By Amy Maginnis-Honey DAILY REPUBLIC
SUISUN CITY - In an unusual move, the doors at the Suisun-Fairfield United Congregational Church were open Monday afternoon.
A few dozen people entered the historic church to console each other and remember their pastor, Jerry DeJong, who died suddenly on Sunday. DeJong, 52, had been with the church about seven years.
He collapsed after the service and was transported to NorthBay Medical Center, then moved to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek where he died about 6:15 p.m. from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Church member Donna Graber said DeJong had done an outstanding job talking about John baptizing Jesus and then sprinkled water on those in attendance, to renew their baptismal vows.
'He made it special,' she said. 'It was a very powerful service.'
At the conclusion of worship, he greeted people. When the crowd thinned out, he slumped in the back pew, saying he felt lightheaded, according to Graber.
He took a drink of water and got nauseated. A nurse in the congregation checked his vitals. 'It became obvious we had to call 911,' Graver said.
Ironically, there was a feast after the service to celebrate a church member regaining his health after surgery.
By the time paramedics arrived, DeJong was unresponsive, Graber said.
'Jerry was probably the most openly Christian kind of pastor I've ever had,' Graber said. 'He absolutely gave everybody their dignity. He'd give it back to you, if you didn't have it. If you were shy on self-esteem, he'd help you get it back. He believed in the best part of people.'
Elaine Clark, another member of the church, was with DeJong when he passed away.
'Jerry and I were really close,' she said. 'He was the most amazing person.'
She and other church members, and DeJong's life partner, Art Rivadeneyra, sang songs, prayed, read psalms and told 'Jerry stories' at his bedside.
Wilson and her husband Paul began attending the church about 12 years ago. 'Jerry made this congregation come alive. He made us think beyond ourselves. He had us focus on doing good things for others and challenging us.'
Clark, noting she has attended church most of her life, said DeJong was the 'first minister I ever really thought 'this is his whole being. He's not just doing this on Sunday.''
DeJong liked to remind the congregation of God's grace, Clark said. He even named his dog Gracie.
The church will find an interim pastor and has even had some ministers volunteer to conduct worship this Sunday.
'There will be a whole process to go through,' Clark said. 'We'll be OK. But there will never be another Jerry. This guy was amazing. He was so full of love. He worried about everyone else. He has given so much. He was the real deal.'
DeJong was a frequent contributor to the Daily Republic's Pastor's Perspective column. He had one slated to run this Sunday.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org.