MASSILLON — At 18, Sara Koons was a student at Smith College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts.
While she was on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree in Classical and Medieval Studies, Koons knew she was called by a higher power.
But his path to the pulpit was not a straight line. It took her a little longer to realize what God had planned for her.
She completed her bachelor’s degrees and later earned a master’s degree in divinity.
The 40-year-old recently accepted her first ministry at First Christian Church. She was installed as pastor of the church earlier this month.
Following a higher power in Massillon, Ohio
As the world began to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Koons was fired from her administrative job.
Wondering what she was going to do, she enrolled in a graduate certificate in pastoral counseling.
“God just came and said, ‘I called you on this and you didn’t go full throttle,'” she said. “He gave me the passion and the drive to get into it. I said go send me, Father. I’ll follow you anywhere. I followed him to Massillon, Ohio.”
Koons replaces Steven Gower, who accepted a ministry at North Olmsted in early 2020, church board chairwoman Brenda Baker said.
“Everything was fine until March and the pandemic hit,” Baker said. “It’s usually not a big deal. Retired ministers often help out, but we couldn’t bring anyone in.”
Baker noted that many retired ministers are elderly and because of the pandemic they were reluctant to replace them.
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Without in-person services for more than a year, the church has relied on volunteer ministers, she said. A few church members, many of whom were not tech-savvy, broadcast the services, along with music and sometimes a sermon.
In August 2021, the church finally secured an acting minister in Robert Hudson, Baker said. With an interim pastor in place, church leaders could get to work finding a new leader.
A search committee worked with the regional ministry to find Gower’s replacement. They knew it would not be an easy or quick task.
“We don’t want them to come to Massillon and not like football.”
In order to find the right person, Baker said, the search committee compiled information about the church and its members, salaries, the local job market and school systems for potential candidates.
“We don’t want them to come to Massillon and not like football,” Baker joked. “A lot of them are bringing kids and their spouses. We want them to know what jobs are available.”
With the pandemic, the search committee made phone and Zoom calls to speak with applicants.
Many candidates were reluctant to move their families to Massillon due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.
“It’s hard to put your family together when you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months,” she said.
Under normal circumstances, potential candidates would visit the church and the community, Baker added.
It was a struggle, she said. They sent letters and contacted colleges specializing in the ministry asking them to post the job offer.
Koons was one of the students to see the job posting.
She called Baker in September and over the next few months the search committee had several conversations with Koons by phone and Zoom. Koons gave a mini-sermon via Zoom to about a third of the church.
But Baker was worried. Koons never had a church of her own and it was nerve-wracking. She also lived 700 miles away and had never been to Massillon. That didn’t seem to phase Koons – after all, his favorite color is orange. She would fit into the Tiger Nation.
There were several conversations with the regional minister about Koons’ abilities and whether she would be able to handle the job, Baker said.
The regional minister assured Baker that Koons had the necessary schooling and was ready to take charge of her own church.
In January, the church transported Koons to the City of Champions and she delivered a sermon to the congregation.
“We fell in love with her,” Baker said.
They offered him the job the following week.
“She can take a Bible verse about Peter, James and John and how they relate to today.”
Baker said Koons’ sermons are relevant and provide much of what is happening in the world today.
“She can take a Bible verse about Peter, James and John and how they relate to today,” she said.
After accepting the job, Koons jumped in. She wanted to buy a house, and Baker put her in touch with a local real estate agent.
Baker and her husband served as eyes for Koons as the agent took them through potential homes. Koons joined via Facebook for the tours. The couple wanted to make sure Koons would find a great home. Finally, they did. She signed the papers without ever setting foot in the house, Baker said.
When she finally moved into the house, the bakers invited her to dinner.
“I like to dream big and inspire others to dream big.”
Koons is thrilled to take on her first job as a pastor. With the easing of COVID restrictions and the increase in the number of people vaccinated, members must return to church, she said.
She looks forward to the future of the congregation.
“I have a lot of plans,” Koons said. “I like to dream big and inspire others to dream big. I have a few plans but mostly I’m trying to listen right now.”
Koons kissed Massillon. She has joined the Massillon Area Clergy Association and her church intends to participate in IMPACT Massillon this summer to help rehabilitate a targeted area of the city.
She has also joined the Stark County Coalition for Prevention of Suicide, adding that she is amazed at the work the team is doing.
Koons joining the church is a great moment for the congregation, Baker said, adding that with a pastor, the church can stabilize and begin to seek opportunity and growth.
“COVID has made everything very difficult,” Baker said. “I must have faith in God. He made me wait until I found the perfect minister.”
Contact Amy at 330-775-1135 or [email protected]
On Twitter: @aknappINDE