By Fred Comella
Please note that the following is not an indictment and/or judgment of any Christian faith, doctrine, discipline or church, but rather and as always, an experience along the way of “my own personal journey to Christ”.
When I was a boy, my mother took me to church on Saturday evenings. The quieter and less crowded Catholic Mass held in the basement of our huge granite and marble church was more personal to her. I remember being in awe of her deep faith and the ease with which she seemed to pray and speak to God. My mom was as much a decent and devout believer as a young son could understand. My dad opted out for his own reasons, but those times would have a profound effect on me for decades to come. When my mother passed at the age of 49 from cancer we were all devastated, especially my dad. The events which followed as we made preparations for her burial only deepened my sense of loss and hardened a growing rift between me and my church. In short, ethnic clicks and matters of money as they related to status in my parish seemed to augment the fact, that while my faith was as my mother’s, I wasn’t learning what I needed to be close to the God I loved. The separation came shortly after, and wouldn’t be reconciled for almost 40 years.
When I met my wife Janie she knew of my Catholic faith and I knew she was a Christian, though I wasn’t really sure what that meant at the time. My experiences to that point had left me with faith in God, but little in his people. With endless patience and over many years, Janie softened my soul and explained the process of accepting the Jesus I believed in but didn’t really know. She did this as only a true Christian could, transforming a hard-nosed former cop and correctional officer with a nasty chip on his shoulder into a loving husband and father. The birth of my son and our collective desire for him to know the Lord weighed heavy on my heart and soul throughout and would eventually be the catalyst which brought me back to church. Janie gently coaxed me to the front doors, where I was welcomed into the Abundant Life Assembly of God Church in Swansea Massachusetts, and met the man who would open my eyes.
Truth be told, I was a little taken back by the worship music on that first Sunday and opted to sit in the lobby and read my first copy of “The Good News Today”. But when I finally went in for service, I learned more about “The Bible” on that singular morning than I had ever known or been taught before. Moreover, on the altar was a well-spoken, straight forward former military guy who seemed to be talking directly to me… What was that all about???
Pastor David Aucoin’s intimate knowledge of “the book” that I’d been almost afraid to read for so long was astounding to me. He seemed to glide through scripture and verse in support of his sermon, and with the confidence of a man who actually read it for the wisdom of its content and not simply presentation on any given Sunday. Not overbearing or assuming, there was an obvious connection between this pastor and those in attendance that day. He was strikingly human and approachable, yet spiritual in a way that forced me to drop my guard, if only for an hour or so. It was something totally new for me however, and it felt good. I even caught myself asking Janie about coming back. This Dave guy was pretty cool…
“Pastor Dave” Aucoin, or PD as I sometimes like to call him is as much a human being as the rest of us. As a young man he struggled with the pressures and pitfalls of youth and wondered if the military would help him find the structure that would bring him closer to God and make him the person he wanted to be. The son of an alcoholic dad he’d ultimately reconcile with, Dave struggled to find his own identity apart from the shadow of a somewhat painful childhood. When he received a draft notice at 18, it was almost as if some force was driving him in a new direction. Young Dave Aucoin went into the Army in search of answers, difficult answers that would ultimately come from the most unlikely of sources, and in the most unlikely of places.
Dave finished basic training and AIT school and returned home on leave to the feeling of never having left. The Army had changed him to be sure, but he didn’t feel as though he could carry that change to a positive fruition. He began to fall back into the old routine. Feeling down, he would leave for Germany soon to begin his tour of duty, and unknown to Dave at the time, begin his true road to salvation.
Dave trained as a Medical Technician in the Service and wound up in a small field hospital not far from a larger Navy base in Bremerhaven where he met and roomed with another soldier, Mick Ray. Dave was still confused about his own faith when he learned Ray was a Christian. At first Dave was uncomfortable with Ray’s evangelical faith projection if you will, and was inclined to keep his new roommate at arm’s length. As their friendship grew however, (along with Dave’s thirst for clarity in his life), he was driven to confront Mick and asked him bluntly, “You act as if you know him”, to which Mick replied, “Yes, I do”. He went on, “Dave, If you were to die tomorrow, why do you think you’d get into Heaven?” to which Dave replied what we all do, “Well I’ve done more good than bad”… Wrong answer…
In the months that followed, Mick would explain to a bewildered Dave the simple truth of a gift which cannot be earned, but rather only accepted. Dave was stunned to learn he would not go to Heaven, and even more shocked to know the reasons why. He immediately turned to the Bible and began to read, and it wasn’t long before he acknowledged his sin and confusion. The more he read, the more he wanted to. And the more he sought the “relationship” with Christ that his new friend Mick so enjoyed. A humbled but anxious Dave eventually sought out his roommate and asked if he’d help him surrender to the Lord. Dave dropped to his knees and prayed, “Jesus if you’re real, come into my heart and save me.” The transformation was immediate and Dave felt the Holy Spirit wash over him, cleansing him of his sin and establishing a line of real communication that would never be broken. The year was 1973 and he was just 21. Private First Class Aucoin was going to Heaven.
