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LaFarge settling into role as Grace pastor
When Wayne Unger announced he was retiring as pastor of Grace Community Christian Church, everyone wanted to know if the church's popular Journey to Bethlehem event would stay or go. Unger, who founded the event with his wife Sue, assured all that the tradition would go on.

Grace's new pastor, Steve LaFarge, wouldn't even think of canning the popular yuletide event. That's great news to the thousands who trek out to the Service Road church to re-enact the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph in the nativity story.

"It's a great outreach to the community," said LaFarge of Journey. "I hear that 5,000 to 7,000 people make it part of their annual holiday tradition."

To pull off Journey, LaFarge will be relying on church members like Pat Mason. She became a member after attending Journey and wanting to be a part of an active community-focussed church.

LaFarge isn't looking to change much at the church, home to about 200 worshipers each Sunday. For now he's getting familiar with the church, its practices, its membership and the community of Ceres.

"My philosophy of ministry is that people are looking for simple and straight forward. I like to be a church that loves God, loves people and serves the world. Jesus came to serve not be served."

LaFarge, 48, left a 17-year pastorship at First Christian Church in the eastern Washington town of Pasco to come to Ceres. He was wanting a change and thinking now would be a good time in his life to move out of Washington. Through a web of contacts channeled through William Jessup University of Rocklin, he was contacted by the church about coming to Ceres.

"It's a good fit," said LaFarge. "Ceres is very similar size and culture as Pasco."

Grace was born from a "church split" out of Ceres Christian Church in the early 1990s. Unger led his new flock to build a sanctuary/classroom building on an expanse of land on Service Road southeast of Ceres. The church has plans to add more buildings on the site but LaFarge obviously can't predict when building will take place. He's quick to point out that while attendance is "comfortably full" every Sunday, an option will be adding a second Sunday service to accommodate more worshipers.

LaFarge was raised in the Portland, Ore., area. For most of his life he's live in the Pacific Northwest except for the time he studied at San Jose Bible College. While there he landed a youth ministry position at a Bay Area church in 1980. After graduating he returned to Oregon where he pastored in Florence before moving to Washington.

His partner in ministry - besides wife Barb - is youth minister Kirk Evans who has been at Grace for years. The church is also adding interim music director Colleen Jerner of Turlock.

LaFarge said since coming to Grace in July that the church has updated its website to make it more interesting. The site is