PNC Introduces Dr. Cecil

The PNC is pleased to introduce you to the Reverent Dr. Gary Cecil,
our candidate for Senior Pastor / Head of Staff.

Gary Cecil has met all of the criteria that we have set as a committee. His theology is biblically conservative without being judgmental. He believes fully in the Presbyterian doctrine. He believes that Jesus The Christ is our one true Lord and savior, and that the Bible is the very word of God. Gary was drawn to us because of the honesty and pain expressed in our Mission Study. He is drawn to us because of our hope and faith and our unwavering belief in the destiny of our Church.

We invite you to attend Church March 11th to hear and greet Gary and his wife. The congregation will then have a congregational meeting to approve of Gary being our full time Pastor and also approve his compensation policy, Followed by refreshments of course. We hope to see you all there,


Reid Willis, Chair
Chris Davenport, Wendy Johnson, Erin Owens, Kim Owens, Earl Gage

Please read our full letter here…  PNC Letter to the Congregation


Dr. Cecil’s Biography

Gary was raised in West Virginia in a close-knit community and a small country church. Supported by the community, he attended King College in Tenn. where he felt God’s call to ministry. While in college he served as lay pastor in several churches using his gift of music and enthusiasm for Christ’s church to grow youth ministries. After attending Union Seminary in Richmond, Va., Gary was ordained in Glenshaw Presbyterian Church (Pittsburgh) as associate pastor. He worked with deacons, youth, mission outreach, education. Gary again used his music, organizing huge city-wide youth rallies.

He accepted a call to Grand Forks, North Dakota where he began an outreach with university and high school students using his martial arts training as a means of engaging students with Christ’s teachings. While Sheila was director of the Gospel Mission, Gary participated in pastoring to the homeless population, 1/3 of which were Native Americans. Living in the “frozen north” afforded Gary the opportunity to enjoy winter camping and dog sledding.

Leaving N.D. he pastored a church in Gastonia, North Carolina where he also became deeply involved in the community: helping build a new facility for the Boys and Girls Club, chairing the Family Life Ministry which served the minority community; began Unity Place with an AME Zion pastor (which held joint worship services, crossing racial boundaries).

Gary was called to a new church development in south Florida with a congregation that was racially and ethnically diverse. Responding to the congregation’s enthusiasm and interests, Gary applied a combination of sound preaching and music, along with a talented team and staff, to build a church fellowship that became known for its creative and moving worship, especially around the major holidays. Gary was also active in the Caribbean American Association as community chaplain.

Gary then was called as Senior Pastor in the historic town of Madison, Georgia, followed by a similar call to the panhandle of Florida where he trained and supported staff, encouraged community outreach efforts, and provided leadership and pastoral care. In every presbytery, he has been faithful to his calling to serve the church by actively participating in Presbytery councils and committees.

Gary is married to Sheila Palmer and they have two sons and seven grandsons. Doug is Provost/VP at Walsh University in Canton, OH. and Mitch is a P.A. specializing in cardio-thoracic surgery. He lives in Vero Beach. Both sons and their families are active in their respective churches.

Sheila has lived and been educated in several foreign countries. She studied Marine Biology at the Canal Zone College before moving to the states. Later she studied Christian Education at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She has been associate executive of the Presbytery of the Northern Plains, Stated Clerk of Tropical Presbytery, Director of Christian Education for several large churches (including serving as English minister for a large Korean Church). She has recently served as a Commissioned Ruling Elder for small churches. She works with homeless women who are in recovery. Sheila also serves on a General Assembly task force and on the board of the Association of Small Congregations.

Gary and Sheila have together and individually led mission trips to Mexico, the Caribbean, Northern Ireland and the US, and have been on missions to Africa and South Asia. Gary enjoys hiking, golf, reading and writing (Gary has a book: God is Able – Rediscovering God’s Power in a Self-centered Culture), preaching and teaching, and continues to support the several martial arts schools that have popped up around the country since his initial project. Gary and Sheila enjoy traveling, camping, cooking and love to entertain, believing that the ministry of hospitality is a calling and spiritual gift.

A Personal Note from Gary:

First and foremost, I want to express my deepest gratitude and excitement for the opportunity to be your candidate for Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church. Just as your Pastor Nominating Committee considered many potential candidates, I, too, was doing the same, including a church in Florida where our younger son and family live. However, when Sheila and I met your PNC there was a profound sense that God’s mighty hand was at work in this, and by the blessing of the Holy Spirit we found ourselves falling in love with Salem and with the folks that we were privileged to meet in the process. I am convinced that the Lord’s hand is upon this congregation in many and amazing ways and that God is calling you to be “the church with a heart in the heart of the city.”

I want to express my deep appreciation for the hours of prayer and service rendered by your PNC. They have labored arduously and diligently in this process with a real sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit.

To your Interim Minister, John King, I am grateful for his transitional ministry during this crucial period of discernment, and for his care and love in Christ for this church.

Sheila and I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of those we have had the privilege to meet. As I look to a new beginning in your midst, I am extremely encouraged by the unconditional love I see taking place both inside and outside these walls. It would be my joy and honor to unite with you in the mission of Christ as we seek to form a relationship that will enable us to go forward as God would lead us, and to do what Christ would want us to do, to the glory of God.

As told by Gary’s References: 

Dennis ResorI worked with Gary at Grace Presbyterian for about 3 years on a part time basis as Worship and Music Director.  I had retired from serving as a full time Music minister in the United Methodist Church for 31 years.  I had moved to Panama City and been hired by Grace’s previous Pastor.  Gary was extremely supportive of and helpful to my ministry there.  I retired the 2nd time about 3 years ago in order to move to Pensacola where my daughter, son-in-law and grandson live.  I found Gary to be very professional, efficient, and an excellent preacher.

From my experience with Gary, I can highly recommend him to you.

Dr. Sam Rutland, H.R.It is a joy to share a good word regarding my friend and colleague Gary Cecil.  I have known him for almost twenty years and have seen his good work in the church and in presbytery of Tropical Florida.  First, Gary is a pastor…an “old school” pastor who visits parishioners in the hospital, prays with and counsels people, and who is attentive to their spiritual needs.  This knowledge of his congregation flows into and energizes his preaching.  Also, as a spiritual leader he understands what is important to promote a healthy church.  He once conducted a “Healthy Church Seminar” at my congregation (Miami Shores Presbyterian Church) that was very helpful and well received.  Finally, I would say that he is a lifelong learner:  someone who reads, attends continuing education events, hones his skills as a preacher and teacher, and who continues his study of martial arts (He was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame a few years ago and has birthed martial arts schools advocating Christian teaching/prayer).  This is to say that he stays spiritually, mentally, and physically fresh, current and strong.  I hope these brief thoughts are helpful.  Gary is an excellent pastor:  one who is loving, wise, dependable and hardworking.