By Ryan Trares
For The Republic
At 7 a.m. every Friday morning, they’d come together over breakfast and a few cups of coffee.
The four men would take an hour to talk. They’d catch up on each others’ families and what challenges they were facing in their jobs. More importantly, they’d delve into their faiths — biblical verses that they had studied, moral responsibilities they faced, difficult questions on their minds.
That “accountability group” would lean on each other to live better lives through Christ, said Jim Dodson, a former pastor at Community Church of Greenwood and member of the group.
“You hold each other accountable to certain things,” Dodson said. “If you’re in the group, you have to be willing to be transparent, you have to be willing to be responsive and honest about things. And you have to be willing to ask hard questions.”
Dodson still remembers the weekly meetings as a positive time of growth for the entire group. But one aspect that stands out is the friendship he forged with one of the members — Mike Pence, the next U.S. vice president.
As Pence prepares to take office, the other members of the group have had a chance to recall their unique relationship. Helping grow in each others’ faiths on a weekly basis gave all members of the group insight into their values.
Knowing that, they are excited for what Pence will do as vice president.
“I know Mike, and I trust Mike, so I have confidence in how he has functioned and how he will function as he serves in government,” Dodson said. “Mike shares his faith, and I can tell you that Donald Trump will experience Mike’s faith, because he’s around him. Mike’s not shy about that.”
The accountability group was made up of four people who at the time were members of Community Church of Greenwood: Pence, Dodson, Greenwood resident Garry Smith and Howard Hubler, general manager of Hubler Automotive.
Pence and his family first visited Community Church of Greenwood in the mid-1990s. As with every person who comes to the church for the first time, it was pastor Jim Dodson’s responsibility to follow up, answer any questions and encourage them to become more involved.
Dodson called and made an appointment with Pence. Pence had to cancel. They tried to meet again, but Pence’s schedule forced another cancellation.
This went on four times, before they were finally sitting face-to-face at a southside Bob Evans.
“He sat down at the table, looked at me and said, ‘You’re the most persistent person I’ve ever met in my entire life. You just don’t give up,’” Dodson said.
Their breakfast meeting led the Pence family to become more active at Community Church of Greenwood. When Dodson and Smith suggested forming a small group to keep one another accountable, they invited Pence to take part.
He agreed, as long as his longtime friend Hubler would take part as well.
Small groups were common at Community Church of Greenwood, as they are in other Christian churches, Dodson said.
“In your faith, there’s a Scripture that says, ‘Iron sharpens iron,’” he said. “The idea is, if you have people you’re around and you’re challenging each other, you’ll make each other better followers of Christ if you’re working together, instead of being out there trying to do it all.”
For Smith, the group provided an excellent tool to deepen his faith with fellow members that he greatly respected.
“Before I went to (Community Church of Greenwood), I was a Christian on Sundays and that was about it. I didn’t really know what it meant to have a spiritual walk with the Lord until I attended that church,” Smith said. “I saw these elite people — business owners and community leaders — displaying a walk that I didn’t have. When I had the opportunity to meet with someone of the caliber of Mike Pence, it was humbling to meet with those guys and bear heart with them.”
The group started meeting in 1996. They would gather at a table at Four Seasons Family Restaurant, a Greenwood-based diner, and have hour-long gatherings focused on elements of their faith and how it fit into their lives.
Every meeting, they asked about relationships with their spouses and children, challenges that they were facing or successes that they had found.
They shared what each was going through that week in their personal and business lives, and prayed together.
“We talked about things that were on our mind, that we wanted to share and get somebody’s opinion about,” Dodson said. “Then we’d fellowship and have fun together.”
Each member of the group used the opportunity to work to improve aspects of their personal and spiritual lives. The other three men were charged with supporting that person to meet those biblical goals.
For example, Smith and his wife were working on adopting their daughter, and was dealing with the stresses that come from that process.
“The things we talked about were things we needed to hold each other for, or weaknesses that we needed accountability for. It wasn’t bad weaknesses; it was just staying within the word and dealing with those day-to-day things,” Smith said.
The small group met nearly every week until 2000, when Pence was elected to Congress and would no longer be living in the area for much of the year.
After Pence’s victory, the group all took a trip together to Fort Lauderdale, where Hubler had a home. They spent one final time together to celebrate the achievement, tying together any loose threads from the ongoing spiritual tapestry that had been woven over the previous four years.
With the time they spent together, it’s not surprising that Pence has reached the political heights that he has, Smith said.
“In my opinion, there is no better man for the job that he’s been brought into than Mike Pence. I know his heart, and I tell everybody that. I’ve prayed with him, I know where he’s coming from, and I know where he used to be,” he said.
Though he remains friendly with Pence, Dodson doesn’t speak with him as regularly as he once did. He is not planning on attending the inaugural festivities, though he will be watching with interest and a sense of happiness for his friend.
“I love him as a brother in Christ, and I respect him greatly,” Dodson said.