Local church closes its doors

Vineyard Community Church members enjoy a slideshow during the church’s last potluck get-together. The song “On a Sunday” plays as they reflect on the fun times they’ve shared. Photo by MICHELLE BAIR.

Vineyard Community Church members enjoy a slideshow during the church’s last potluck get-together. The song “On a Sunday” plays as they reflect on the fun times they’ve shared. Photo by MICHELLE BAIR.

Michelle Bair

Lights with big, old-fashioned bulbs dimly illuminate a room full of people from seniors in college to senior citizens and all the ages before and in between.

The band Bethesda, one of several musicians to take the stage, passionately performs the song “I’ve found a Safe Place.” Some softly sing along, while others listen silently and sip coffee. Children frolic free-spiritedly, while a gray-bearded artist paints in the same spot he’s been painting at every week since it first opened. The small side building rests behind the Kent Stage, in the company of boxes filled with cookies, croissants, loaves of bread, pies and buns – and a sign that reads: “FREE BREAD: COME ON IN.”

Members of The Vineyard Community Church gathered one last time Sunday night before the building’s ultimate transition to the Anonymous Relief Mission House. After an ongoing financial battle, four moving periods and over a decade of serving the community, the non-traditional place of worship has touched the lives of many.

Through ARM, The Vineyard has helped more than 450 families, individuals and single parents in Portage County since 2006, the year the Rev. Scott Budzar founded the organization.  In the last four years alone, the church has obtained and given away over 300,000 loaves of bread and baked goods that were donated by Giant Eagle and Panera Bread, according to Budzar. Church services at The Vineyard were not typical; in fact it was common for Budzar to cuss—demonstrating that although he is a pastor, he is not afraid to be himself.

Future of the ARM House

Although the Vineyard church services have ended, The ARM House will endure as a place to assist the poor and a venue for bands to play.

ARM’s main mission is moving people out of safe houses and homeless shelters and into permanent housing, working closely with Coleman Professional Services, Safer Futures, Miller House and Freedom House in Portage County.

Immediate plans for The ARM House are every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Fridays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Donated groceries, including frozen meat, pastries and breads, will be given to those who need them. Volunteers can arrive at 9:30 a.m. until the end time on both days.

There will be an ARM meeting Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at The ARM House. Future plans will be discussed, including the development of Saturday crews to pick up furniture donations and goods.

For more information about how to help with ARM go to http://www.armonlinehelp.org

“I will never forget this girl who visited our church and asked what we were like,” Budzar said.  “I told her that essentially some of us are struggling drug addicts, some of us are recovering drug addicts, some of us are professional cussers, some are professors working on their doctorates, some are stay-at-home parents, some of us are jobless, and that is who we are.”

He said that girl responded with, “I could never be a part of a place as unhealthy as that.” Budzar explained that it took a little dialogue to understand where she was coming from, and it was a portrayal that the church is supposed to be “all fixed up.”

“I told her that she was going to hate it here then,” Budzar said.  “I’ve said for years that we are a burn unit. We are like the emergency room for people who are sick and tired of getting burned through churches, and it is not to say that we are any better, I just think that we have been really honest about who we are. We haven’t figured anything out better than anybody else. I think what I love most about this place is we are just not afraid to say we are jacked up.”

As some may be skeptical about going to church because of the underlying stigma of being judged by the people, The Vineyard has a reputation of practicing the opposite. The human race is imperfect, and this church welcomed that.

“The primary focus of The Vineyard is to love others,” said Jonathan Capps, who lives in Stow and was an active member of The Vineyard since it started. “Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors,” Capps said. “They need love too.”

Capps said there is no feeling like being able to provide for someone who needs it.

Heather Smith-Kirkpatrick and her husband Josh Smith went to The Vineyard for close to four years.  They are in charge of bread runs, being two of numerous Vineyard volunteers. Smith-Kirkpatrick said she will miss the people and the get-togethers.

“It is one of the very few places, church-wise, where I feel comfortable just coming and not having to put on a mask where I’ve got it all together,” Smith-Kirkpatrick said.

Contact Michelle Bair at [email protected].