LEWISTON — The Rev. Paul McLaughlin, longtime executive director of Hope Haven Gospel Mission, is leaving.
The 58-year-old pastor has accepted a job as a counselor in the Bible Baptist Church of Bradenton, Fla., the same church where he underwent a spiritual conversion three decades ago and met his wife, Susan.
He plans to leave Oct. 31, leaving behind the shelter he ran for 21 years.
"Overall, I'm pleased," McLaughlin said. "I'm leaving it better than it was when I came."
When he began in 1990, the Little Canada shelter on the corner of Lincoln and Cedar streets was in disarray. Debt weighed on the building. And the people who used the shelter had grown undisciplined.
"People were fighting, drinking, smoking in the halls," McLaughlin said. Quarters were tight. And relationships with local agencies were strained.
McLaughlin set rules and enforced them, ejecting people who misbehaved. He set about to expand the shelter to give more space to the homeless people it served. He raised money and paid down the debt. A couple of years ago, the mission's board of directors burned its mortgage in a noontime ceremony.
McLaughlin also shared his faith with thousands of people.
"We gave the ministry back to the Lord," he said. So far this year, the mission has housed more than 150 people and served more than 11,000 meals, according to its website.
There were disappointments, though.
For at least half of his tenure, McLaughlin tried to find funding for a new shelter, one that would be more efficient, easier to maintain and bigger. The money never came.
"That just wasn't God's will," he said.
He said he was looking forward to the move South. Though he'll be in the city of Bradenton, sandwiched between the retirement havens of St. Petersburg and Sarasota on Florida's west coast, he is not thinking of ending his work.
"I was prepared to die serving God there at Hope Haven, where they could go ahead and cremate me and sprinkle me in the backyard," he said.
Then, this opportunity arose.
McLaughlin, a Long Island native, is looking forward to serving people in the large church, which has ministries aimed at the old, the young and the Spanish-speaking communities. The couple will set up in a double-wide mobile home in a gated park. The McLaughlins already have two children living in Florida and another who plans to move there.
McLaughlin will turn over the leadership of the mission to John Robbins, his assistant for the past eight years.
"I know that Pastor Robbins will do what he believes is necessary to raise the mission even further," McLaughlin said.