When Frank Gough was in prison in the 1980s for armed robbery, he asked another inmate why that man seemed to have such a sense of peace.
"Bill didn't seem to live in fear like I did," Gough, now an Anglican priest, said in a recent interview. "We had similar backgrounds. I'd watched him for over three years as he struggled to live his Christian faith, and he continued to be my friend even though I rejected much of what he presented to me.
"But I realized he had something I didn't have. Finally I said, "Okay, tell me what you've got that I haven't got.' Bill said, "I've been telling you for three years; it's just Jesus.' "
Gough had come to the point where he was ready to listen to his friend.
"I said, "Okay, tell me about Jesus.' So over a period of three or four months, he and the prison chaplain began witnessing to me about Jesus Christ."
Gough remembers the date he began his relationship with Christ.
"On Jan. 6, 1982, I said to Bill, "Tell me how I can get what you've got.' And he led me through a little card that he had in his wallet called the Roman's Road. I prayed a sinner's prayer and asked Jesus Christ to become my Lord and my savior. I asked for forgiveness of my sins and had a great burden taken off of me. It was physical in the way it felt. And Jesus has been my companion ever since."
And so the Rev. Frank Gough, now pastor of Anglican Church of Our Redeemer, began his life as a Christian in a prison in Arcadia.
Money, drugs, ego
Gough grew up in Palm Beach County. His mother died when he was young and his father worked 18-hour days. Gough, the grandson of wealthy Palm Beach socialites, began to rebel. At the age of 10 he started doing drugs. By 17 he led a motorcycle club and sold drugs.
"I was more a wannabe of outlaw motorcyclists than the real thing," Gough said. "That was pretty much where I was. Everything was focused on me."
At 19, Gough and four accomplices robbed a Red Lobster. He was the only one caught.
"Everybody else had put on their motorcycle helmets with dark lenses and I had mine between my knees and was putting my hair into a ponytail before I put on my helmet. The restaurant manager came out back carrying trash. So my face was uncovered. We took him at gunpoint inside and had him empty the safe and the register."
Gough was one of two perpetrators who were armed. He carried a sawed-off shotgun with no ammunition in it. He was afraid that in his nervousness, someone might get hurt.
"We told him to go in the cooler and told him we were going to lock him in, but we didn't. He stayed in the cooler for quite a while, and when he came out, he called the police. About three weeks later, based on an artist's rendition, they arrested me."
Gough's attorney told him that because the evidence against him consisted of the manager's recollection of his face (the rest of his description of Gough and his weapon was not accurate), he would never be convicted. But he was, and received life in prison plus five years.
"I really believe it was by the grace of God that I was convicted, because the evidence wasn't there," Gough said.
Prison, God, healing
Gough thinks going to prison saved his life.
"Of the nine members of that small gang, six were dead within the first three years I was in prison and a seventh died right after I got out."
Gough served just under five years of his sentence.
After his conversion, he hungered for Scripture. "When I couldn't find Bible studies, I began them," he said.
A ministry program called KAIROS came to the prison.
"I like to say that I encountered Christ robed in the flesh of my brothers and sisters in Christ over a chocolate chip cookie in that KAIROS weekend," Gough said. "At that retreat I was given the tools to begin exploring my new relationship with Jesus. The tools for prayer, for study, for accountability in my Christian walk."
He began being involved in chapel and became part of a singing group.
Eventually he was moved to an honor dorm, where two people shared a room.
"I had a roommate for a while who boasted of being a former satanic priest. So we used to hold Bible studies in my room just to annoy him," Gough said. "What's funny is, about seven months after I left prison, I got a letter from one of the inmates saying that man had become a Christian. Sometimes all it takes is, you plant the seed and trust God to find a way to water it and be available. We don't save souls. God does."
Gough was put into a work release program and was released from prison in July 1983. He had established ties with the Episcopal Church through some of the people ministering in the KAIROS group. While in prison he had sponsored his father to attend a retreat. Now out of prison, he began attending the church his father was attending.
"I was asked to come to the youth group meeting and give them my testimony about going to prison and coming to faith in prison and what that meant."
The youth group experience led Gough to become a volunteer in the youth ministry. Eventually he became the youth minister.
Life wasn't always easy for Gough from then on. He was engaged. Three weeks before the wedding, his fiancee became sick and died.
"I spent a long time trying to deal with that and had some anger toward God," Gough said. "But he never left me, no matter what I said and did. God was always there to comfort me. He provided what I needed."
Gough had a job managing a Palm Beach marina and took a similar job in Ocean City, Md. He continued volunteering in youth ministry.
"While I was there, I was talking with my dad on the phone. He had moved to Ohio. Someone grabbed the phone away from him and said, "You need to come here and get the healing you need.' It was my dad's priest, who had been over for dinner. I needed to deal with my grief and guilt and anger at God. I needed to be able to let go of it. I was so struck by what (the priest) did that later that night I packed what I could on my Triumph Spitfire, abandoned my furniture and most of my possessions, and drove to Ohio the next day."
While there, Gough started a youth ministry at his father's church.
"That was my first paid position as a youth minister," Gough said. "Father Ron hired me to start a program there. I told him I wasn't qualified, not worthy, not trained. He said, "That's okay. We'll trust God.' It's the same argument I put up when God called me to full-time ministry, and God's answer was, "That's okay. I am.' I still approach the altar with fear and trembling."
It was in Ohio that Gough learned about a gift that he has.
"What I have is a gift for seeing others' gifts and enabling them to put their gifts to work."
"What do I do now?'
One day, after he felt the ministry was running fine without him, Gough heard God speaking.
"I was praying by myself in church and God said to me, "You're finished here. You've done what I've called you to do.' I said, "Wait a minute, what you called me to do? I thought I came here for healing. I thought I came here for me. If I'm through here, what do I do now?' I didn't perceive an answer. I knew I was through there, but didn't know what to do. I talked with Father Ron and he asked what I like to do. I told him I love boating. He said, "Try that. When God needs you again, he'll call you.' "
Gough went back to Florida and back into marina management. He continued in youth ministry. Eventually he met a woman who became his wife, Sharon, and felt the call to full-time ministry, leaving a job that paid $60,000 a year for one that paid $9,660.
Over the next several years Gough began raising a family and put his gift to work in youth ministries throughout the country and in Nassau, the Bahamas. Meanwhile, he petitioned the state to be released from parole.
"I went with 180 letters from kids and adults that I'd worked with over the years in youth ministry. One of the commissioners said, "If there was ever a case of the system working to change somebody's life for the good, this was the case.' In my mind I thought, "It wasn't the system; it was Jesus.' "
While in the Bahamas, Gough said he felt called to become a priest.
"I decided to come back to the U.S. to pursue ordination. From the fall of '95 to the spring of '97, I obtained a bachelor of arts in organizational management with the emphasis on youth and family ministries. Right after I finished getting my degree, I had my civil rights restored by Lawton Chiles and I went to seminary."
After seminary, Gough came to Citrus County as deacon in charge at Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church. He was ordained a priest in December 2000.
Recently he planted the church "for Anglicans who really have a sincere desire to remain faithful to holy Scripture to go to."
Gough says his life since the conversion has had a theme.
"Here I am. I've got everything finished except my final revision of my thesis for my doctorate. I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. My uncle and my grandfather were ordained Methodist ministers. I was evangelized by Southern Baptists in prison. I became a youth minister in an Episcopal church. I even did a brief bit of youth ministry in a Lutheran Church. I went to a Church of God undergraduate school and an Episcopal seminary. And I finally have come to realize, with all of this education and theological education, that Bill was right. It's just Jesus."