Lords of the New Church

OnePlace gives new meaning to the phrase, "Rock me, Jesus"

For Israel Whittimore, OnePlace was a relief after attending many churches that he says were "pure performance" in their values. "I like the honesty of the people there, and the openness to being real," Whittimore says. "We're saying we have our faults and our weaknesses, but it's some way to find God, and to find church."

OnePlace identifies as a Christian church that believes Jesus Christ is "the one Lord" and the one path to salvation, and that the Bible is the Word of God. The church takes its name from the Biblical book of Acts 2, chapter 1, verse 11, which describes the birth of the Christian church ("When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together").

"For us, it's all about Jesus, and how we worship and how we show that is probably very, very different from a lot of churches, but that's what we're trying to do," Rob Tarr says.

A rock show at OnePlace draws a crowd of "cool kids."
Michael Alonzo
A rock show at OnePlace draws a crowd of "cool kids."
Longtime OnePlace staffer Adam Brooks.
Luke Holwerda
Longtime OnePlace staffer Adam Brooks.

Brooks stresses that the church is open to all kinds of lifestyles and fashions, and that members welcome anyone into the church -- including the pierced, tattooed, and gay -- because they believe that's what Jesus would have done, but also because they want their church to reflect the culture of this generation. But such liberalism doesn't apply to what they preach from the pulpit. "We want people to still feel welcome to come, but we don't want this to be a free-for-all where we teach everything," Brooks says. "What we are going to teach is God's word, and we want to stay true to that."

But opponents of the model say the methods of these contemporary churches debase the true gospel message, take the focus away from God, and offer members no real spiritual sustenance. "They're people who are close to their traditions," Brooks says. "We're saying, Screw tradition.'"

The art at OnePlace is usually more along the lines of the "Women With Guns" exhibition, but this past Easter, a muggy, pre-summer night, the art display is "The Stations of the Cross," one of the first religious-themed exhibitions to hang on OnePlace's walls.

Even this exhibition contains some things you'd never see on the walls of, say, the First Assembly of God. One of the largest paintings in the exhibition, Jeremiah Sazdanoff's Jesus Meets His Mother, depicts images of Christ and Mary behind a swarm of words and sentences, including "Crucify that mother fucker." The bright yellow "fuck" is the most prominent part of the painting. Even the "-er" is a more docile blue.

Behind the building, church members are bringing musical equipment through the back doors. Three homeless people -- two men and one woman -- are drinking and chatting it up on the curb. After a while, a beat-up Toyota Tercel with four men inside pulls up to the trio. The woman approaches the window, converses briefly with the driver, and climbs into the car.

Five minutes later, the Tercel comes tearing back down the street and screeches to a halt next to OnePlace. One of the men in the back seat flings the car door open and shoves the woman out onto the street. Barefoot and crying, she leaps up and runs after the fleeing Tercel.

"Gimme my money! They took my shoes! Help, police!"

There are three people unloading equipment at the back door of OnePlace. None of them approaches the screaming woman in the street.

During the Easter service, pastor Rob Tarr, wearing jeans, sits on a chair in front of the congregation and talks for all of 15 minutes. The congregation of about 40 people is spread out in front of him on a hodgepodge of chairs -- green lawn chairs, brown metal folding chairs, old elementary school desks with hard, utility-orange chairs, and other secondhand seats.

The subject of Tarr's sermon is where to find meaning.

"For Christians, there's a history of looking for meaning in the church. Spiritual meaning is never meant to be limited to the church," he says. "Can we find meaning in the stuff we do on a regular basis? Is there meaning in folding the laundry or scooping the dog poop? I think there is."

When the offering plate is passed around, there's no announcement or fanfare. No one looks to see how much money anybody else is dropping into the little red pail. By the time the bucket reaches the back row, there's only about 20 dollars in it.

So how does OnePlace -- a registered nonprofit -- sustain itself financially?

All of the staff members at OnePlace are volunteers. The only person who gets a salary is Tarr. Adam Brooks says that 25 percent of OnePlace's income comes from cover charges at rock shows, with the remaining 75 percent coming from church members' donations.

"We're not rolling in the dough," Brooks says, laughing. "But we're able to pay our bills."

On any given Sunday night, the stage at OnePlace looks like KISS might walk in and start setting off fireworks during a particularly pious rendition of "God Gave Rock 'N' Roll to You."

There are stack amplifiers on both sides of the stage and half a dozen guitar cases and microphones onstage. There's a wall-size projection screen to the right of the stage, and several stage lights beaming down on the scene. Looming behind a Plexiglas wall is a drum kit with enough tom-toms and cymbals to rival Peter Criss' lavish set. There are no painted faces, but that's okay, though, because on this particular Sunday in April, the Jesus fans are ready for some righteous rock, sans the six-inch tongue wagging.

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