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Pastor goes from officer of the law to one of the Lord

July 12, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN

marlob@herald-mail.com

Even though the spirit of God has been working on Shawn Bushman since he was about 20 years old, it took him 15 years to change the direction of his life from U.S. Marine to correctional officer to full-time pastor.

"It was literally a leap of faith," Bushman said as he takes on the duties of associate pastor of Virginia Avenue Church of God in Hagerstown.

Bushman has been active at the church in a part-time capacity since 1997, working with the Rev. A. Paul Harne. But he still was employed full time at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown.

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"In many respects, it was a job like any other job," Bushman said.

But he said he was aware every day that the job could take a turn and become very dangerous.

"It is very stressful. You learn quickly to constantly be aware of your surroundings," he said.

Even so, Bushman said those years were rewarding. He will remember the many relationships he developed with officers and inmates.

"There is an atmosphere in a prison setting that requires one to have a strong spiritual support system," Bushman said. "It can be difficult to maintain one's values, but it can be done."

Inside and outside a prison, he said, there are people who are good at heart and others who aren't. Hope and despair also exist inside and outside the institution, he said.

A graduate of South Hagerstown High School, Bushman, 35, has taken classes at Hagerstown Community College. He is enrolled in Lee University, a Church of God correspondence school, working toward his college degree.

After high school, Bushman spent six months in the Persian Gulf while in the Marine Corps Reserve.

His family includes his wife, Paula, who works at a doctor's office, and their two children, Caleb, 11, and Leah, 8.

"We have been waiting for an opportunity like this," Bushman said. "My family is behind me 100 percent."

The Virginia Avenue Church of God has been at 17306 Virginia Ave. since 1995 in what used to be a grocery store and later, a sewing factory. With a growing congregation of about 400, the pews and parking lot usually are full every Sunday morning, Bushman said.

He is overjoyed that now he can devote all of his time to the church, its youth ministries and teaching Sunday school classes. He also portrays Jesus each year in the church's Easter drama, "His Story."

"I will be doing more visitations and performing more weddings, too," he said.

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