Dave and Mick would come to minister to many by way of an old WWII chapel on base which they scrubbed clean and held Bible studies and services in. Their numbers grew and they even crossed over to the nearby Navy base where they continued to spread “the word”. Even after Dave finished his service and returned home, he continued to receive correspondence telling of the wonderful work they had begun and how it was growing beyond anything they could ever have imagined.
Dave would return to his native New Bedford where he met and married his beloved of 40 years now, Cindy. As you might have guessed, they met in church in the spring of 1975 and wed that August, Dave told me with a chuckle when we sat down last week. Proud parents to daughter Amy and son-in-law Ralph Clark, and grandparents x 3, the family moved to Brockton where Dave practiced as a medical technician while answering the calling in his heart to do the work of the church. He worked in several prison ministries including Bridgewater, Walpole, and Dedham House of Corrections, and came to realize and understand many of society’s ills by way of the men he witnessed to. He saw both “jailhouse religion” as well as the true transformation of a man from hardened criminal to saved servant who would eventually have his sentence commuted by a sitting governor.
Dave grew ever closer to his Savior and knew that he wanted to further his work for the Lord. He was prayerfully promoted to the positions of youth and missions director by Brockton Assembly of God Pastor Bob Wise. Later he attended Zion Bible College in Barrington, Rhode Island, now known as Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, MA, where he worked with youth groups at Abundant Life for a time before moving to Torrington, Connecticut.
Not long after graduating from Zion in 2007, Dave heard that Abundant Life in Swansea was looking for a Pastor. He was nervous but confident in his love for Jesus, and having already worked at the church, he forwarded an email to his District Superintendent asking that he be prayerfully considered for the post. Dave cited family ties to the area and the fact that he was already familiar with the church. As “He” would have it, Superintendent Otis Stanley was on his computer that night and responded within 10 minutes telling Dave that he was actually considering him and that he should forward a resume post-haste. And so it was that the man who would someday capture my attention at a Sunday service was coming to Swansea, Massachusetts.
Pastor Dave and I talk politics a lot these days. Well, I talk politics and PD educates me on how Jesus sees the world. Pastor Dave does feel as I do that families are the medicine for what ails us, and that to tear down the family is to mar the image of God as He created it for us to emulate. If we build up the family he told me, then we build up God’s world. He explained that he gets no greater satisfaction as a pastor than to see the families of the church thrive. He also spoke of his pain when he sees them in turmoil. I tell him how it disappoints me when a sinner such as I can find my way to church on game day, yet sometimes there are so many empty seats. PD explained that changing value systems have prioritized church out of its place in the hearts and lives of some in the modern world, but that we can be spiritually whole if we only gather together as He would have us, in one room and “as a family” in His name. He added that in some cases people feel their sin is too great and that forgiveness was impossible, but that they should fear not as that is simply not the case. “There is no brokenness too great” he told me.
I tried mightily to articulate what it was about how he comports himself as a pastor that draws me to hear him speak. I’m sure I flubbed it, but he just smiled and explained that church was God’s idea as a means to spread His word, and that it was meant for me to come and hear it. I asked PD if he wanted to get a message out by way of my interview with him. He paused and seemed to go back to the beginning and how it came to pass for him personally, and then he quoted Ephesians 2:8-9, “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.
In these unprecedented and increasingly evil times, when the horrors of this world are simply inexplicable, and the challenges of my life seem omnipresent and daunting, and when solutions require more than the water cooler offerings of a company philosopher, I take comfort in the notion that there’s a place I can go and hear the “Good News” of Jesus, spoken in a confident and studied voice, and by a man who seeks the same truth that I do. I highly recommend a similar course of action at a church near you…
Thanks Pastor Dave. You’ve changed my life, and that was no easy task…
Stop in at Abundant Life Assembly of God Church for Sunday Service at 10:00 AM and find out about Jesus the Savior… 135 New Meadow Road , Swansea, MA 02777 (508) 379-0780 For additional information please visit www.abundantlifeswansea.com