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Monday, March 23, 2009


J. Grant Swank, Jr.

I had pastored a denominational church (Church of the Nazarene) since 1964 when in 1998 I was ousted by ecclesiastical political conniving.

In 1992, I attended a pastors’ and wives’ Christmas dinner sponsored by the district. Unbeknownst to me, another minister told the district superintendent that I had said we had to get rid of the superintendent. I never said that. But the superintendent believed the lie.

From that day onward, the superintendent tried to oust me from my Maine pastorate. That’s the power of a lie.

I had ministered from west to east over years in the denomination in which I had been born on January 4, 1939: Calgary, Alberta; Kansas City, Missouri; Manchester, Connecticut; Indianapolis, Indiana; Fishkill, New York; Akron, Ohio; Walpole, Massachusetts and then Maine.

I had pastored not only in the denomination in which I had been ordained in the ‘60s, but also in the Methodist Church, Nevada, Indiana; United Church of Christ (Congregational), Broad Brook, Connecticut; and St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, High Point, North Carolina.

Now I was without a congregation, parsonage, health coverage, and salary. On that August Sunday evening, the superintendent who followed the one who believed the lie walked into my house unannounced. He was accompanied by a district advisory board. I had been conducting a prayer meeting in our parsonage living room when the interruption came.

In any church, there are troublemakers. Ask any pastor of any denomination. Sometimes those troublemakers mass themselves into a political block to oust the pastor. That’s what happened in my case. The block went to the second superintendent who had believed the 1992 lie. That brought the superintendent to my home with his back-ups.

You see, the first superintendent, Clarence Hildreth, District Superintendent, Maine District, Church of the Nazarene, who believed the lie moved on to another position out of state. The one who followed him, Roland Dunlop, had it in for me because I would not support him in a mean move. A couple from my church planning their wedding ceremony wanted to use his city sanctuary for it was larger than our village sanctuary. The superintendent, then pastor of the city church, told me that he was going to charge the couple $400 for the use of his facility. He wanted me to endorse that.

I told him that I could not do that. It was unfair to the couple who had little money. He countered by stating in no uncertain terms that I would indeed back him up. I told him that I could not ethically do that. With that, we came to an impasse. With that, he held it against me till he became superintendent.

With the troublemakers in my local congregation going to him with their manufactured grievances, he then unreasonably concluded he had leverage by which to oust me. So he did, with the help of his advisory board — clones of the superintendent. Politics works its devilment not only among the ecclesiastical clergy but the laymen who side in with the dark political mode.

Ungodly politics also works its way from grassroots to headquarters levels. Prior to all this Maine district devilment, one of the five books I authored was entitled ONE CHRISTMAS I MET AN ANGEL, published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, the denominational publishing house for the Church of the Nazarene. When Dunlop ousted me, the headquarters threw away 2000 remaining copies of my book. Just threw them away.

When my friends phoned Kansas City to get copies for that Christmas they were told that the book was no longer available. The man in charge, I have since forgotten his name, is probably still alive. May God have mercy on his soul.

On that Sunday evening of being ousted, with the enemy having left my living room, I and the parishioners there for a prayer meeting concluded by organizing our own independent, evangelical congregation. We would meet in our homes since our church building had just been taken away from us. We would dispense with annual elections, committees, boards, membership, newsletters, bulletins and all the trappings of the denominational organization.

However, I was in shock. Within 30 days, I had to vacate my home. I had no place to go. In 30 days, I would be absent my health coverage, salary and roof over my head.

My wife recalled a humble summer camp community not too far away. She phoned to discover that there was an old trailer there that we could move in to.

We stored our belongings in various parishioners’ homes — attics, basements, garages, sheds. In fact, one house ended up with our piano in the owners' living room. Other homes housed our rocking chairs, straight-back chairs and end tables. My pastor's study library is still stored in boxes in a friend's backyard shed.

My wife and I went to substitute teach. On that meager salary total we survived. But emotionally I crumbled.

The trailer interior was dark paneling. I dreaded evening and nighttime. The quarters were cramped. Winter snowstorms howled around our windows, sometimes creeping in around the edges. Our front door screen was broken down. We seemed to be out in the middle of Maine's nowhere. That went on for months.

I woke up mornings anxious to get into a classroom for in those environs there was light and movement and people and chatter and something to do with my brain. But in mid-afternoon when leaving the schools, I felt a suffocating, crawling dread crippling my body and soul. It was beyond description.

God seemed far far away.

One day my brother-in-law was visiting us. We walked down near the lake to come upon an aged, worn cabin. It had a simple porch. The only door was unlocked so we walked inside. There was a living room, kitchenette, two bedrooms and a bath. Though covered with cobwebs, that rickety cabin looked like a dream house to me. I said, “You know, if God would only provide the two of us with a dwelling like this, I could call it ‘home’.”

But that of course was impossible.

Several months later we were visiting with Christians in Standish, Maine. Our hostess said, “I think a couple we know has a rental available.” I asked for the number, got it, and called. The next evening we were walking into the rental. And we got it. Our landlords happened to be believers, now new friends to us.

The layout of the rental: a small porch, living room, kitchenette, two bedrooms and a bath.

Today I still walk around this cottage by Lake Sebago where we live. I call it a house with seven rooms, but four of them are invisible. I like the number “7” because it’s the divine number of perfection.

I look out my living room windows every day and night to see God’s nature wonder all around me. Three large windows make up one of the living room walls so that when you stand in that room it’s like standing outside.

All four seasons breathe inside as well as outside from that room. Now today I looked out to see the lake covered with ice — thick, so that ice shacks are planted atop it. I see snow mounded all over everywhere, sporting limbs laden with white coverlets.

I just love this place. It’s where we live. It’s where our house church meets three times every week for worship. It’s where I thank God for miracles.

Now if that’s not enough, we also have a beautiful, cozy country home in Kennetcook, Nova Scotia. Our neighbor there across the meadow calls our place “an estate.” I think that’s a bit overmuch, but I’ve never corrected her. You see, if I did, that would not be fair to my godly mother-in-law who willed the property to us. After all, she made it the “estate” that it is.

It has 9 rooms, a welcoming wrap-around-front porch, those tall old-fashioned windows, a sun porch and plenty of acreage — perfected-by-nature groomed land. There's even a creaky back screen door that makes its own off-key melody every time it's opened and shut. Plus: there's a barn with several sheds.

Down apiece, you can meander to the Kennetcook River. A tiny village of 400, a white steepled church in the middle, and a school nearby, plus a few scattered neighboring homes make up our "other home place." My in-laws called the property "Cedar Grove" because of the cedar trees all about.

That’s where I like to go when feeling “Canadian.” When “American USA” I enjoy my Windham cottage. In either cozy-down, it’s home. Besides, it’s another miracle.