By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN Having served 37 years in the Baptist church, Pastor Danville Swanson, at age 66, has decided it’s time for retirement.
Swanson’s first day at First Baptist Church of Cokato was Jan. 15, 1990. His last day will come 22 years later to the date Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012.
“It just felt like this is the time,” Swanson said, explaining that retirement has been on his mind for a while now.
Swanson remembers he and wife Cindy moved to Cokato in a snowstorm. He pastored previously in Pittsburgh, PA from 1986-90; his hometown of Estherville, IA from 1979-86; and Ferndale, WA from 1974-79.
“You learn something different in every church you serve,” he said.
When Swanson was still a candidate for the pastoral position at First Baptist Church, he wasn’t sure he was going to stay in ministry.
Since fostering a church to grow is part of the job, numbers had been decreasing at his church in Pittsburgh and he wasn’t sure he was the right person for the job.
He told the selection board that he is who he is and he wasn’t going to change that. If they didn’t like what they saw, they shouldn’t hire him, Swanson recalled. Being himself always has been one of the biggest challenges he has found in his 37 years in ministry.
As a pastor, Swanson has tried to be transparent and a good role model for Christians, he said, adding that all eyes are watching when you are a pastor.
“I think that’s the challenge . . . to be the same person you are yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” Swanson said.
Before he felt a calling from God to go into ministry, Swanson actually wanted to be a radio disc jockey. Instead, he decided to become a teacher.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in education, Swanson taught biology and social studies for three years before going into the seminary at Bethel in St. Paul. This is also where he met Cindy, who has been a secretary at the Dassel-Cokato Middle School for 22 years.
“This is the first town where people know me more as Cindy’s husband,” he said with a chuckle.
From there, he received a master’s degree and began preaching.
“Seems like just a couple of years ago, and it’s been 37,” he said, adding that they’ve been good years.
“It’s a real honor to help people, it really is,” he said.
What he is going to miss the most in his retirement will be the interaction with people and being involved in their lives.
“I’ll miss the connectedness,” he said.
Swanson’s career has been rewarding and has allowed him the opportunity to do some traveling.
In 1991, he visited Romania through Campus Crusade, where he introduced “The Jesus Film Project.” In 1996, he traveled to Minsk, Belarus with friend and pastor Ralph Erickson, where they taught two weeks in a Bible college.
Then, as a gift from the church, Pastor Dan and Cindy traveled to Israel as part of a tour through Village Schools of the Bible in 2009. He later found that a donation was given to the tour organizer for five pastors to go who had never been. Swanson was one of those fortunate five.
He found the generosity of the church to be amazing. “There isn’t anything they could do that would be more meaningful to me,” Swanson said, explaining that the trip allowed him and his wife to walk where Jesus once walked.
As far as any future plans, “I haven’t thought much about what retirement will look like,” he said.
Since they have a house in Cokato and Cindy will continue to work, they will be staying in town.
He plans on having a lot more time to read and play golf.
Other than that, he is going to take it one day at a time.
“The Bible talks about leaving tomorrow in God’s hands,” Swanson said, which will be quite different from the structured life he has been living as a pastor.
As far as being behind the pulpit, “I know I’m going to miss it,” Swanson said, adding that it’s all part of the fabric of life. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
A ‘heartfelt loss’
Christina Clark has known Pastor Dan for 28 years, since he started at the church when she was a young girl, and can attest to his faithful leadership.
“Pastor Dan’s retirement will be a heartfelt loss for this entire community,” she said, adding, “it will be hard to find a replacement to begin to fill his shoes.”
For many, Pastor Dan has been like family, being there for support in happy and sad times, she explained, not only for the congregation, but community members as a whole.
The congregation has also grown to more than double since he started 22 years ago. At that time, there were roughly 100 attendees on any given Sunday. Now, there is an average of 225 to 250, according to Clark.
“He’s going out on a high note,” she said.
The leadership has become strong enough to help with this transition, she explained. “He has mentored our leadership team to be able to hire the new shepherd for our church.”
Following Swanson’s last day of service, Sunday, Jan. 15, services will be conducted as normal while the process of finding another pastor takes place.