By MaryAnn Kromer, firstname.lastname@example.org
BASCOM The congregation at Union United Church of Christ has a new pastor, the Rev. James Kent, as of January. He led the Jan. 23 service, just two days after moving to Bascom. When he started, only about two dozen people were attending the service. That number has been rising steadily in a month's time.
"I think this is a welcoming, warm church, very friendly. I really want to teach the Bible here. I want to get a Sunday school started soon and a Bible study (on a day) later in the week," Kent said.
Lori Knupp, who served on the pastoral search committee, said about 195 people are registered in the church, but attendance had been sparse. She was pleased to have a full-time pastor instead of a trying to find guest preachers every week.
"We were without a pastor for four and a half years," Knupp said.
Kent has two degrees from Johnson Bible College in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. He earned an associate's degree in youth ministry and Bible in 1996 and a bachelor of science degree in leadership and ministry in 2000. For the past 17 years, he has ministered in Presbyterian, United Methodist and Disciples of Christ churches.
"I just go where I think God's calling me to go. I'm hoping this is my last parish, because I want to stay here and retire," Kent said.
A partnership between Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ allows him to preach for either denomination. Kent said he likes the inclusiveness and tolerance of the United Church of Christ, which welcomes people of all races, social levels and sexual preferences. He said his goal was to find a congregation who wanted to hear the word of God and be open to it. The Bascom church was looking for a conservative, Bible preacher.
"That's me," Kent said. "With the Bible, you've got to agree with it."
Ministry was not Kent's first career. For three years, he worked as a member of his local sheriff's department. He said he loved being able to help people in need of protection or advice, but his life soon would take a different turn to help people in a different capacity.
"I worked at a summer church camp. My cousin was a counselor, and she asked me to come be a counselor. I was in law enforcement before that, and I never dreamed of going into ministry or working with kids. The whole week I was there, I felt like the spirit was just tugging on my heartstrings (saying), 'I want you to be in ministry,'" Kent said.
After that, he spoke to the senior pastor at his home church. The pastor encouraged him to pray about what to do. Kent said about two weeks passed before he returned. Then things happened quickly. His church offered to pay half of his tuition from a scholarship fund it had put aside, and he was accepted immediately at Johnson.
Prior to his Bascom assignment, Kent was serving a church in Kinston, N.C. He said he wanted to be closer to Pittsburgh, where his ex-wife lives. The couple has two daughters, and they share custody of the younger child, meeting halfway to make the exchanges.
The older girl spends summers with her mother and stays with her father during the school year. Kent visited Bascom in October and December to see the church and the community.
"When I asked God for a church, I prayed for one I could build up and stay there until retirement age. I don't like moving, and I think longevity is better. You can reach more people. You become one of them, and they know you're going to stay here," Kent said.
Another plus has been support from Cal Cook, Art Niewiadomski and Terry Steinhauer, the Methodist, Catholic and Church of God pastors in Bascom, respectively. The four ministers meet once a week for breakfast.
"We share ideas and pray for each other's ministry. I like it. I like having that partnership. ... They just opened right up and accepted me," Kent said.
In his free time, Kent likes to spend time with his girls, watch movies and play basketball. He said he works out three or four days a week at Tiffin Community YMCA. In addition to doing some handyman projects at the church, he has been visiting with members of his new congregation.
"I enjoy going to people's homes, sitting down and getting to know them," Kent said.