My journey to learn and tell the stories of Camano’s people and their places that I’m calling “Discover Beautiful Camano” began at my Grandfather Doc Dodgson’s farm and their neighbors, the McGraths. From their we traveled south to Mabana Chapel, a little Sunday School that played a big role in our family and for many other southside neighbors too. In this article I share the story of Mabana’s current pastor, Greg Summers, who still looks quite the same as when I first met him in 1992 when I was serving as intern at Camano Chapel.
Greg was born and raised on a dairy farm in Yelm. After high school he worked for a couple of years in the woods thinning trees and in construction. In 1973 he joined the army and spent two and a half years in Korea. He received Christ on April 1, 1974, through his older sister’s witness; she wrote a letter each month. He was all by himself in his room when he cried out to God for help. Three weeks later, a guy with the Navigators, a Christian ministry focused on evangelism and discipleship, knocked on his door hoping to share the Gospel. Greg joined the Navigators, remaining with them after finishing his stint with the army in January ’76. He served alongside a Navigator staff to start a ministry at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, CA. That’s where he met his wife April who was teaching PE to grade school kids. It took a couple of years, but eventually they fell in love and got married.
In California, Greg spent two years at a community college then transferred to UC Berkeley, where he got a degree in History, and where he remained active with the Navigators, sharing the gospel on campus. Greg and April spent two years in San Diego at a Navigators staff development program, which they raised support for, but in the end it wasn’t a good fit due to Greg’s gifting as a pastor-teacher. He was drawn to the American Missionary Fellowship (AMF) because of a friend from Korea who now ran a big AMF field ministry in the Colorado Springs area. He asked Greg to join him and cover the mountain range area of central Colorado. They became full time missionaries with AMF, taking a year to raise support. Greg and April spent five years in Buena Vista, CO.
When Greg was Area Missionary in CO, he inherited a small church a couple of hours north. Because he wasn’t able to recruit anyone, each Sunday he drove there to teach and preach. It dawned on Greg that he was really a pastor-teacher, not a Missionary Evangelist. AMF agreed to the Summers going into the Church Missionary Program, which was different from the Area Missionary Program. Area Missionaries were appointed to serve at preaching points where it looked like there was enough population where a congregation could be built and support a pastor. After a self-supporting congregation was built, that missionary would go somewhere else, even though as Greg says, it rarely went according to plan because some churches didn’t grow and at others the planting missionary wanted to stay with the church.
Greg’s first appointment as an Church Missionary was in Arizona where he had a church with a good group of people, and a second preaching point seventeen miles away. However, one of the board members at that church was a “wolf who wreaked all kinds of havoc and the church fell apart,” Greg says. Greg and April starting looking for another work. At that point Mabana Chapel opened up because the Meyers were leaving. It seemed like a perfect fit for their family because Greg would be coming home and their four children, Brandi, Luke, Tate and Ruth, would get to see their cousins more often.
Move to Camano and Pastoral Ministry
When Greg arrived in December 1992, he inherited a solid little church with few underlying issues: a nice group of kids came to Sunday School and there were older members as well. Because of the issues at his last church, Greg came in with the attitude that he would just preach the Word to the best of his ability and not change the church or personnel. “That worked for a number of years,” he said. Since Greg’s coming Mabana’s ministries have been simple and solid: weekly Sunday School classes for adults and kids, and the Sunday Worship service. For many years youth group in the Summers’ home. Every year Mabana held a Vacation Bible School (VBS) and a week youth camp at Nooksak. Besides this there were special events like Christmas programs, Ladies Luncheons, and funerals and memorial services, which for Greg has been one of the biggest avenues to share the gospel.
The foundation of Greg’s ministry is faithful teaching through books of the Bible, verse by verse. Or he’ll cover a passage of Scripture, hitting the highlights with in depth word studies. It took him two years to preach the Gospel of John. Greg believes people are changed by knowing the truth of God’s Word as deeply and completely as they can. And he believes that believers in Christ are very capable of understanding the deep Scripture teaching because of the Holy Spirit abides in them.
Greg’s preaching ministry not only helped his parishioners, it healed and freed him. Greg had a challenging upbringing. His Dad grew up in a legalistic, judgmental church. He became bitter over the experience. Greg describes him as a “Rage-aholic.” He still has mental pictures of his father out of control and violent. Greg left home with a father wound, anger and depression. Part of his struggle with depression in temperamental. “If I hadn’t got saved and got a healthy degree of freedom and healing I wouldn’t have reached seventy,” he claims.
