Will schools welcome back students to classrooms or go the virtual route? How long will we have to wear masks? Do I have COVID-19 or is that just a tickle in my throat? What can be done to quell the social unrest in the United States? Who will win the election in November?
These are just worries people may have today, which could be causing stress, and perhaps depression, since the coronavirus changed the world, leading to many losing jobs as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy.
It’s why a new book, “Encouragement,” from West Hempfield Township resident Charles Gross, may come at a good time when people need a bit of a pick-me-up.
Gross, 67, retired about a year ago after a 20-year career in ministry, the last nine of which he served as pastor at West Grove Presbyterian Church in Chester County. He and his wife have since spent a lot of time on cruise ships, excursions that are now on hold due to COVID-19.
“I was sitting at my desk back in April thinking, ‘What should I do now? I can’t go any place. What use am I? What can I do?’” Gross said. “I’m not quite sure if it (the book) was aimed at trying to encourage people who are in the same boat as I, but in hindsight that’s exactly who I am aiming at. I want to encourage everybody to look and dream.”
Gross got the idea for the book from a daily podcast he launched in April: “Encouraging Words from Charlie Gross.”
Each podcast episode contains a simple, four-minute message designed to help others. For example, one episode reminds people of things to be thankful for. Another recommends techniques to lift up your spirit, such as listening to music. Another discusses objects to surround yourself with that might make you happy, such as photos. Another focuses on how your comments can impact others. Those are just a few of the more than 40 episodes recorded to this point.
A few weeks ago, Gross thought to compile these messages and form them into a book.
“It’s a book of encouragement episodes that are short and sweet,” Gross said. “And are derived from my observation of nature and my observations from God’s word.”
They’re also derived from Gross’s 47 years of marriage to high school sweetheart Lisa, his experience as a father to their three children and six grandchildren, an impressive education and an untraditional career path.
A 1971 Hempfield alumnus, Gross holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and philosophy from Grove City College, a master’s degree in management from Webster University, an associate’s degree in management information systems from Goldey Beacom College and a master’s degree in divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary.
His last two degrees were separated by nearly 20 years, during which Gross served in the Air Force and then the Delaware Air National Guard, a stretch that saw him fly the massive C-130H military transport aircraft and serve in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.
“When I was there, God’s word became so powerful, just living in the desert and looking at the sand,” Gross said. “I came home and said to my wife, ‘I think I'm being called into ministry.’”
He put off that calling for another eight years, when he retired from the Delaware Air National Guard as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1999.
Gross spent the next decade or so in several roles with the Presbytery of Donegal before becoming pastor at West Grove in 2011.
There had been signs along the way, though, Gross felt the urge to encourage others. In 2010 and 2011, he obtained a coaching certificate and became a ministry coach for pastors and then an encouragement coach for those in the business world. Around the same time, Gross published his first book, “Creative Leadership Ideas.”
“There are tests some churches give to see what areas people are gifted in,” Gross said. “I’ve repeatedly tested high in encouragement. I’d say it’s from my childhood. My mom was an upbeat, positive person.”
Gross plans to continue on with the podcast.
“Our next big trip wasn’t going to happen until September anyway,” he said. “So I have to fill that time. I asked God what to do with this time. And he’s given me this thing to do.”
Once he gains enough material from the podcast, he hopes to make another book. He already has a title in mind.
“The next one is going to be, ‘More Encouragement.’”
It’s here Gross humbly admits his creative juices run low.
“If there’s a third one (book), it’ll be called ‘Even More Encouragement,’” he said. “This is a calling. It’s God’s calling. It’s who I am. It’s what I have to do. ...I love getting up early and having these ideas and making the connections and sharing these messages with others.”
Messages that serve to lift others up.