Sidebar: from engineer to pastor
Leroy Wiggins shifts careers in mid-life to discover a mission helping others
A Western New York native, Leroy Wiggins grew up in a religious home. After graduating from Sweet Home High School in 1982, he attended Virginia State University to study mechanical engineering, returning to Buffalo in 1989 to take a job with Westwood Pharmaceuticals. He and his wife, Iliana, have two daughters: Olivea is 20, and Vanessa is 17.
“My wife and I agreed we had to figure out what to do about church,” Wiggins recalled of a conversation back in 2001. Both had drifted away from religion, so they began searching earnestly. One of Iliana’s friends recommended them to The Chapel. After visiting several churches, they decided to attend services there.
“I recommitted my life to Christ,” Wiggins said.
Because of his experience volunteering through his job, it made sense for Wiggins to pursue similar opportunities in his new church. In 2011, he was invited for coffee by John Carnardo, the Executive Pastor at The Chapel,
“No big deal,” Wiggins said. “We had done this all the time.”
It turned out, however, to be a big deal. Although he didn’t recognize it that day, the meeting re-shaped Wiggins’ direction in life. Camardo suggested his friend should become the church’s Men's Ministry leader. Wiggins’ initial response was a resounding no.
“Why would I ever do something like that?” Wiggins asked. “I was a high-level pharmaceutical engineer. I was getting ready to be C.O.O. of the company, thinking I could retire at fifty. I humored [Camardo] by telling him I’d think about it.”
Something took root. Five months later, after steady prayer and discussions with his wife, Wiggins made the unconventional decision to leave his engineering job. His colleagues and bosses were stunned. As he transitioned into his new role, Wiggins wondered if he had committed career suicide.
“What on earth did I do?” Wiggins asked himself at first. Almost daily, he fretted about a self-described “identity crisis,” pondering how he might return to his former job.
“But a few months in, a man I had been working with through the church stopped me,” Wiggins recalled. “I had been walking him through some tough stuff he had been struggling with. He said, ‘Hey Leroy, I want to thank you for spending so much time with me. I’m not going to tell you what I was going to do, but I’m no longer going to do that.’”
Wiggins saw the moment as a benchmark.
“I believe that was God saying to me, ‘here is what it’s all about.’ God was showing me that I was now in a position to impact people. That was the turning point, the moment I decided that this was what I was going to do.”
© 2018 by Jeff Schober