ABBOT, Maine — Rogan Taylor recalled that he was a devout Christian while growing up as a teenager in Rhodesia, the African country that eventually became Zimbabwe.
But at the age of 18, while serving with the British South African Police on a training exercise, he saw what he described “as a beautiful, glorious sunset. I looked at it, and could almost hear God saying, ‘I want you to serve me.’”
As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Taylor, who eventually entered the ministry and served in Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Colorado, was recently appointed pastor of the Abbot Evangelical Free Church. “This is a very loving, compassionate and caring church,” Taylor said. “When they say they’re going to pray for you, they mean it.”
He succeeded Pastor Ray Beless, who retired after serving the Piscataquis County congregation for 19 years. “It was very humbling to step in his shoes,” Taylor said. “He was really involved in the community.”
The minister’s route from the African nation to Abbot started in the 1980s after he graduated from South African Theological College in Johannesburg.
His first assignment was pastor of a church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the country’s second-largest city. “We were very happy there,” Taylor said.
He had married his wife, Caroline, during his second year in college and their son, Brett, was born there in 1983.
But much like the military, pastors are assigned to places where the need is greatest. So Taylor was assigned to a parish in Napier, New Zealand, in 1985.
“The congregation was down to five adults and seven children,” he said. “And if they didn’t find a pastor soon, the church was going to close.”
After four years of “pouring our hearts and soul” into the church, as Taylor described it, the congregation was up to a healthy 70 members, and the Taylors accepted an assignment back to Zimbabwe.
Within a short time, the family had grown again with the birth of daughters Nicole in 1989 and Emma in 1991. Taylor served at churches in Kadoma and Gweru; and while he enjoyed the ministry, the country he called home for much of his adult life was changing dramatically. President Robert Mugabe was elected in 1980 to lead the nation in its transformation from a former British colony to an independent country.
Like many African leaders, however, Mugabe slowly evolved from a benevolent president to an iron-fisted ruler. “From 2000 to 2006, 90 percent of the farmers lost their land,” Taylor recalled. “We went from being a major producer of food to an importer. It was heartbreaking. We had whole families come to our church who were literally driven from their homes.”
Taylor then accepted an assignment in Grand Fork, Colo., a community of 600 — roughly the same population as Abbot. “I’m glad God found a place for us there, instead of some big American city,” Taylor said with a smile. “We would have had quite a culture shock.”
He then took a break from the ministry and worked two part-time jobs in Connecticut while he and Caroline stayed with his brother, Paul. “I worked at a drug rehabilitation center in New Britain and at Macy’s,” he said. “I’ve always felt that pastors, if they’re not careful, can become far removed from the common man. So I think it’s wise to take a break once in a while.”
But the real break came when Rev. Beless’ retirement was announced, and the New England District of the Evangelical Free Churches began searching for his successor. Taylor visited the church a few times, met with the steering committee, and was hired. “And I hope to be here for a very long time,” he said with a smile.
Services at the 100-plus member Abbot Evangelical Free Church are conducted Sundays starting at 10:30 a.m.