On Saturday, Sept. 23, The Bridge Bible Church will once again celebrate BridgeFest, a free, community-wide, family friendly event featuring a chili cook-off, free food, a bounce house and games. Festivities will take place in the parking lot and grounds adjacent to the church at 701 Rivard St. starting at 5 p.m.
BridgeFest will also serve as an opportunity for community members to meet The Bridge's new lead pastor, Rob Kaczmarek.
Kaczmarek moved his wife Bethany and their five children to Somerset two months ago from Jarrettsville, Maryland, where he had served as an associate pastor for the previous nine years. Bethany works as a professional writer and editor. She just published her first book in the young Christian adult market titled, "Strains of Silence." Prior to moving to Somerset, Rob and Bethany had home schooled all of their children. Despite growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, due mostly to his father's allegiances, Kaczmarek is a fan of the Chicago Bears and Cubs while Bethany roots for the Steelers. However, it is still very early and we all know the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Here's a tip. To break the ice with Kaczmarek, talk balls and strikes: America's favorite pastime, baseball. He attended Charleston Southern University (CSU) to play Division 1 baseball. That is also where he met his wife, accepted Christ and chose to follow a different path, one that would eventually lead him to The Bridge and Somerset.
"I never really felt that I was going to be a pastor. I didn't think I was that guy. But as I gained more experiences in ministry, I found that I was equipped in different ways. Coming from the mission field to being an associate (pastor) was a big step. It's a very different setting. I came from a mission agency sharing faith primarily with people out in the community who may not even be people of faith, to working predominantly with only people of faith in a church setting," explained Kaczmarek.
Upon graduating from CSU, Rob married Bethany and enrolled at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Thomasville, North Carolina. Several years later, divinity degree in hand, he accepted a position with the International Missions Board, packed up Bethany and their infant son Caleb, and headed overseas to embark on six years of mission work planting and equipping churches, working with youth and young adults and evangelizing at numerous posts throughout Poland and Lithuania.
When a serious illness struck Aidan, their third child, Kaczmarek and Bethany headed back to the United States for treatment in 2006. A medical leave from the Missions Board lead Kaczmarek to pursue formal church ministry in earnest while Bethany returned to work as a school teacher to help make ends meet.
Kaczmarek's experience working briefly for a small church in North Carolina followed by his extended stay in Maryland helped him transition his focus from connections and concerns out in the community and the surrounding culture, to learning the administrative responsibilities of running a church from preaching and programs to budgeting and time management. He gives credit to his lead pastor in Jarrettsville, John Manry, for mentoring him and preparing him for leading a church of his own.
When the time came to find his own church, an ad on the Gospel Coalition's web site caught his eye and the deliberate and thoughtful process of matching a pastor to a congregation began.
Determining whether he was the right person for the position at The Bridge required elements of a long distance courtship, a theological inquest and faith.
For his part, Kaczmarek trusted in something he calls the leading of the spirit, being open to divine guidance. The more members of the Somerset congregation and Kaczmarek shared questions and conversations via Skype and the phone, the more desirable matching actual faces with actual voices in person became.
"We tried to talk about everything we could before there was ever a conversation about flying me out here. That was really good because it slowed the process down a little bit to where, in a couple of the interviews by video, I got to see some faces, they got to see me, and we both got a sense of how we interacted with each other," said Kaczmarek.
In the Baptist denomination, there is no hierarchy to dictate where pastors preach and for how long. The uniting organization is the Mission Board.
"All of the churches are independent. They agree to work together for the goal of missions. That's why the Baptist church started, to do missions here in the U.S. and overseas. They all agree on the basic tenets of the faith, how we view the scriptures and the authority of the scriptures. They help place ministers by placing ads on different Christian websites but a lot of the process is entrusted to the leading of the spirit," said Kaczmarek.
By the time Kaczmaek finally made the flight out, he had already discussed the possibility of a move with his three oldest children and taken their feedback into consideration. His extended visit included a theological discussion with pastors representing member churches from the Converge Great Lakes network (a regional network of Baptist churches to which The Bridge belongs), meals and candid discussions with church staff and volunteers including The Bridge's Board of Elders and meals and an open question and answer session with members of the congregation. He also had an opportunity to observe services and programs for several weeks to get a sense of the rhythm of the church and finally to, preach. Some of the most important exchanges took place between Kaczmarek and outgoing pastor, Sean Strubbe.
"We got the sense that it was a very healthy situation, that he was leaving on good terms and he was an open book with our questions," said Kaczmarek.
Since his arrival, Kaczmarek has been working with church elders to best utilize his strengths in preaching, teaching and counseling to advance the vision of the church.
"That vision is crafted by our four elders and myself. That means there has to be give and take. We have to talk through issues to create unity and consensus around that table. It also means I can't make or break the church by myself. It provides stability to the church. My job is to encourage and to equip and to grow people of faith and to help them walk with God in a deeper and more tangible way. We want to get to a point where our church and our people are very active in Somerset in all kinds of ways, taking advantage of whatever opportunities are available. We want people to know, we are ordinary people of extraordinary faith."