October 7, 2002
Swank's Sagamore legacy lives in ministers called
___By Mark Wingfield
___Some churches make history for their membership growth. Others gain attention for budgets or buildings. One Texas Baptist church, however, has set an unmatched record for calling out young people for vocational ministry.
___Through the 43 years Fred Swank served as pastor of Sagamore Hill Baptist Church in Fort Worth, he was instrumental in mentoring perhaps 100 young men and women who became vocational ministers.
___That's not counting the seminary students who came into the church after their call to ministry or the women raised in Sagamore who married young preacher boys.
___Twenty years after his death, Swank is remembered as one of Texas Baptists' most effective pastors in "calling out the called."
___National research indicates that certain churches produce a disproportionate number of ministers, but conclusive data has not been found to explain why that is so.
___Swank's ministry at Sagamore Hill might help answer the question, according to those who were influenced by the legendary pastor.
___They cite two key ingredients in Swank's formula--a larger-than-life summer youth camp in which the pastor played a public role and the pastor's undying love for young people.
___"He created an atmosphere," said O.S. Hawkins, who was called to ministry at Sagamore and now serves as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Annuity Board. Swank "intentionally went after young people."
___But the greatest factor, Hawkins said, is that "we were immersed in an environment of love and unity."
___Hawkins, who has served churches large and small as pastor, marvels at how accessible Swank was to Sagamore youth--particularly those he thought possessed an aptitude for ministry.
___Hawkins and his best friend, Jack Graham, often would drive to the Sagamore parsonage late at night, walk in the back door to Swank's bedroom, wake him and take him for a ride in the car to talk about ministry.
___"We thought nothing of it," Hawkins said. "He gave himself to us."
___Many of the youth called to ministry under Swank's pastorate experienced that call at Camp Sagamore, the annual youth camp that drew as many as 500 participants in its heyday.
___When people would ask Swank the secret to his success at Sagamore, Hawkins recalled, he would answer with four letters--"C-A-M-P."
___Swank believed the summer camp was a primary reason the church grew from 200 members in 1933 to more than 5,000 at his retirement in 1975.
___It was there that both Hawkins and Graham answered God's call to vocational ministry. Hawkins recalls, however, that Swank took the camp baseball program just as seriously as he did the desire to help his young "preacher boys."
___Hawkins had just committed his life to full-time Christian ministry, and Graham was struggling with a similar decision. After a particularly moving morning worship time, it was off to the ball fields for the camp championship game.
___Swank had recruited Graham, a strong player, for his own team. Hawkins recalled that on the way to the field that day, Graham went to Swank and said tearfully, "Preacher, I think God's calling me to preach."
___Swank's response: "Son, if God's calling you to preach, he'll still be calling you after this game. Now get ready to play ball."
___Intensity and intentionality combined in Swank to foster both the call to ministry and the model of ministry as a desirable vocation.
___"He always enjoyed the ministry, enjoyed his work," said Lewis Adkisson, who was called to the ministry at Sagamore and recently retired as pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. "He was a fun-loving guy. He made the ministry appear not as a solemn, sober thing, but as a very exciting thing."
___Swank's son, Bill, agrees with that assessment.
___"He made the ministry look fun. It's hard work, and he never sugarcoated it. But he had a good time being pastor of Sagamore Hill Baptist Church. That was the role he presented," said Swank, a retired Texas Baptist pastor and associational worker.
___In addition to presenting a positive role model of ministry, Swank put a heavy emphasis on asking young people to discern God's will for their vocation--whether or not they felt called to vocational ministry.
___"Seeking to find out what God wants to do with our life was the thrust of his ministry," Hawkins said. "It was not just calling people to vocational ministry."
___However, to answer that question required facing the possibility that God was calling each person to vocational ministry, added Swank's son. "I don't think there was a young person who went through Sagamore in those days who didn't have to face at least the possibility that God was calling them into ministry."
___Swank also proved to have an uncanny sense of who God might be calling.
___Adkisson recalled his own struggle with a call to vocational ministry--an inner turmoil of which he had told no one. In the midst of this, Swank invited him to go for a ride one night to the Polytechic Amphitheater in Fort Worth, where another Sagamore youth was preaching a revival.
___When they got out of the car, Swank said to Adkisson, "I want us to pray for Charlie and this revival." Then he asked, "Do you think God has something special for you to do?"
___"I was flabbergasted, because I had been struggling with this," Adkisson explained. "We knelt out there in the dirt. He prayed for me."
___As with other Sagamore youth, Swank went beyond prayer. He immediately offered to find Adkisson a place to preach. Then he helped Adkisson enroll at Hardin-Simmons University.
___As a pastor for 50 years, Adkisson emulated many traits he saw in Swank, including calling young people to vocational ministry. At his retirement in July 2000, about 100 people were identified who had been called to ministry under his leadership.
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