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A Note from Pastor Bruce

Beloved People of God,

I’ve heard the question wondering why it is important for St. Stephen to adopt Kountze Memorial and expand our mission in Louisville, OH. I’m glad you asked!

You’ve heard me share my belief that God has a destiny for each one of us. This summer, we have also heard Paul share this reality as we have been exploring St. Paul’s letter to the

Ephesians this summer. The destiny is this: That we should be a holy and loving people. God’s own adopted children. That’s God’s dream for us!

At the time that Ephesians was written, when people heard “adoption,” they knew that was a

serious word. There was a ceremony in those days if you were to adopt a child. The biological father brought the child forward in this ceremony and gave the child over to the adoptive father and then took the child back. A second time he gave the child over, had time to think, then took the child back. And a third time, he turned the child over and the adopted father took the child. Then the adopted father took the child to the highest judge in the city, the highest Roman authority, and pleaded the case to adopt that child. Once that process was finally done, that child had a brand-new beginning. That child was accepted just as a blood-born child in that family. That child had all the right, privileges, everything that a natural born child would enjoy. If that child had any obligations in the past, they were totally wiped out. A new life had begun.

That’s what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. God has adopted us as his children. We are made new people. The old has passed. The gift of new life and new hope is given. This is the treasure of the church, a treasure we are called to share. The way we have shared it through our mission statement is that we are here to help you experience God’s love so you can love like Christ. This is what we are trying to share through the adoption of Kountze. Therefore we believe it is vitally important to expand this mission into Louisville, OH.

Because it is important, and since the affirmative vote to begin the due diligence process

between St. Stephen and Kountze Memorial, we have been hard at work. A planning group

comprised of three members of the executive council from both Kountze Memorial and St.

Stephen have been meeting to ensure the adoption is managed in the healthiest way possible. The members of the team from Kountze Memorial include Larry Kessler, President; Bridget Linsmaier, Secretary; and Sharon Kibler, Treasurer. From St. Stephen: Paul Mallue, Vice President; Amy Wagner, Secretary; Rhonda Kolarits, Treasurer; Pastor Andrew; and me. Along with the legal components of the due diligence we are working diligently to bring us together as one family of faith in Christ Jesus. The goal is to be one church in two locations.

To accomplish this, not unlike the diligence it took to adopt a child at the time of the Ephesians, there is work we must do together to become one family of faith. We are trying to ensure that we are creating a culture or environment that is conducive to developing life. That is why the Church exists. The Church exists to transform lives; to call people “out of” the world’s culture (ekklesia=church; literally means “to call out of”) into God’s Reign.

St. Stephen spent much time, thoughtful prayer and energy creating our guiding statements including our Mission; Vision; Values. It is important that as we come together as one faith family these guiding statements are embodied by both communities. It is an opportunity for both faith communities to review these statements, learn why the are important and discover a new ways we can be the church in the world.

The work includes several steps. We will be gathering demographic data and interviewing community leaders in Louisville, Jackson Township, and the greater Stark County area. We also want to invite both churches to participate in two fellowship building events. Below is a timeline of events in which we hope everyone will participate:

First, on Sunday, August 29 at 12:30 p.m. we will be conducting a History Gathering in the fellowship hall at Kountze Memorial. We invite you to bring a dish to share together. We want you to help tell the story of the congregations and see how God’s timing has led us to this point of joining in mission together as one family of faith. A large timeline is on the wall

covering the life of the congregation and significant events in the congregation and community, e.g. pastorates, building projects, events that affected the congregation. We will explore the highs and the lows of our respective congregations. We will invite you to share significant events and we will hear the story of the churches together.

Second, on Sunday, September 26 at 12:30 p.m. we will be conducting a Scriptural and Experiential Gathering in the Family Life Center at St. Stephen. A meal will be provided, and everyone is invited to share a dessert. During this time, we will explore how our guiding documents must be grounded in scripture. You will be invited to share meaningful bible passages for you and your family as well as the significant personal experiences you have had on your faith journey being part of the church. It’s important to hear one another’s stories.

October 3, 2021 is the goal date we have set in order to have our due diligence completed and be able to vote to affirm the adoption of Kountze Memorial to become part of the St. Stephen family of faith. Announcements will be made concerning the votes at both congregations at least one month in advance.

On November 7, it is our hope to focus our worship services on a unifying worship experience at both campuses. More details will be forthcoming.

Please continue to pray and share your support and/or questions and concerns with anyone on the team as we move forward toward adoption. Let us know if you would like to share your gifts and help with the process.

There is no more important work, in my opinion, than helping you experience God’s love so you can grow to love like Christ. Through this adoption, we will be able to expand our ability to live into this mission. May God continue to lead us and guide us to be a church where love lives!

See You Sunday,

Pastor Bruce

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