As a contractor, Gary Garner designed and built luxury homes. As a woodworker, he carves crosses. Garner builds sanctuary furnishings – altars, pulpits, fonts and lecterns – for churches in Augusta and across the Southeast. He builds caskets out of cherry and is proud to say that more than 50 Christian brothers and sisters have “gone to glory” in them.
None, however, qualifies as the most important thing Garner has ever made.
“This book is,” said Garner, 76, sitting in his gallery and showroom, Images of the Cross, in south Augusta.
He held a copy of Swept Up by the Spirit: Journey of Transformation, the book he self-published earlier this year to chronicle his own transformation from depressed, suicidal and in debt to religiously “awake” and committed to a new lifelong evangelical mission.
The cover of the book is an aerial photograph of downtown Augusta at sunrise. The sun is breaking on the horizon, but the city is shrouded in near darkness.
It’s a photo Garner chose intentionally. Many of the book’s scenes take place on or near Broad Street.
“It represents the darkness man lives in without God and the hope we have because of him,” Garner said.
Garner and his wife, Nancy, are local leaders in the movement to end abortion, regularly taking to the streets to pray outside Planned Parenthood, and for a few years in the 1980s they operated their business out of a Broad Street storefront that sat between strip clubs and bars.
“This was the world I was to be in – and not of – and it would be home to my business building crosses and woodworks to glorify God,” he wrote in the book.
The Garners, members of Church of the Most Holy Trinity, have been part of the Alleluia Community in Augusta since 1984.
“This is not a book about the Alleluia Community, but it’s a book that wouldn’t exist without them,” Garner said.
He started writing stories eight to 10 years ago and committed to finishing the book about two years ago. Nancy typed up the pages of handwritten stories.
More than 15 stories of transformed lives, conversions, physical healing, prophetic gifts and service are included in the nearly 300-page book.
“The stories are told just as they happened,” Garner wrote in the introduction. “Some of the occurrences described may seem preposterous.”
They are true nonetheless, he said.
“The Lord shared with me from early on that I wasn’t supposed to overexplain what was going on in these events,” Garner said. “It was for them to discover. I put it all out there as an eyewitness. The whole book hopefully ends up being about the reader and how they’re being challenged by the Holy Spirit.”