Todd A. Pettibone wanted to connect with his Wyoming community noted for its swimming titles, so the Assemblies of God pastor made a splash with a creative way to accomplish that goal.
Pettibone and his wife, Angela, planted The Orchards Church in Lander in 2018 with help from the AG Church Multiplication Network. Lander is known for its men’s state swimming titles, with the high school team a perennial winner.
Even though he had never been a swimmer, Pettibone, who also works as a para educator at Lander Middle School, determined to make an impression in the town of 7,500 by swimming 1,000 laps from September to December 2021.
The effort also served as a fundraiser for two Assemblies of God ministries: Speed the Light and Boys & Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC). Pettibone generated more than $1,200 in donations.
“It let people outside our church know that we’re part of something bigger than The Orchards Church and our community,” says Pettibone, 43. “We partner with others to bring hope around the world by supporting missions.”
The swimming effort for Pettibone, who has three children, proved to be challenging. He’d never even swum laps before.
“I had to learn everything from swim techniques and breathing techniques to flip turns and lap stamina,” he says. “When I started, it took me an hour to swim 15 50-yard laps or 25 yards each way. I could only swim about half the length before running out of breath and taking a break. “
By his final session Dec. 29, he swam 25 50-meter laps for an average of three strokes per breathe with flip turns in less than an hour.
Pettibone’s accomplishment caught the attention of Lander, including local media spotlighting his effort.
“All the way through, I had co-workers, friends, family, students I work with, people at the pool, and acquaintances ask how I was doing on my laps and money raised,” Pettibone says. “That really encouraged me and opened up stronger and new relationships.
In September, The Orchards Church started a Wednesday night kids church.
“One of our biggest struggles has been establishing children’s ministry,” he says.
In October, Gavin L. Jorgensen, a 5th grader who is part of the local swim club, started attending the church group. He asked to join Pettibone in his swimming efforts.
“He swam circles around me, plus he raised $166 by himself for BGMC,” Pettibone says.
Gavin, 11, has been swimming competitively for five years.
“Todd told me he was swimming 1,000 laps for charity and I really wanted to help him,” says Gavin, whose mother works with Pettibone at the school. “I swam almost 100 laps with him.”
Benny Kulow, 16, a lifeguard on Lander’s boys swim team, felt moved by Pettibone’s dedication to a new activity and drive to help people.
“His perseverance inspires me, other swimmers, and people around Lander to try new things, give it our all, and never give up,” he says.