Chase Rollins never expected to be standing near the altar at Auburn First United Methodist Church two weeks ago, delivering his first sermon.
He never thought he would be heading to North Carolina this summer to enroll at Duke Divinity School, one of the nation’s leading seminaries.
A couple of years back, Rollins did not even consider himself to be a Christian. He spent much of the past decade in the grip of powerful addictions to drugs and alcohol.
“I didn’t have the most beautiful path,” he told the congregation on June 9.
A year and a half ago, Rollins found himself driving past the church, near his boyhood home on Auburn’s east side.
“I felt called to come in here. It was more than just a feeling, it was almost tangible,” he said. Over the months that followed, he said, “You guys showed me that God is love. ... You didn’t just tell me about Christ. You showed me the love of God.”
Rollins had not been brought up in the church, but he was raised in a supportive home.
“My parents are great people … they loved us and provided for us,” he said.
In his teen years at DeKalb High School, he won the “prep of the year” award from KPC Media Group as the region’s top soccer player.
Despite those advantages, Rollins said, “I didn’t know much light in my late teens, my early 20s. When I looked into my future, I saw darkness and just black. … I never thought I would see 30, and I’m 30 now, which is a miracle in itself.”
As a teen, although Rollins was handsome, bright and athletic, he said, “I wanted to just disappear when I was in a gathering of people. … Alcohol and drugs made all that fear go away, and I was free and I was the life of the party, and people liked me, and I was funny and I was confident.
“I found the thing that fixed me — that fixed all that fear. If I wasn’t high or drunk, that fear was definitely there. So, I found a false spirit.”
When he was 20 and had dropped out of college due to his drug use, Rollins’ mother took him to Serenity House, a recovery program south of Auburn. After some early struggles, he achieved sobriety for three years, finished his college degree at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and held a good job.
“I didn’t know how powerless I was. I still thought I had some sort of control over what I call this disease,” he said. Instead, he fell back into his compulsion to drink and use cocaine.
Rollins said his life reached “a new level of powerlessness and defeat.” Humbled, he moved back to Serenity House in 2015, and he has stayed sober since September of that year, following a 12-step program that calls for reliance on a higher power.
“I told God, if I’m supposed to be a Christian, I’ll do it,” he said. “Of all the other Gods I had tried or heard of, there was something I was drawn to about Christ.”
Still, he said, “I didn’t think that Christians would love me.” When he found they did, “I said maybe I could be this pastor thing that I’ve been wanting to be,” he said.
Rollins chose Duke Divinity School because it is close to his parents, who now live in South Carolina, and it offers training toward his goal of prison ministry.
However, Rollins also discovered he enjoyed delivering a sermon to a traditional congregation.
“I’m just being open to whatever God wants me to do,” he said about his future in ministry.
“In many ways, his journey reflects the biblical characters of the Old Testament who were far from perfect but overcame through faith in God,” said the Rev. Dr. Jim Farrer, senior pastor at Auburn First United Methodist Church, who encouraged Rollins to enroll in seminary. “I believe because of his personal journey he will identify with so many people and be able to touch their lives.”
Now that he has escaped his dark existence, to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, he needs to “go back into the darkness and bring others to the light,” Rollins said in his sermon.
Although he seemed at ease, speaking confidently and with a sense of humor, Rollins said he “almost blacked out” during that sermon.
That old fear hasn’t completely gone away — just his old way of dealing with it.
“My Christian walk,” Rollins said, “my spiritual life — that is my crutch now.”