Denny’s Faith

Writing By Natasha Majewski

It’s 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  Denny Granata rolls around the kitchen making breakfast in the house he shares with roommates with disabilities. The microwave is malfunctioning this morning and the entire process takes longer than expected.  His intense focus on his tasks is the only giveaway of his slightly frazzled state.

“I’m late,” he says.

Denny gets up at 4 a.m. every Sunday to get ready for the 8:30 a.m. service at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, something he rarely misses.  After breakfast, he rolls down the long hallway to his room with only the zooming sound of his electric wheelchair on the wooden floor.  When he finally reappears, he seems calmer and opens the front door to wait on the porch for the RTC Access public transport bus.

It’s raining and windy, but his spirits seem high, and he is smiling.  He talks a bit about his old neighborhood and optometry school.

Denny says that his pick-up time is 8:00 a.m., but the RTC Access bus can arrive 15 minutes earlier or later than that, so he is usually waiting outside by 7:45 a.m.  The bus is late today, and he goes back inside to avoid the cold, waiting in the front entryway of his home.  He chitchats about loving the outdoors and his days as a youth ski instructor at Sky Tavern off of Mt. Rose Highway, near Lake Tahoe.

Denny holding his bible

Denny holding his bible

When the bus arrives, Denny goes outside and waves to the bus driver.  The whole process of loading onto the bus on a wheelchair lift seems excruciatingly long as his face is pelted with huge drops of wind-blown rain.

But Denny doesn’t seem to mind.  He is patient and even when the bus driver apologizes for being late, Denny waves his hand in his oft-used “it’s no problem” gesture.

Arriving at church, a smiling woman holds the door open for him, patting him on the shoulder while saying hello.  Inside, he is warmly greeted by a couple asking if his brother will be Santa Claus again this year.  Another set of doors is opened for him, and he enters the large room where heavy organ music saturates a nearly full church.  Denny rolls down the middle isle directly to the front row, where the pastor is waiting.

“How come you’re late?” asks Pastor Mike Benki jokingly while patting Denny on the back and eliciting a chuckle from the congregation.

When learning that Denny is being followed by a camera, Pastor Mike again jokes, “The paparazzi are here for you buddy,” this time rousing loud laughter from the entire church.

Denny has attended St. Luke’s since his baptism there on March 15, 1947, with two short hiatuses when he left Reno and later when he attended his former wife’s church.  Pastor Mike joined the congregation shortly after Denny’s accident, learning about his condition through church newsletters.

“The congregation really appreciates Denny for who he is, and I joke around with him, as you may have noticed this morning,” Pastor Mike says.  “I just have a good time with him, and he appreciates that.  I think he appreciates being treated as someone who is part of the flock.”

Denny worships at St. Luke's Lutheran Church every Sunday

Denny worships at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church every Sunday

Denny sings and prays and is one of the first to take communion.  He then returns to his spot front and center.  The next line of parishioners taking communion walk past Denny and almost every single one of them pats him on the shoulder while they briefly stop for a moment to say hello.  Some smile and whisper in his ear.  A few older women kiss him on the head.  This continues, person after person, until everyone is again seated.

Denny is glowing.

“I think the people are really just inspired by him and by his attitude that he’s kept all these years,” says Pastor Mike.  “He’s always maintained a good attitude.  At least when he’s out in public and around us, you can tell that he’s happy to be alive and he’s happy to be part of things, and we have embraced him.”

Besides his devotion, Pastor Mike loves Denny’s sense of humor.

“He likes to be teased, and I do that, and he comes back at me with a little jive of some sort or the other too,” Pastor Mike says with a winking smile.  “I think that’s an important thing that you don’t treat someone like Denny who has some disabilities differently just because of the disability.  I think you respect the disability and you respect everything that that means to their life, but at the same time they are human beings and they are people and they need to be appreciated and loved and teased and all the things you do with anybody else.”