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Former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown moved to New Hampshire late last year and is now the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. He is locked in a tight race with incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Whether Brown wins or loses, he’s already having an indirect effect on his new home state: as the landlord of a nascent Evangelical church in Portsmouth.
The Great Bay Calvary Chapel
Late last year, Brown and his wife Gail purchased a rental property near downtown Portsmouth from Brown’s mom.
Jim Davis, or “Pastor Jim” as he is called, arrived here from Las Vegas in March. He and his wife, Karyl, moved into the duplex at 23 Friend St., which they say they rented online.
The Davises were soon joined by 19 other transplants, all of whom belong to a megachurch in Las Vegas called Calvary Chapel Spring Valley, a church that draws 3,000 or so congregants each week. Their goal is to evangelize and grow their church, the Great Bay Calvary Chapel.
“We are wrestling against evil in the world; we're wrestling against the world going down a path that is not Godly," Davis preached on a recent Sunday. "That is what we wrestle against. That is what we pray about."
As a band played, the congregants swayed, eyes closed, hands in the air. Then, in tones more similar to a nervous high school teacher than a charismatic preacher, Davis tackled Romans, Chapter 13. His congregants scribbled notes as he talked.
They hold their church services under two white tents in the backyard of the Browns’ duplex. Davis calls them “Bible studies” and keeps them low-key, because, he said, he doesn’t want to disturb the neighbors. He never did apply for the zoning permit he needs for “religious assembly” in that neighborhood, but they did bring a plate of cookies around to neighbors.
Neighbors Ben Swainbank and Christine Bastianelli said that while hearing Christian rock wafting in their windows “is a little different,” the church has been a good neighbor.
If you ask any of these 21 pilgrims why they moved here, they'll tell you, "it was totally God," as congregant Sherry Vyvyan said.
Vyvyan said she didn’t want to move, but when her pastor in Las Vegas led a prayer about the Davis’ expedition, she closed her eyes and heard God’s voice telling her to go. So, she said, she sold her business and moved to Portsmouth.
Many of the church planters sold their homes, left jobs and said goodbye to extended family members. And while ending up in Brown’s duplex may have been a coincidence, landing in New Hampshire was not.
'It Was Very Similar To Other Third World Countries'
In recent years, national polls like Gallup have consistently found Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to be the least religious states in the nation.
Rudy Mitchel, senior researcher with the Emmanuel Gospel Center, a Christian research group in Boston, is not convinced the data is altogether accurate, but said it is often cited by Evangelical churches who are training new pastors.
The data, Mitchell said, “encourages them to expand and grow new churches in New England.”
Worshipper Toby Eulberg said the data certainly drove his decision. He wanted to be a missionary abroad but didn't want to raise his five children — including an infant — outside the United States. Then, he said, his pastor mentioned the data about New England.
"A lot of churches had taken the New England area off of their domestic missions board and put it on their foreign missions board because there were so few Christians per population in the New England area that it was very similar to other Third World countries that didn't have Christianity," Eulberg recalled. "And at that point, I started thinking about, 'that might work in what God was calling us to.'"
Eulberg, who had worked as a high school band director in Las Vegas, moved his wife and five children to Portsmouth. They’ve been living in the duplex owned by Brown, sharing space with Vyvyan.
“It's kind of like a staging area,” Eulberg explained. “It gives us an opportunity to find a place — to get out into the community.”
Eulberg said over the course of the summer, congregants have moved into the two apartments, leased by Vyvyan on one side and the Davises on the other.
As earlier arrivals found jobs and apartments, new congregants arrived from Las Vegas and took their places.
Davis and Vyvyan are the first tenants Brown has taken on since he bought the Friend Street duplex from his mother last December.
The Brown campaign declined several requests for comment on the church. When asked directly, Brown told New Hampshire Public Radio, “I have no comment. I’m not going to talk about any people that are renting a property from me.”
For his part, Davis said Scott Brown is not affiliated with his church.
“I would love to get to know him though and invite him to church sometime when we get a building,” Davis said.
Either way, the Davises won’t be holding services in Brown’s backyard for much longer. Davis recently leased an industrial building on Route 1 and has plans to move the church there next month.
This segment aired on October 14, 2014.
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