J. Grant Swank, Jr.

I phoned the Windham, Maine Assembly of God. The secretary answered.

“My wife and I are looking to expand our Christian fellowship. Does your church provide home fellowships?”

The friendly answer was that they had at least two groups meeting close-by. With that, she put me on hold to get further data.

The next voice I heard was this:  “This is Senior Pastor Brian.” I responded with an exceptionally cordial voice for I have known this man for twenty years. We attended a number of inter-church pastoral prayer meetings over time. So I was not a new person to Brian.

Brian’s response however was cold and aloof. He did not match my cordial entre with a link-up as I had expected. Instead Brian informed me crisply that the church’s home gatherings were open only to those within his congregation. Only to those within his congregation?

“They are designed for our own people alone,” he said pointedly. In other words, he left no doubt as to what the policy was regarding those who attended weeknight house meetings.

With that, I was stunned. I did not know what to answer for he had taken me off-guard. I thought I would receive a welcome, be informed of a home address or two, and then graced with a “God bless you” farewell.  Not so.

Brian underlined that his home groups were closed shop. Only the congregation’s tested were allowed through the small gathering doors.

I got off the phone, looked at my wife and informed her that I was stumped. Then I spilled out the detail. She could not believe what had just happened. I phoned my two daughters. They too were bewildered—and angry. One of those daughters graduated from Windham Christian Academy, the school sponsored by the Assembly of God. So Brian not only knew me, he knew my family. Yet I was treated as a total stranger.

I sat down at my desk and wrote him a letter. I asked him how he could deliver such a cold shoulder to a pastor he had known for twenty years. We had shared prayer with one another. Now I was simply phoning his office to inquire as how to my wife and I could meet with other believers in small groups. What could be more friendly?

However, in his response to me, he scored once again on the shutting out of anyone not attending his church. He stated that that was quite logical. Further, he wondered why any minister would want to meet with those of another congregation.

A flag went up on that one. Was Brian paranoid in concluding that the clergyman he had known for two decades was out to sabotage his flock’s allegiance to him? It appeared so. In other words, Brian was revealing his own insecurities. Not healthy for a senior pastor. Yet it was there.

I sent a message to a key layperson in his church, detailing what had happened. I concluded that another within his congregation should be aware of what had taken place. It was not enough for it to be one-on-one. The senior pastor’s actions needed to be related to someone within the church.

With that, the layperson contacted Brian.

The upshot of all this is that in a time when the world is becoming increasingly hostile to Christians, believers must bond with one another as never before. This is not the age in which to erect fences to keep out biblical believers. It is a time to reach out, care, and welcome those of like faith.

Sadly, it does not appear as if the Windham, Maine Assembly of God is doing that, at least, not according to its senior pastor Brian Galbraith.

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