Lords of the New Church

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

At this, the entire crowd goes, "Oooooh!"

The second verse ends with, "Praise Jesus!"

Again, "Oooooh!"

OnePlace pastor Rob Tarr delivers an informal Easter sermon.
Luke Holwerda
OnePlace pastor Rob Tarr delivers an informal Easter sermon.
Mandi McKinney, the woman behind the rock shows at OnePlace.
Michael Alonzo
Mandi McKinney, the woman behind the rock shows at OnePlace.

Afterward, people wander outside. Brooks and Whittimore are outside talking to people when a woman comes running up to Whittimore. "The DJ's feeling sick, can you play something?"

Whittimore goes inside and somebody asks Brooks, "Isn't something else coming up?"

Brooks shrugs his shoulders and smiles. "I never know. I just unlock the doors."

OnePlace is burning to help the homeless. Literally.

"For a while, we had couches in our church and we were getting rid of them, so we had them in the back," Adam Brooks says. "And we had guys sleeping on them, which was fine. Well one day, one of our members drove by and saw smoke coming out of our shed. So she went over there, and a homeless guy was basically sitting there in his underwear smoking on the couch. And apparently, he was doing drugs or something and had lit our shed on fire. So we had to call the fire department and they had to tear down our door. Luckily, they caught it just in time, so it was a little comedic."

Even though church members can laugh -- after the fact -- about such mishaps, they take the needs of the disadvantaged seriously. When OnePlace was based on the northwest side, church members drove to Maggie's Place in Phoenix, which provides housing for homeless, pregnant women, and did some volunteer painting and yard work.

They also volunteered at Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, an eating-disorder clinic where Israel Whittimore works full-time. OnePlace's desire to effect social change was one of the reasons they decided to move downtown.

"We always talked about how important it was to take care of the homeless and the poor and the widows, but we were in the suburbs," Brooks says. "We're looking around, and everyone's got these nice houses and Hummers, so we were like, You know, if we really care about this, let's move.' At the time, there were about 30 people going to the church, and we found a building downtown that they let us renovate, so we moved."

OnePlace's congregation has tried to respect the fact they're in an underprivileged area, tutoring Somalian refugee families in English, donating shoes to elementary schools, and taking boxed lunches to homeless people in downtown parks.

The church building, at 825 North First Street, used to house a photography studio. Church members found it in need of a makeover, so they gave the place a new paint job, knocked out an interior wall, and set up a new sound system. A few of the many homeless people in the area helped with the remodeling, in exchange for money or food. Many displaced people in the area still hang out in or around the church, and a few wander into Sunday services on occasion. They've occasionally disrupted services, too, by coming in intoxicated and screaming and yelling. Luckily, the staff of OnePlace sees the humor in such instances.

"I'd rather they be there sobering up than somewhere else," Brooks says. "It makes it interesting."

But the push-and-pull effect of balancing social programs with pop culture Christian outreach may change the scene at OnePlace soon.

As of press time, OnePlace had at least three rock shows per week booked through August. But Brooks says he and Rob Tarr are talking about limiting the number of rock shows at the building to a few concerts a month, so the building can be used for more social programs. The shift wouldn't hurt the nonprofit church financially, its leaders say, but it remains to be seen if a decrease in the number of rock shows at OnePlace will stunt its growth in other ways.

Ironically, OnePlace's decision to possibly limit the amount of rock shows in the building comes at a time when the church is finally starting to gain acceptance from traditional churches in the area.

"A lot of people thought it was just a fad," Brooks says. "But it's been three years, and we're still around. And so [now], people are like, All right, there's something here. We may not understand it, and we may not like it, but there's something there that's working.'"

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