GARDINER — When the Rev. Scott Jones moved from Ohio to join the Church of the Nazarene as its pastor in November, he said it felt like he was coming home.

That’s because he had spent most of the first five years of his life at the church while his father, Cecil Jones, was behind the pulpit as pastor.

“It’s kind of surreal, really, still for me, to walk in the fellowship hall, which was the old sanctuary, and look around and go, ‘My dad preached in there,'” Jones said. “And here I am 40 years (later), almost to the month, and I’m the senior pastor. Even when someone calls me pastor or Reverend Jones, or whatever, I turn around looking for him.”

The service is held in a newer church building in the same area off Brunswick Avenue, but a handful of congregation members are still around from when the older Jones served as pastor.

Jones, 41, said some of the senior members of the congregation even remember baby-sitting him as a child.

“They’re not short on stories — that’s for sure,” he said.

Jones didn’t expect to follow in his father’s path while growing up or even after graduating from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio. He said he used to manage restaurants and was more focused on making money than working at a church.

“When you grow up without a lot of money, you think that’s what you want to go after,” he said. “And I tried doing that for a long time. But I knew at 17 that God had called me to the ministry, but I ran from it.”

He said a chance encounter with a pastor who was a family friend helped change the course of his life.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you running restaurants? Shouldn’t you be thinking about doing ministry of some sort?'” Jones recalled the pastor asking.

He said he shrugged it off until he landed a job that allowed him to work part time as a youth minister for an area church.

“Every job that I took felt like a square peg in a round hole, that I was uncomfortable, that I was always looking for something different,” Jones said. “When I finally jumped into what I felt God was calling me to do, that feeling went away, and I just settled down with what I wanted to do.”

He worked as a youth minister for 18 years, which took him from a church in Ohio to Pennsylvania and back to Ohio.

Then, when the senior pastor position opened up in Gardiner, Jones applied.

His father, Cecil Jones, as superintendent for the Maine District Church of the Nazarene, asked the church board members to rank the order in which they wanted to interview the seven candidates. Cecil Jones, 68, said his son’s resume came up first by far.

The younger Jones said the church board asked him during the interview why he wanted to go from a large-scale church in Ohio, with 700 members, to Gardiner, with a congregation just over 100.

“There was really no reason to even consider going anywhere except I really felt that God has his thumb on my back, saying ‘you need to consider this,'” he said.

The church board voted unanimously to offer the job to him, and 97 percent of the congregation voted to accept him, Jones said.

He said he worried about moving his sons, ages 5 and 8, since he remembers being bullied at school after moving from Gardiner to Ohio as a 5-year-old.

“That was probably my biggest prayer request,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, God, I’m going to come, but you’ve got to take care of my kids.'”

So far, he said he has nothing but praise for Laura E. Richards School, where the boys attend, and the Gardiner school district.

He lives with his wife, Tiffany, and their two sons, Kasen, 5, and Kidron, 8, in the parsonage behind the fellowship hall. He said they’ll stay in Gardiner until God tells him otherwise.

“My desire is to stay as long as he wants me to. I don’t want to move my kids around,” Jones said. “As much as possible, I’d love for them to stay in a community and grow up, but that’s not always my choice. I just try to stay open.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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