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Published: Saturday, 10/15/2005

Scum of the Earth tends to the rebels

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Mike Sares, a Toledo native and founder of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, speaks during a service at Grace Church in Toledo Saturday afternoon.
Mike Sares, a Toledo native and founder of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, speaks during a service at Grace Church in Toledo Saturday afternoon.
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It was the last thing the Rev. Mike Sares wanted to name his new church. But every one of his young advisers was adamant.

I had to decide whether to pull rank or follow these kids, said Mr. Sares, a Toledo native now living in Denver. I decided that, in this case, I will submit to them because they know the culture and they know the people they want to minister to better than I do. And it was the best decision I ever made.

Thus was Scum of the Earth Church christened when it opened on a cold Sunday night in Denver in February, 2000.

Mr. Sares, who will be speaking Thursday night at a Momentum men s meeting in Bedford, said the idea for Scum of the Earth started in a Bible study he was leading at a Presbyterian church in Denver.

He had been working as the church s youth pastor and his Bible study was attracting a core of young adults that included members of the Christian ska band Five Iron Frenzy.

The pastor of the church left and after they hired a new pastor, his plans did not include me, Mr. Sares said in a recent interview. I was asked to resign after being there five years. It was a crisis that literally thrust me into searching for a new career. Initially, my goal was to find the highest paying job under the will of God because I had two kids almost going into college and it was just nuts.

Several people who had been attending the Bible study wanted to find ways to minister to young people who felt like outcasts and would never darken the doors of a traditional church people like skateboarders, goths, punk rockers, and the tattooed and pierced crowd, Mr. Sares said.

I was talking to one of my seminary professors about it and it was during the context of that conversation that I realized that if I didn t start a church like Scum, then nobody else was going to start one. At least not right away, he said.

He and Reese Roper of Five Iron Frenzy decided to stop talking about such a church and go ahead and start one.

We started meeting at this coffee shop called the Prodigal, Mr. Sares said. During the week it was a drop-in center for homeless street kids.

Although at first he resisted calling the church Scum of the Earth, at least the name is biblical, he said. It is taken from I Corinthians 4:11-13, in the New International Version, which states: To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

Mr. Sares said the church began in a trendy hodgepodge area of Denver called Capitol Hill, which is filled with an eclectic mix of students, artists, drug dealers, gays, and street people.

The average age at Scum is about 24, 25 years old, he said. While the message the Scum of the Earth proclaims is the same historic message about Jesus Christ s life, death, and resurrection, and salvation through him, there s no doubt that the method is what makes it different.

And I think it s the method that has ostracized a lot of young adults from everyday contemporary Christian church. There are unspoken rules that are obvious to them. People who are goths, let s say, if they go to church in gothic attire, they ve been asked to leave. Or they ve been asked to please cover up the tattoos on their arms. Or to take out their piercings so they re not distracting to other worshippers.

Young people with tattoos and piercings usually do not take kindly to such concerns, Mr. Sares pointed out.

If the people I am dealing with were more mature, they would comply with those requests, he said. But they re 20 years old. They re idealistic enough to believe that church ought to be a place where you can come as you are and it that it does not matter how you look or how you talk. The mainstream church sends a message that you re not welcome here. We want to intentionally send a message that makes people feel comfortable.

From the start, he said, Scum described itself as a church for the left out and the right brained.

It really is true. I think that s our niche. We attract kind of the weird artist types and people who were the kids picked last for kickball in grade school. They re the folks who said, If you re going to make fun of me, I m going to dress in a way that will you make fun of me. They rebel in rather obvious ways.

We also tend to draw a lot of guys from the rescue mission because we serve a meal every Sunday at 6:30, Mr. Sares said.

The church has moved several times and now has an average attendance of about 300. Its current location is a former grocery store.

The leaders also opened a church in Colorado Springs and are planning on starting another church in the Seattle region.

The music at Scum of the Earth is mostly emo, Mr. Sares said, referring to a modern musical style that is introspective and personal. Most people at Scum of the Earth are huge Pedro the Lion fans, and most people my age don t even know who that is, he said.

The 51-year-old pastor said he defers to Mr. Roper and other church leaders when it comes to music. I m not that cool, he said with a laugh.

In fact, Mr. Sares said, it s unlikely anyone who knew him during his teenage years in Toledo would have imagined him leading a church for punk rockers and skateboarders.

He was raised Greek Orthodox, was an athlete, class president three years at Whitmer High, a National Honor Society student, and a complete straight arrow, Mr. Sares said.

He began digging into the Bible during high school with plans to disprove it, saying that If I found out the Bible wasn t true, I would then have impunity to go off and do whatever I wanted to do.

Instead, he said, he began to believe the Scriptures, and I came to full faith through Young Life, a Christian parachurch ministry for teens.

Mr. Sares started teaching Sunday school at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo, but some people complained about his hippie-ish appearance.

They felt that a church Sunday school program was no place for people with long hair and guitars to talk about Jesus, so they asked me to stop teaching, Mr. Sares said.

He attended the University of Toledo, held a number of jobs while volunteering at churches, and then, at age 40, experienced what he describes as a midlife crisis. I felt like a failure. I wasn t happy with what I was doing, Mr. Sares said. I had always wanted to be in ministry, but I had four children and a mortgage. I felt my time was past. But then my family encouraged me to go to seminary.

His brother offered free lodging in Denver if he wanted to go to seminary there, so he sold his house, packed up everything, and moved to Colorado in 1994.

While in seminary, he began working part-time as youth pastor of Corona Presbyterian Church, where Scum of the Earth got its inspiration. Mr. Sares said Scum got some start-up help from several philanthropists, including a Colorado millionaire who donated $10,000 per year for the first five years.

He is the only full-time staff member and the other seven part-time workers are responsible for raising their own support each year because most people who attend Scum are financially established, he said. Mr. Sares is as surprised as anyone over his role in the founding and leadership of Scum of the Earth.

I m an anomaly, pastoring a church where the average age is 25 years younger than me. I feel like a stick on a fast-moving mountain stream. I feel like God threw me into this stream and I m not smart enough to navigate around the boulders and downed tree trunks. But because God s spirit is carrying me along, I can navigate. It s not my doing.

The Rev. Mike Sares and Toledo author Jim Lange will be speaking at the Harvest meeting of Momentum (Michigan-Ohio Men of God: Together United in Ministry) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Bedford High School auditorium, 8285 Jackman Rd. Admission is free, people are asked to bring a canned good, blanket, or coat for Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission. Information: 419-450-0603 or online at www.momentumhome.com.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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