind and gentle spirit.”

Baldelli credits hours and hours of Bible study after the accident for helping him heal. The words were the perfect salve for a soul coming to terms with a jarring new reality.

“God has a purpose and a reason for everything,” Baldelli said. “It’s been 31 years since my accident, but I’ve always tried to do His will.”

The sky is no longer the limit for Gary Baldelli, you see.

For the man who believes his next stop is heaven, the sky is just the beginning.

Categories: General
Brian Koonz

One Response

  1. Pullitsir Prize says:

    Brian Koonz: No blue boogie man, no red monster in Connecticut

    The first time in a VERY long time that I can completely agree with you. You point out a serious problem in a way that doesn’t reflect the bias that you clearly possess. I have but one question. Why does your paper and the rest of the news media play such a large role in creating and perpetuating this very problem?