Hatteberg's People - Leigh Burgess

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June 13, 2010

On Hatteberg's People, sometimes life gives us heartache, but later turns that heartache into action. It happened on Leigh Burgess. Most of her life had been spent as a wife and mother, always at husband's side. But five years ago her life changed when her very public husband, Dr. Gary Cox, minister of the University Congregational Church, died of cancer. A life was gone, but a new one began.....hers.

It is a Sunday morning at the Pine Valley Christian Church on Wichita's east side. A small but vibrant group of worshipers have gathered. One of them is associate pastor Leigh Burgess.

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for a friend," Burgess said

"I like a church to be fun,” Burgess said “I think that faith and religion should be joyous."

But life always hasn't been joyous for Pastor Burgess. Five years ago when was Leigh Cox, the wife of Pastor Gary Cox, a cancer diagnosis for him proved fatal.

"I just came to accept the fact that in life, you have to experience some sorrow. Since I've been in so much sorrow, when I find those moments of joy, they are just breathtaking and I try to embrace them and live in that moment and enjoy every minute," Burgess said.

Gary was a well-known popular Wichita minister whose view of Christianity encompassing everyone and critical of fundamentalism was laid out in this book, published just before he died.

"So Bible criticism is simply an honest scholarly approach to the texts of the Bible," Pastor Gary Cox said.

"When he would enter a room He was kind of a larger than life figure and everyone gravitated toward him and I would stay in the background and be around the periphery of the room," Burgess said.

Many wives of public figures can relate. Leigh and Gary were on the same page about religion, and Leigh had always thought about going to seminary but always put Gary first. With his death, she decided to follow her dream.

"Gary and I always felt that we got the call to ministry at the same time,” Burgess said. “And I like to joke that he picked up the phone first when God was calling."

In May, she graduated from Phillips Theological Seminary in Oklahoma and is currently associate Pastor of the Pine Valley Christian Church being mentored by Senior Pastor Dr. Robin McGonigle.

"One of the saddest things I ever heard in the widow support group that I was when a woman turned to me during a meeting and said, 'I just need someone to tell me who I'm supposed to be now'."

Leigh has found who she is, and is working to encourage other women to do the same. With her work as an associate pastor, she will also soon begin in a chaplaincy program at a local hospital. Married now to Kirk Burgess she has found a new husband and a new life - but with her experiences and her faith, her future is no longer in the shadows, but in the spotlight.

"You can't depend on life turning out exactly as you planned it,” Burgess said. “You should keep some part of yourself that is still available and still at the ready that you can draw from to get through the difficult times if you should wind up on your own."

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