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Photo courtesy of Gary Walden

Gary Walden

Gary Walden: Called to Serve

 

By Cindy Solomon
September/October 2017

Practicing Faith at Work

For Oak Lawn United Methodist Church (Dallas) member Gary Walden, there are blessings in beauty. Now in his 28th year as a hairstylist, Walden's faith experience is rooted (no pun intended) in service.

While many people can pinpoint a specific time or experience when they felt or heard God's calling, Walden found his in the midst of struggling with his career.

"I was struggling because even though I loved being a hairstylist and working in the industry, I felt at odds with the vanity of it all," Walden said. "Then I had some experiences with clients who showed me how what I did was helping them feel confident and excited about their lives. I finally understood that was the calling."

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Walden lives out his faith by showing compassion through listening and providing support for his clients. Sometimes, he'll pray with clients when they open that door.

"As a gay man, I've had the opportunity to discuss my faith journey with many clients," he said. "People come to me in a trusting space to ask questions to help them reconcile their feelings on this often-controversial topic."

The ways Walden shares his faith with clients vary.

One client was going through a painful divorce. "It was made even more difficult for her because she did not believe divorce was an option; rather it was a shameful act," he said. Because Walden was open at work about his faith, he introduced the woman to another client. "This client invited the woman to attend Sunday school and church. The woman accepted, later met someone at that church, and ultimately remarried. It was a wonderful gift."

Another time Walden had a new client who was struggling with weight and self-esteem issues. "She had very nice hair but it looked too practical for her," he explained. "She had flair and her hair wasn't reflective of that." After a few appointments, Walden created a new look for the woman, which was a catalyst for an entire personal transformation. "My belief in and encouragement led this woman to start exercising, grow her business and further develop personally," he said.

"I often say my faith story is the result of serving people through my work and being open about my identity. This faith has created a beneficial exchange between my clients and me. They have shown me that my honesty is appreciated and our rapport is created through love."

Walden also touches lives through various community organizations. "I've always been a volunteer," Walden says. "When I was a kid, my parents encouraged my siblings and me to serve. It was just understood that volunteering was a part of our lives; we were children of God and that was our responsibility."

Walden models for fashion event fundraisers for Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS and Legal Hospice of Texas (both in Dallas). After his first year of modeling for Legal Hospice, Walden became the creative director and helps plan and produce the event.

He also models and is the lead hairstylist for Esteem, a fashion show raising money for the Elisa project — a Dallas-based organization serving people of all ages living with symptoms of unhealthy relationships with food including obesity and eating disorders. As co-captain of Catwalk for Water — a fundraiser supporting the Gulf Restoration Project — Walden solicits sponsors, scouts event locations, recruits volunteers and models, and works on choreography and show design.

While Walden sometimes shares his faith with other volunteers, his original calling — service — often comes into play more subtly. "I'm focused on serving others as I work alongside people of various faiths. In our service, we are all moving toward a common goal of providing assistance to those in need."

Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and freelance writer based in Franklin, Tennessee.