Friday, March 23, 2012

Rock Church Launches at State Theater

When the ushers offered earplugs to my grey-haired husband, I knew we were in for a ride at the first church service offered at the State Theater—the DC region's premier rock concert venue in Falls Church, Virginia. "The Surge" community church was launching an experiment in attracting the unchurched. My husband Andy—who loves anything new—was attracted by a high-class postcard we received in the mail.  

Beneath posters for Lez Zepplin and a Michael Jackson dance party, we were greeted warmly by people wearing the kind of T-shirts favored by rock band roadies. We served ourselves coffee and snacks at the bar, and brought them to our ringside table. I have always loved the State Theater's layout of multiple levels with tables, bars, and balconies surrounding a mosh pit area below the stage. Lights were low, and a media team manned the Star Trek-sized control deck. Clips from I Love Lucy played on a giant screen over the stage. Kids were led to their program in the mezzanine lobby by a woman in a Mad Hatter's hat.

The "show" began with a rock band playing several Christian songs that weren't familiar to me—the singer in tight jeans and high boots showing off a great voice. Because we're used to the roof-rocking decibels at Black churches, Andy didn't need the earplugs. I noticed that the only people rocking out to the music seemed to be me and the sharply dressed young black visitors at the next table. "We're not Baptists," joked pastor Dwaine Darrah. But the crowd loosened up as soon as the band switched to a familiar rock tune as the pre-sermon selection: Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business."

If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I'm self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day

And I'll be...
Taking care of business every day...

Andy and I exchanged smiles; all our friends are—or want to be—self-employed. We'd never really listened to the lyrics before.

Expanding the Margin
Pastor Darrah speaks behind a stuffed penguin,
one of several light-hearted touches at the opening
service of the Surge
The song was a warmup to a sermon on "The Margin," which Darrah defined as the amount extra between what we have and what we need—in love, money, or our spiritual lives. He read from Luke 10:38, the story of Mary absorbing Jesus's every word while her sister, Martha, is distracted about getting the dinner served. "Why do we let so many things distract us?" the pastor asked. He ended the sermon by asking each person to consider spending five minutes in silence each day as our "homework" for the coming week.

Silence as a common theme
This theme spoke to me as a common one in several of the movements that I've been experimenting in. I belong to three spiritual communities: a predominately Black church in Fairfax with a traditional Christian message and stomping praise, a Spiritual Living Center in Falls Church with a message of oneness and empowerment for the spiritual but not religious (SBNRs), and an Integral Emergence group that meets in homes around the region to experiment with practices for developing mind, body, spirit, and emotions. Lately I've been checking out the local Emerging Christianity movement as well. All of these except the traditional Christian church emphasize regular silence as a key to spiritual maturation. So it was a delight for me to hear silence recommended alongside a Christian message.

Opportunity for Experiment

I learned from Surge member Greg Johnson that the Surge is the May-December love child of an aging, ecumenical, congregation in McLean and the youth-oriented, New Life Christian Church with campuses in Chantilly and Haymarket. The McLean core continue to host community activities at the red a-frame they call "the barn" at the corner of Westmorland and Kirby Road: offering day care,  language and exercise classes, monthly song-writers' concerts, etc. Johnson, whose recent post at the Surge blog says that holiness is most easily seen in people, called the State Theater venture, "a first fumbling attempt at a risky, radical demonstration of good stuff God has given."

The possibilities are endless in such an amazing venue—I visualized battles of the bands, performance art, small group discussions around tables, bust-out praise, speed praying, and even silent contemplation. If The Surge keeps pioneering, they could open boundaries not normally crossed.

photos by Greg Johnson

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