Gary and Jennie Underwood had nearly exhausted their list of options to secure a location for their church plant. Underwood began serving as Campus Pastor at the newly-formed Grace Church, Ellet Campus, in Akron, Ohio, in July of 2016, after serving as senior pastor at Delaware Grace (Delaware, Ohio), for nearly 12 years.
After considering 11 locations in East Akron, they finally visited Springfield High School in southeast Akron – a large school with a beautiful new auditorium and cafeteria.
“When we first walked through it, I could envision everything,” said Underwood. “The kids’ ministry, the cafe, the nursery – it’s like the facility was designed for a new church!”
He wasn’t hopeful, though.
“There’s no way we could afford this!”
After meeting the facilities director and principal – who are both believers — the Underwoods were astonished when the school offered to rent the building at an attractive price.
“Springfield became the perfect partner! It’s like God placed people strategically here for such a time as this,” said Underwood.
Grace Church’s Ellet Campus began meeting in January of 2017. But their story starts long before that, as God’s hand moved to bring a new congregation together.
For decades, the Ellet Grace Brethren Church was an historic church in east Akron and the birthplace of Grace Seminary. But the church struggled to find ways to impact its community. With a dwindling congregation and dated church building in need of massive repairs, Pastor Jonathan Carey approached Pastor Jeff Bogue of Grace Church, a multi-campus church with the heart and vision to plant 30 gospel-centered campuses in 30 years.
“They talked, they prayed,” recalls Underwood. “They started talking with the leaders at the old Ellet church; they landed on this question – would the Ellet congregation vote to dissolve their church? Give it all to Grace Church and say, ‘Let’s plant a Grace Church campus in Ellet’?”
The Ellet congregation voted an overwhelming “yes,” and began a transition as part of the new launch. Leaders began meeting, praying, and preparing for what was to come. This sort of initiative takes humility, courage, and delicacy from everybody. In this case, people met the transition with grace and excitement about a fresh start.
“We had three groups of people,” said Underwood. “We had a new congregation – a third of them from the big church (Grace Church of Greater Akron). Many others joined us from the old Ellet church. And others were people from east or south Akron eager to be a part of a new church on a mission.”
Today, the new campus is thriving and growing. Drenched in prayer, leaders, and staff are working hard at helping a new congregation unite around Christ and His mission – a brand-new church incorporating the old and the new, large and small.
And the high school? It’s a perfectly-placed home for the Grace Church while they look towards the future of securing a permanent location. For now, though, it also serves to bring people together.
“The setup and teardown [each Sunday] and people serving together has been a bonding place,” notes Jennie Underwood. “It crosses those barriers. We’re all brand‑new in this adventure.”
Gary is inspired by the first steps taken by Pastor Carey to bring about the much-needed transition. “We need more pastors who care more about the mission than about their own comfort or their own way of doing church,” he notes.
Pastor Jeff Bogue agrees, “For God to unify two groups of people – the old Ellet Grace Brethren Church and Grace Church – that’s no easy thing. I look [at that], and I say…God’s in that.”
If you’d like to stay connected and pray for the Underwoods and Grace Church’s Ellet Campus, like them on Facebook at “Grace Church, Ellet Campus” or email them here. Check out more about this story, shared by Pastor Jonathon Carey last July on GraceConnect, here.