Most everybody in Moscow, Pennsylvania, knows Father Earl Trygar. At some point or another he’s probably had his head under the hood of one of their cars. Plus, about 40 of them hear him preach and sing the Eucharist at St. Mark’s Church every Sunday morning. It makes for interesting conversation.
“People will stop on the way out of church and say, ‘Nice sermon! By the way, my inspection sticker expires at the end of the month. Can you get me in?’”
And Trygar always can. Trygar’s Auto Center, which he opened in 1977, is the only garage in town, and it’s conveniently located about 100 yards from St. Mark’s Church, where Trygar has served as rector since 2003.
During the years leading to his 2002 ordination to the priesthood, more than a few church leaders urged him to consider ordained ministry. Not that they wanted him to give up being a car mechanic; they just thought he should do both.
The first Episcopal priest Trygar knew personally was the Rev. Jack Croneberger, who was rector of St. Mark’s at the time and later became bishop of the Diocese of Newark. Croneberger then served as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Bethlehem until his retirement in 2013.
“Jack is the reason I’m an Episcopalian,” said Trygar, whose family was active in the Methodist church while he was growing up in Moscow. “He knew me as his auto mechanic and neighbor.”
Croneberger also knew that Trygar was adept at operating audio-video equipment. During the Vietnam War, Croneberger rented the local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall to show at anti-war film and asked for Trygar’s help.
“Talk about chutzpah!” Trygar said of Croneberger’s choosing the VFW hall for the film viewing. Trygar was drawn to Croneberger and began thinking about joining the Episcopal Church. Later, it was St. Mark’s rector, Charlton Fotch, who finally drew him in.
“He helped me paint the garage and was there for the ribbon cutting in 1977,” Trygar recalled.
Trygar became very involved in the life of St. Mark’s, serving as a junior warden, senior warden, and Christian education teacher for years. Finally, it was in the 1990s when the Rev. Joachim Bakey, then St. Mark’s rector, said to Trygar, “How come you’re not a deacon? You’re doing everything a deacon does, so why not become one?”
So Trygar visited then-Bishop Mark Dyer, and they devised a customized plan for Trygar to be ordained, one that didn’t require him to obtain a bachelor of arts degree or attend seminary.
“In the middle of that first dialogue, he stopped and said, ‘Earl, there’s no doubt in my mind that you are called to be ordained,’” Earl recalled. “And here’s the commercial, he said ‘Your church needs priests, and everything you’re doing is what a priest does. We’ll customize what you need to do.’”
Trygar had attended Kutztown State College and Penn State University, but he didn’t have a degree.
“Bishop Dyer thought I should take EfM classes and continue my education,” Trygar said. “I have so many college credits you won’t believe it, but I don’t have a BA. With my commitments and my long hours—at one time I had three people in college, my two sons and my wife, who is a nurse practitioner, was getting an advanced degree—I couldn’t go back for a degree. At each level, the bishop and the commission of ministry would say, ‘What do you need to make this work? How can we help you?’”
Trygar completed the training required by the diocese and the Education for Ministry (EfM) program of the University of the South at Sewanee. He was ordained a priest in 2002 and served as an assisting priest at St. Luke’s Church, Scranton, for one year. He accepted the call to St. Mark’s, his home parish, the following year.
“Every time I’m at the altar I just pinch myself,” Trygar said. “I’m the most unorthodox priest that you’ll ever meet. I tell everybody this was God’s plan; it certainly wasn’t mine.”
Similar to his initial hesitation to pursue the call to the priesthood, Trygar had to be cajoled to open his own auto repair business, despite his natural talent for the work. His uncle owned a small trucking company, for which Trygar’s father worked. It was Trygar’s father who taught him the difference between a wrench and a ratchet, he said, and it was his mother—now 90 and sharp as a tack—who taught him business acumen.
“In the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, most boys were motor heads at one point or another,” he said. “I built a few dragsters and did a little drag racing. I started pumping gas at a garage when I was 15.”
He tried to get out of that line of business and worked for a year at a friend’s chocolate company (which became a huge, profitable success), but Trygar said members of his community “were beating me over the head to open a garage.”
In 1977, he finally did, but the garage is only part of what has kept him busy over the years. He and his wife Helen also own Trygar Transportation Inc., a company that provides vans for car pools at the local Tobyhanna Army Depot. Trygar has been active in the Boy Scouts for more than 50 years and has served for 20 years as a volunteer licensed railroad conductor for the National Park Service.
“All these things were my training,” he said. “Life was my university.”
Different Skill Set
At the garage, Trygar is known as Mr. Fix It because he can fix most anything, and he loves having that ability. His church ministry requires a very different skill set.
“One of the things I learned through CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) is that being a priest isn’t about fixing things,” Trygar said. “I’m an extrovert, and I had to learn to reign myself in a little and not try to rush in and fix things but to just be present and listen. I think one of my strengths is being pastoral. I don’t worry so much about Sunday attendance. But when a family is in crisis, they know who to call. That precedes me being a priest. I’ve been with people at death a half a dozen times before even considering ordination. I was just the person people called. As much as you don’t want those things to happen to people, life comes.
“Being a Mr. Fix It, I had to learn to be patient,” he said. “When people are troubled they want the peace that Christ brings to be with them. It isn’t about me. At the hospital, they tell young chaplains that when you hit the threshold of the door, stop and just be. That’s a good check for me; they tell you to stop and be present.
“I had to learn to let go a lot, and let the Holy Spirit do its work. And that spills out to all of your life. It changed the way I did business.”
Trygar is 64 years old, with two grown sons with families of their own. He said that between the church and the garage, he still puts in about 60 hours of work a week. St. Mark’s, which has about 125 parishioners, doesn’t have a secretary, so Trygar designs and prints all of the service bulletins and leaflets.
And he loves it all: fixing cars, serving as a member of the Diocesan Standing Committee, leading church services, visiting parishioners, helping where needed.
“There are some things I wish we could be doing at St. Mark’s,” he said. “I’m not some Pollyanna, but I love it and I love the people I serve.
“I’ve reached a point in my whole life where there’s nothing I have to have, or have to do,” he said. “I feel like Lou Gehrig when I say I’m the luckiest man in the world.”