Greg believes that pastoral ministry changes both people and pastor. “I believe that for people with childhood and personal traumas, a combination of the indwelling Spirit with the Word of God, both is freeing and healing over a lifetime. Greg’s personal understanding of the nature of salvation, that it is eternal, and his identity in Christ, and his getting a grip on the love of God was essential to his slow healing from anger and depression. He had to see that he couldn’t earn salvation: “if you have a legalistic approach to God you won’t grow,” he says. The requirement to study the Bible and prepare a message every week was immensely helpful personally, and as it changed him, he believes the Gospel can change anyone, whether they have childhood issues or not.
Life as a Pastor on Camano
Camano was a great place for the Summers’ kids to grow up. The country setting, good school system, and staying at one church gave stability. Their kids have lifelong friends nurtured over the years of traveling from elementary through high school. “Camano was a great place for them to grow up,” Greg says. They enjoyed crabbing at Mabana, playing baseball in their big yard, and birthday parties with friends. “April and I committed that the church wasn’t going to destroy our family. If push came to shove, our family came before the church.”
Greg and April complement each other in ministry. Greg is a thinker. He still reads voraciously, gleaning quotes and ideas from his book that make their way into sermons. The name Gregory in the Greek means a Watcher. That seems to fit him. He likes to listen to people, watch people. As a result, a lot of folks over the past have been comfortable in counseling with him because he listens and gets to the roots of things. While Greg is a thinker, April is a doer. She has been his great friend and ally in ministry.
When I asked if April has been scathed by ministry, he says that most of the scathing has come from him. As a young minister he had issues to work through. Growing up in that troubled of an atmosphere inflicted personal damage like his “losing heart”, like learning not to trust, to hide, not to divulge. “That’s what April inherited in a husband.” But she has stayed at his side as God chiseled him, waiting patiently for God’s workmanship. Greg says, “April has been extremely patient. She’s trusted that instead of trying to fix Greg, she can trust God who says, ‘He’s mine. I’m taking care of him. I’m much better at it.’”
Over the past twenty-nine years, there have been lots of ups and downs, lots of good and lots of hard, lots of comings and lots of goings. They’ve welcomed new members and said goodbye to friends and ministry colleagues. In 2000, Mabana Chapel moved from being an AMF church to a non-denomination church, partly because Greg and the Mabana board became disenchanted with AMF oversight. Once during a good season when Mabana wanted to give a bonus to Greg, the AMF Director wouldn’t allow it. Eventually Greg decided to part ways. Still the ministry of the little chapel on the hill continued.
God has provided through the thick and the thin. In the first twenty years of ministry, the church paid Greg a wage he could live on. But then a few blow ups happened, numbers went down, and Greg had to take two significant pay cuts. “Somehow it didn’t bother us,” Greg shares, partly because April worked a day or two a week in Seattle at the business of a parishioner, “that helped.” Now age seventy, Greg receives social security and with income from Mabana. They make it just fine.
I asked if he has plans to retire. He’s thought about it but never seriously. “As long as I’ve got my health, and they still want my participation, I’ll keep going.” As he looks back over the years he says he wouldn’t change anything:
“There are times I wish I had more wisdom, or been more mature, or didn’t quite have the struggles I did. But when I say I wouldn’t change it, I mean that I had to go through the things I went through to learn the things I did. To mature. To become freer. I believe in the sovereignty of God. He has a very individual training program for all of us. He’s involved in step-by step process. I really do believe this. Life here is training for heaven.”
God isn’t finished with Greg yet. There was a time in his early 60s that he thought things were going pretty well. He didn’t think he’d need to go through any more hard times. He laughs, and says, God isn’t finished with him yet. He still doesn’t know his own heart. “Each trial is almost like God taking the peel off the onion and showing you something more about yourself. Now that I’m 70, its’ still the same. He’s still peeling off the layers off the onion.”
Looking through the photos that Greg shared with me, I found pictures of my family throughout, a reminder of how woven into the story of this chapel we are. Many of them were of Mom who helped out with the youth in in the 1990s. I share them here as a tribute to her for her service, and as a reminder of how congregations are made up of people who share their lives with each other and serve their neighbors. It is a beautiful thing to see Mom giving back by playing the accordion, helping with VBS, and helping with the Youth Group at the Chapel where she had been nurtured as a child so many years before. This is how our lives weave together, being given to and giving, being served and serving.