Colette M. Jenkins


Grace Church is branching out to include a campus in Medina.



The church, which attracts about 4,000 worshippers to its eight weekend services at campuses in Norton and Bath Township, will launch a new Medina East campus on Sunday at 2325 Medina Road. Services at the former plastics molding factory will begin at 9 and 10:45 a.m.



“Our hope is to build a congregation here while renovating the building at the same time,” said Tony Livigni, Medina East campus pastor. “We have remodeled enough space in the building for a temporary worship area and classrooms. We hope to transform the big bay area into the permanent auditorium for worship within the next year or so.”



The Medina East campus is the result of a merger between Grace Church of greater Akron and the former Shepherd’s Grace in Medina.



“They asked us to come alongside them because their congregation was small and they wanted to redeem the resources that people in their congregation have given to the Lord. They were willing to give up their building to be part of a new work and we saw it as an opportunity to reach more people for the Lord,” said the Rev. Jeff Bogue, senior pastor.



Grace Church is part of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, based in Winona Lake, Ind. It began in the mid-1940s as a Bible study and formed as a congregation in 1958. Two years later, the congregation moved to its first church building, at the site of its Norton campus, 3970 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road.



The worship space at the Norton campus, which is led by the Rev. Dan Gregory, was heavily damaged by an electrical fire in January 2011. The congregation moved back into its refurbished auditorium on Nov. 25.



The Bath campus was formed in the fall of 1999, when the Norton church and the former Fairlawn Grace Brethren church agreed to merge and become one church on two campuses. Its location at 754 Ghent Road is the former home of the Fairlawn church.



In October, Grace Church purchased the former St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 565 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road, where it plans to open its Montrose campus in the next 18 months. Bogue said plans for the Montrose property will include more than a million dollars in renovations. That project is not expected to start until work at the East Medina campus is completed.



Sunday’s opening at the Medina campus is characterized as a “soft opening,” which will allow staff to get organized, visitors to become familiar with the church and congregants to become more familiar with the community it will serve.



A grand opening at the Medina campus is expected to be planned for next spring, after an estimated $2 million renovation project is finished at the 20,000-square-foot building that sits on 18 acres.



Livigni, 32, said he is excited about leading the new campus. He expects to start with 150 to 200 people, including some who currently attend services at the Bath campus. The temporary auditorium at the Medina East campus can seat about 150 people. Plans for the permanent auditorium include seating for at least 350 worshippers.



Livigni, an Akron native, was part of the congregation at Fairlawn Grace Brethren when it merged with Grace Church. Shortly after the churches came together, he left for school at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. When he returned home in 2004, he began volunteering at the church. He joined the staff a year later, working in college ministry.



“It’s been amazing to see how the little church that I once belonged to has grown and become more alive. I look forward to that story being retold here in Medina,” Livigni said. “It’s becoming our legacy to join with smaller congregations who want to keep reaching people for God and to become one family that reaches out to meet the needs of the people in our community.”



Bogue said that Grace Church is always interested in joining with smaller congregations to effectively minister to people at a community level.



“We are not interested in constructing mammoth buildings. Our philosophy is to be rooted in a community. We never want to have more than 500 people in a service and our plan includes a pastor at each campus,” Bogue said. “Our passion is to reach people with the good news of Jesus. We believe we have an effective system that lets us capture all of the benefits of a megachurch while attending to the specific needs of smaller communities.”



The Norton campus offers services at 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. on Sundays. The Bath campus has services at 5:30 and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 8:45, 10:15 and 11:45 a.m. on Sundays. Grace also has church plants in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood and Strongsville.



Although each campus has its own personality, shaped by the pastor and the community it serves, Grace has a casual, come as you are atmosphere. Worship music is typically provided by a live band. A café and age-specific activities for children and youth are available.



The church is part of the Brethren tradition which maintains the basic beliefs of Christianity and emphasizes peace, simplicity and the equality of believers. Brethren often describe themselves based on what they do rather than what they believe, subscribing to the biblical principle that “faith without works is dead.”



The Brethren Church is one of the historic peace churches, along with Mennonites, Amish and Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).



Because the Brethren label is not easy to define and tends to create confusion, leaders of the local church intentionally drop it in their name, referring to it simply as Grace Church of Greater Akron.



More information about Grace can be found at www.graceohio.org or by calling 330-666-8341 or 330-825-6291



Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.