A Safe Place to Explore Faith and Community

St. Stephen UMC   -  

We’ve all heard the old cliché: “God moves in mysterious ways.” Apparently, God moves through the U.S. Postal Service, too, as was the experience for Ira Bukzin and his introduction to St. Stephen.

Years ago, Ira had received an outreach postcard from St. Stephen. “It indicated that the church’s vision was ‘to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus,’” Ira shared recently. “For some reason, I saved that card, and then, quite some time later, when I was going over things, I found it.”

In 2019, Ira decided to call the church, got introduced to members here, and started attending regularly.

But Ira’s faith journey had already been years in the making. Ira, who is now 76, was born and raised in New York City. After a job loss, he moved to Charlotte in his early 40s. “I couldn’t afford to stay in New York where the prices were so high,” he says. His wife’s son had lived in North Carolina and had recommended it. They chose Charlotte because it was the state’s biggest city.

“When I got to Charlotte, I still didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any leads for a job,” he recounts. “I didn’t know anybody, and I’d never been here before, so it was a white-knuckle time. But, with grace, I pulled through it.” He’s loved the Queen City ever since.

As if the move from New York wasn’t a big enough life change, Ira’s outlook on the world was also growing and changing. Challenges in life had begun to shift some of his perspectives. New friendships, including with an Episcopalian priest, had introduced him to Christianity. Through these conversations and other experiences, Ira found himself wanting to learn more about the Christian faith.

“I was very happy in Judaism,” he says. “I regularly went to services, but I felt drawn to St. Stephen, and after I began going, I very much wanted to be a member of the congregation.”

At St. Stephen, Ira found a welcoming community that respected his faith journey, invited questions, and gave him the freedom to explore. He attended church services, Sunday small groups, and Bible studies. Members helped drive him to church and back home. He found St. Stephen to be “a wonderful community of people committed to doing good works” on behalf of other people, drawing him closer to the faith and growing his desire to get baptized.

That day came on Sunday, March 10, 2024. With family by his side, Ira made his way into St. Stephen with a flurry of emotions.

“I was very much looking forward to it,” Ira shares. “I thought that I would be very nervous and anxious, but that didn’t happen. I was very calm and composed and receptive to the ceremony.”

Ira’s baptism was followed by a time of friendship and fellowship, a continued confirmation, he says, of the kind of close-knit community which originally drew him to St. Stephen.

Friends and family joined Ira for a reception following his baptism on March 10.

Ira lives in Statesville now, where he’s connecting with a local United Methodist congregation there, but he knows he has friends and a community at St. Stephen. He regularly chats with members over the phone and corresponds with others through written notes and letters. “I save the letters,” he says. “It’s very helpful when people share with me and I share with them.” He plans on visiting St. Stephen when he’s able.

Reflecting on his baptism and new-found community, Ira is thankful: “I would like to express my gratitude and love for all the people I have met at St. Stephen.”

Do you have questions of faith? Looking for a place to explore? St. Stephen welcomes you wherever you are on your faith journey and invites you to a space where you can grow and learn freely in your faith.