Despite differences, two pastors work together to rid Kent of ‘hurt’

Jenna Staul

Hunched over a counter on Depeyster Street in downtown Kent, Arnold Smith and Scott Budzar are enjoying what they consider to be the best coffee in town. While sipping their cups of joe, the two exchange the type of inside jokes and comical banter exclusive to an intimate friendship.

“We don’t have a loud voice,” Budzar said. “But the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing, and we are crazy enough to think we can do something about it.”

Budzar is the pastor of the Vineyard, a predominantly white church in Kent. His friend, Smith, is the pastor of Bread of Life, a predominantly black Free Methodist church also in Kent. Together, the two have crossed racial and religious boundaries to forge a friendship and reach out to a community in need.

“There’s a lot of hurt in Kent,” Budzar said. “A lot of poverty – almost 6,000 people living below the poverty line, and it’s almost entirely single moms. So we try to help. We get into this stuff not really knowing what we’re doing but knowing that we’re doing something.”

And that “something” has come in the form of a number of charitable ventures that give the Bread of Life and Vineyard churches a unique approach to the usual Christian worship.

“Church as we know it is fading,” Smith said. “It needs to fade because people are looking for answers. People come here because it’s real. We’re not just going up to a homeless person and saying ‘Hey, come to church, 6 o’clock’- they don’t have a car to get here. We go to them.”

It all started nearly a year ago when, after the suggestion of a friend, Budzar extended an impromptu introduction to fellow pastor Smith.

“I just jumped in my minivan and literally went to the doors (of Bread of Life church), but they were locked, so I went to the house on the property,” said Budzar of the initiation of his friendship with Smith. “I felt like a freak. I just laid it out: I’m a pastor, and our church is really white, and we’d like to change that.”

Since then, the two have formed a connection between their respective churches that extends outward into the community of Kent to help those less fortunate.

The churches sponsor grocery give-aways, free dinners, toiletry item donations for those on welfare and have taken several shelters under their wing, including Safer Futures, a haven for women and children in the throes of domestic violence, and Miller House, the only shelter in Portage County to take in men.

Each Friday, the churches stock a U-Haul with furniture and housewares for a person starting a new life after leaving Miller House.

“We said, ‘Instead of doing church, let’s help,'” Budzar said. “We couldn’t just sit around and do nothing. It’s all about humility.”

And in the wake of recent racially motivated vandalism at Theodore Roosevelt High School, the pastors, who perform services together regularly, feel the need to connect the racial divide in Kent is at its greatest.

“We are going to hold meetings at our church to further discuss it (the vandalism),” Smith said. “Kids don’t come into the world hating.”

What exists at the core of the benevolent work led by Budzar and Smith is both a desire to reach out to a community and a simple friendship.

“We’re here to help, not advertise ourselves or push an agenda,” said Budzar. “We spend more time making fun of each other than solving the world’s problems.”

Contact features correspondent Jenna Staul at [email protected].