Words by Al Blanton | Images by Blakeney Clouse and Al Blanton
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
– James 1:2-3
Five years ago, Greg Tinker began feeling fatigued and was losing weight. At first, he suspected a vitamin B deficiency to be the culprit. When an urgent care nurse practitioner diagnosed him with pernicious anemia, she suggested he see an oncologist. Upon that visit, things took a more serious turn.
Soon, Greg, 54 at the time and otherwise healthy, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that multiplies plasma cells in the blood and bone marrow. His new normal included regular visits to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Birmingham for chemo treatments and a failed bone marrow transplant at UAB, necessitating a second transplant two years later at a myeloma clinic in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Since that time, he has experienced the roller coaster toll of the disease, both physically and psychologically. He has had good days and ones where he felt downright lousy. Yes, there have been times when he didn’t think he would make it much longer.
But two months ago, there was some good news: Greg was selected as Senior Pastor at Covenant Nazarene Church in Jasper. Prior to this appointment, Greg served as lay pastor at Saragossa Nazarene Church in Saragossa, Alabama, for the last 22 years. Here’s what Greg says about the new direction of his life and how it all came about:
It’s a total God thing, and I don’t say that lightly. My focus was on being the lead minister at Saragossa Nazarene. I’ve been perfectly contented there among our incredibly wonderful family of faith. We love God, and we love each other. We have unity, harmony, and the peace of God dwells among us. Some truly amazing things have happened at SNC over the past two decades, and it has been a blessing beyond compare.
One of those blessings was numerical growth. Our building maxed out at a little over 100 people, and we had been at our maximum since Easter. We were out of room and contemplating what to do when God opened the door of opportunity to join our brothers and sisters at Jasper First Nazarene. It was a blessing of mutuality—we each brought something to the union that the other needed. So, by God’s grace and grand design, He’s made it possible for us to come together as a unified faith family.
With the unification came a new name: Covenant Nazarene. Like Greg, the church has gone through trials of its own. Ten years ago this month, a fire destroyed the church’s sanctuary, and a new building had to be constructed. Two years ago, former Senior Pastor Greg Story, who had become District Superintendent of the North Alabama District of the Church of the Nazarene, passed away from cancer.
Despite these setbacks, Greg says he looks forward to what the Lord is going to do at Covenant and to engaging and impacting the city of Jasper as a whole.
We truly want to be a positive and integral part of the fabric of Jasper as we move forward. We have a thriving Early Learning Center that is directed with excellence by Tricia Whitfield. We also have a well-established youth flag football league overseen by Brandon Whitfield. We hope to build from the success of both of those ministries to establish many more ways to reach out to our neighbors. Quite obviously, we want to do all of this in the name of Jesus for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
After graduating from Curry High School in 1982, Greg played baseball at Brewer State Community College (now Bevill State) in Fayette, Alabama. He later graduated from Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville and taught and coached in the Jasper City School system for 29 years. From 1996-99, he took a brief hiatus from teaching to serve as a full-time youth minister at Jasper First Church of the Nazarene.
Through the years, Greg has become one of Jasper’s most beloved educators and a strong voice within the community.
One would think that a cancer diagnosis would be about as much as a man could take, but the last 11 years of Greg’s life have been beset with even more difficulty (a devastating divorce and unsuccessful mayoral run in 2016 were particularly trying moments for Greg). But through it all, Greg persevered through his faith and with the love of his family, friends, and the community. In particular, Greg credits his Saragossa family for their faithfulness and for helping him endure personal difficulties.
My church family has walked with me through the fire time and again. They are authentic saints who consistently demonstrate their love for God and others. If not for them, I would not have survived a devastating divorce, nor would I have been able to successfully navigate the last five years in the fight against cancer.
Through many trials, Greg assesses his life thusly:
God is a Father who is good and who loves—regardless of our circumstances. Circumstances change, but God’s nature remains the same. The difficulties I have faced are, as the song says, blessings in disguise. I’ve learned that I am not in control; God is. To Christ followers, that sounds axiomatic, but often we operate under the illusion that we have things under control—until the vicissitudes of life teach us otherwise…Those things have helped to both humble and purify me. Through those trials, I am more keenly aware of what truly matters. They have helped me to live more intentionally, recognizing that time is an extraordinarily precious gift and that I am to use it wisely for the benefit of others and for the glory of God.
The future? God alone knows, Greg says. For now, he will help lead his congregation to be good listeners and obedient disciples of Jesus Christ. Certain truths will guide both Greg and the congregation at Covenant Nazarene:
– Make Christ LORD (Listen Obey Repeat Daily)
– “Let’s go do something beautiful for God.”
– “Let’s do small things with great love.”
– “Let’s purpose to make visible the invisible Kingdom of God.”
– And let’s be about the business of doing GOOD: God Ordained Ordinary Deeds.
This kind of discipleship has served us well for more than two decades, so, as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
How does one sum up what God is doing amid all of this?
That through the trial and the fire, He claims victory, both in Greg’s life and in the life of this congregation. WL