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Last week marked Cory Swinderman’s ninth year being at the Chrisman Nazarene Church. Swinderman was originally born in Texas, his father a pastor and his mother working in the church. Before he was born, Cory’s father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As his father began to get further along in his diagnosis, the family moved with other family members in West Virginia.
“I lived there until I graduated high school,” Cory said.
After graduation, Cory went to Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. During that time he felt called into ministry. “My grandfather was a minister, my father was a minister and now my mother is a Nazarene pastor. It was one of those family things, but I wanted to make sure that was that I was supposed to do, not just something that my family did,” Swinderman said.
Feeling called into ministry, Cory signed up for religion classes, taking the steps he needed to go into seminary and eventually a masters in divinity. During his time at Mount Vernon, he met his wife Rachel. They were both in the same class and he knew all of her friends, but didn’t know that Rachel existed.
“It’s not a big school, so she feels like it’s a real insult that I never noticed her until the last year of school,” Cory said, with a laugh.
The two met when Rachel’s brother moved onto the same floor that Cory was staying on. Swinderman’s roommate was the resident assistant in the Freshman dorm, so Cory just stayed with him and began to see more of Rachel. Keeping what would be a long distance relationship going pre-text messages and Facetime was work. The only way of communicating was through emails and phone calls at 9:00 p.m. because the call was free, but the couple found a way to make it work.
“We started dating throughout that year. After graduation, I went to Kansas City for a year and she substituted in Mount Vernon for a year, then we got married that next summer,” Swinderman told us.
After graduating and getting married, Cory began working as a children’s pastor at the First Church of the Nazarene in Champaign. After four years, he felt like it was time to make a change. “Children’s pastoring was a lot of connecting with the kids, leading children’s church and we had Wednesday evening children’s activities. It’s a lot,” said Cory. “I love working with kids, but it can get tiring,”.
He made the decision to work towards becoming a pastor. “As far as the ministry side, in the Nazarene Church, you have to have at least three years of ministry, associate ministry like children’s, youth, and visitation pastor,” Cory said.
Once all of the classes were taken, Swinderman put in his resume into different churches in Ohio, where all of his family currently reside, but heard nothing back. “The person that’s over the Illinois District called my pastor and asked it I was looking for a church and he said I was actually applying and that’s how we ended up here,” said Cory.
A month after the Swinderman family arrived in Chrisman, Cory was ordained. Being ordained meant that he had a full understanding on theology and was able to explain things to people. The Nazarene Church is very selective of who they ordain.
“I met with the board for ten years before I was ready. They chart your progress, chart your growth and just meet with you and pray for you. It’s a long process of vetting that goes on,” Cory said.
During the vetting process, it was easy for Swinderman to get discouraged, but thanks to a friend of his, he was able to get through it. “I have a friend who is a Nazarene pastor and we talk every week and have for six years. I tell him all the time that I wouldn’t be a pastor if it wasn’t for him. I talk him off the ledge and he talks me off the ledge.”
Having a personal connection to a sermon also makes it easier for people to understand and grasp. “I usually don’t try to be the hero in my stories because I think there’s a tendency to set a pastor on a pedestal. I’m a lot less likely to share a story where I do that. I’m more likely to share a story of what I’m struggling with,” said Swinderman.
Drawing inspiration from personal experiences is something Cory gets from his mother, Linda. She’s an associate pastor in Mount Gilead, Ohio and works in a library. “Every time she comes to town, she goes to the library. She actually wrote a book and it’s in the library,” said Swinderman.
Cory’s father passed away over sixteen years ago and Linda re-married. Four years into her marriage, her then husband slipped on ice, hit his head and died within a week. “She wrote a book just about dealing with grief and losing a spouse. Now, she leads grief groups at her church,” Cory said. “She knows what a lot of people are going through and she has a great church.”
In 2020, every church in the world was affected by COVID. Some places more than others. “I know there was a list of statistics of pastors that have either felt like resigning or stop being in ministry just because COVID was a real challenge.”
The Nazarene leaders encouraged them to follow local guidelines and mandates, meaning if the county or state tells you not to meet, then you didn’t meet. Leading into Easter of 2020, Cory made on online option so people could stay connected, something that he’d never done. “There’s the technological aspects that are challenging with that. The biggest challenge was helping people connect and feel connected at the time,” said Cory.
The board at the Nazarene Church stepped up and took on five families, to let them know they were being prayed for and didn’t want to be lost once church started up again. Three months went by before the church was able to meet. “When we did, we had twenty to thirty people, less than half of what would normally come.”
The Facebook Live Services helped because Cory was able to do them live on his computer and still be able to have an interaction with his church members. “It helped me to know that there was maybe twenty people at church, but there’s eleven families watching, so technically we are were where we would normally be.”
For some, they have gotten out of the habit of going to church. “It’s like trying to encourage them without guilting them because that’s the last thing that I want to do. There’s a lot of balances that go into it.”
Many churches have been divided on mask wearing while in service or even having a service. Some have seen people leave the church and not come back because things weren’t the way they thought it should have been done. This is something that the Nazarene Church hasn’t had to worry about.
Now that things are almost back to normal, the focus has been shifted to the youth of Chrisman. “When I came here, Guthrie Gardner was doing all the youth things at the Christian Church,” Cory said.
After Guthrie left, the team consisting of Cory, Troy Warner, Ken Crawford, Amber Cooke (Methodist Church connection), Debbie Hess and Trisha Owen realized there was a gap.
“When the pastors would meet, we realized the teens who are attending our churches are really under served.”
Other than Sunday school class, the teens didn’t have much to do so the churches decided to do a monthly activity together for all the teens, no matter the church. Activities started up February 2019 with the first event going to the roller skating rink in Paris. March of 2020 was the last event.
Past events have included video game parties, bowling and a wiener roast. The monthly activity will consist of seventh grade students through seniors going to a Danville Dans game on July 27th. On August 6th, grade school students are able to attend the event.
The importance of introducing God in a child’s life is huge. Seventy to seventy-five percent of people who are Christians will accept Christ before the age of twelve of thirteen. “By the time you get into college, you’re really cementing what your beliefs are, the way you’re going to live. Outside of things like community youth group, outside of church, for the most part, teens are soft of making their own ideas of things. Those aren’t necessarily going to be informed by God’s word,” said Swinderman.
With the younger children attending bible school and the teenagers attending church based events, the younger generation is receiving the word of God. “My hope as a pastor is that everyone who calls me pastor would know Christ’s love and know Christ as their savior. That’s the biggest thing with anyone I come in contact with,” Cory said. “I feel a responsibility to them.
The role of pastor or title of pastor goes beyond people who come here. I feel that people see me as their pastor, even if they don’t go to church anywhere. They’re part of that too. I just want people to know Christ.”
Recently, Cory had a conversation with his board about if he would ever feel like leaving.
“I would be completely content staying here until I retire. It’s just kind of up to God,” said Cory.
“My family loves living in Chrisman. There’s a level of comfort here and I would be completely content staying as long as God doesn’t move me somewhere else.”