The pastor of one of Green Valley's largest churches was found dead Friday evening of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Larry DeLong, a former Navy chaplain who led congregations in several states before coming to Valley Presbyterian Church, was found in his car in the parking lot of Quail Creek-Veterans Municipal Park in Sahuarita, according to police. DeLong, 60, leaves a wife and two teenage children.
At six-foot-six, DeLong was an imposing figure when he arrived in Green Valley in February 2009. But his approachable demeanor, common-sense presentation of the Bible and self-deprecating sense of humor quickly won over the community.
Shortly after arriving, he told a reporter, “Methodists, Baptists and others go looking for God. We believe that God is always there, that you don’t fit God into your life, but see how your life fits into God.”
Among his goals was to grow membership among young people and focus on commonalities, not differences, within the congregation.
“We are sad, this church family is very sad,” Valley Presbyterian's Pastor of Care Paul Phillips said Saturday. “We're in shock.”
He said the congregation would focus on worship Sunday, “trying to make sense of mysteries” they can't yet grasp.
Phillips said the deacon board was scheduled to meet Saturday and that grief counselors from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance would arrive Sunday to help the congregation. He said the church has a membership of about 650.
A spokesman for the Sahuarita Police Department said DeLong's body was discovered about 6:30 p.m. by family members who tracked him through a phone app, and that he had likely died several hours earlier. No foul play is suspected. No suicide note was found.
Phillips said DeLong was just finishing a week's vacation.