Becoming pastor begins 'New Day' for Lawson, family
In April of last year, Gabe Lawson and his wife, Mary, got the telephone call they'd been waiting to receive. He finally got a spot as an active-duty Air Force chaplain. "So we're excited," remembers Lawson. "This is awesome. This is finally happening." One month later at age 31, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and his "Air Force chaplain job is out the window." Lawson reflected on those life experiences in his office at NewDay Community Church in Versailles. Becoming the full-time pastor at NewDay was an opportunity he did not expect to get after finishing rigorous treatment for Stage 3 Cancer in February. "It seems crazy," says Lawson, "but we (he and his wife) feel right about this. This seems right. It doesn't make any sense, but for some reason we feel like we're being led to do this." After receiving the offer to come here in April and becoming pastor in July, Lawson says he and his wife have already fallen in love with the Versailles community and their new church family. And it didn't matter that the 33-year-old had no experience as lead pastor of a church. "What's made it manageable are the people here at this church," says Lawson. "The people - they've been incredibly welcoming, warm, supportive." With just 30 to 50 people attending a typical Sunday morning service in the church's unconventional space at 197 South Main Street in downtown Versailles, Lawson says, "so many good things are happening in this small, little church community." In addition to its Sunday morning service at 10:30, a youth group meets on Thursday nights at 7. Youth pastor Jacob Dorrell has been able to help teens reconcile with family members and make positive life decisions. "Literally saving people's lives here," says Lawson. "He has a beautiful ministry going on that we're really excited about." Now a little more than three years after NewDay Community Church was founded by Bob Kjelland, Lawson's praying that the Christian and Missionary Alliance church can grow to serve others in the community. Reflecting on his cancer diagnosis and becoming cancer-free, Lawson says, "Thankfully, we had so much support, so much help - people praying for us." With an 18-month-old daughter and a photography business to run, he knows his wife had a lot to juggle during his cancer treatment and surgery. "She's the real hero," says Lawson, who went through five weeks of oral chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments prior to surgery. After his tumor was surgically removed, he had intravenous chemotherapy for five months, beginning last September. "Through this experience," explains Lawson, "it's made me so much better of a pastor and an Air Force chaplain." A desire to become a chaplain with the United States Air Force began with his brother, who was deployed to Afghanistan during six years of service in the Air Force. His firsthand account of what servicemen and women face on overseas deployments played a role in Lawson's career plans to help them through these life-changing experiences. "I love working with our airmen . serving them. Ensuring their religious freedom, and also caring for them spiritually. Because they go through an immense amount of stress and anxiety," says Lawson, who joined the Air Force as a reservist in 2008. He discovered the Christian and Missionary Alliance - its the Christ-centered ministry and mission work - as a member of First Alliance Church in Lexington, beginning in 2003. Five years later, while at Asbury Seminary, he became a part-time young adult pastor with the Lexington church. "It was very fulfilling. I loved the ministry," says Lawson. "I'm really passionate about young people, especially college students . It's such a pivotal point in your life. You get faced with so many decisions." After graduating from a Louisville high school, Lawson says he spent a year serving Youth With A Mission thinking he'd do missionary work overseas. His plans changed after he felt led to pursue an education and pastoral ministry work. His parents and other close family members did not have a college experience to share, so Lawson found his own way. Going to Asbury College (a Christian liberal arts school in Wilmore) and then Asbury Seminary, allowed him to earn a master's of divinity degree. Lawson and his wife of six years, Mary, have owned Honey Heart Photography for the last eight years. Their daughter, Caroline, will celebrate her third birthday in January.