Diana’s Victory: Tribute to a Trailblazer
By Carl Stagner
On Friday, September 18, 2020, the Church of God movement lost one of its greatest heroes of all time. Rev. Dr. Diana L. Swoope went to be with the Lord following a valiantly fought, ten-year battle with cancer. Known far and wide for her exemplary service to God and the church, this beloved and dynamic powerhouse led with a servant’s heart as she rose to numerous prestigious positions of spiritual and governing authority in ecclesiastical and civic realms. Her celebration of life service in late September demonstrated that the barriers she broke and the trails she blazed gave way to the paths countless others now trod, as they follow in the footsteps of a leader visibly short in stature, yet clearly towering above the rest.
By the time Diana Swoope took the position of senior pastor at Arlington Church of God in 2009, she had already served on staff for the Akron, Ohio, congregation for nearly three decades. Following in the footsteps of a giant along her own path, Rev. Dr. Ronald J. Fowler, Diana identified and seized opportunities to challenge the status quo, lovingly yet confidently ignore the naysayers, and eagerly accept her God-given place in the body of Christ. One by one, those whose lives were changed—some saved, some called to ministry, some discipled and mentored—through the ministry of Pastor Swoope, rose to the platform on Saturday, September 26, at Arlington Church of God, to testify to the trails she blazed for them. Based upon the firsthand testimony of numerous pastors, friends, and family gathered to bid their final earthly farewells, there’s no doubt Diana Swoope was the right person for the job, at the right time, no matter which role she filled. Considering the wide variety of these roles, Dr. Fowler himself observed that “every platform she occupied she represented God so well.” And Diana Swoope was certainly a woman of many platforms, wearing many hats over a lifetime.
The amazing fact is Diana came up with a number of those hats herself.
Diana Swoope played a leading role in getting EVE off the ground, a “rites of passage” course for young women between the ages of nine and sixteen. She was the founder of SEEP, an educational program designed to assist youth in securing summer employment with local businesses. She also presided over the establishment of Arlington Christian Academy, a charter elementary school serving students through eighth grade. In the church world, she became the first female elected to the office of NIYC president and the first Black woman to chair the General Assembly of the Church of God. It was in the role of GA and Ministries Council chair that Diana L. Swoope excelled for all to witness, resulting in numerous commendations of her leadership as nothing short of “masterful.” Jim Lyon, general director of Church of God Ministries, worked closely with Diana and offered deservingly glowing remarks at the celebration of life service.
“When the history of the Church of God is written a hundred years from now,” he asserted, “I promise you that her tenure as chair of the General Assembly will be seen as a pivot in the Movement that redefined the Church of God for a century—and I will go to my grave thankful for the privilege of knowing her, and for working alongside her, and being taught by her.”
His powerfully poignant remarks, as well as those of numerous other leaders, can be viewed in their entirety on the archived video at www.facebook.com/arlingtonchurchofgod/videos/351893619495908.
The theme of the service was “Diana’s Victory,” a motif woven through the entire event, emblematic of her ultimate victory over cancer, and reflective of her abundant life of fervent worship and bold gospel proclamation. From the instrumental introduction to “When We All Get to Heaven” to the last note of “I’m Going On,” among other classics, tears streamed in the midst of songs that stressed the anticipation of eternity with Jesus over the sting of temporary separation.
But aren’t we, the Church of God, so much better for having been under her leadership? In the words of Ronald J. Fowler, “How grateful we are that God loaned a superlative to us!”
Highly recommended reading—“Family, Friends and Colleagues Remember Pioneering Pastor the Rev. Diana Swoope” and “Dr. Diana Swoope Dies: A Pioneer Pastor, a Friend to Those Battling Cancer.”
*Feature (top) photo: (from left to right) Cheryl Sanders, Diana Swoope, Arnetta Bailey at Convention 2019 in Orlando, Florida; courtesy CWC.