Friday, May 25, 2018
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Denver church named 'Scum of Earth' tends to Christian outsiders

DENVER - A part of the Bible frequently cited by pastors as the role model for congregations is Acts, Chapter 2. Those verses describe first century Christians experiencing "many wonders and miraculous signs," breaking bread and praising God together, and enjoying "the favor of all the people."

Little wonder the chapter is so popular.

On the other hand, there's only one church I know of that quotes St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 4, verse 13, as a role model: "We have become the scum of the Earth, the refuse of the world" (New International Version).

After writing from a distance about this Denver church founded in 2000 by the Rev. Mike Sares, a Toledo native, I had the opportunity to attend a service at Scum of the Earth last Sunday morning.

I didn't get the full experience because the church's main service is on Sunday nights, drawing 200 to 300 people compared to about 40 for morning services. And the church temporarily has been uprooted because the city has ordered fire-code upgrades to the 120-year-old building it calls home - at an estimated cost of $50,000 to $100,000.

Meanwhile, another Denver church lets Scum use its trendy office complex several miles south of downtown. The morning service starts at 10:30, but members arrive early because meals are served before every service at Scum.

I was at a table with Mr. Sares, eating a breakfast casserole cooked by a church member, when a battered blue car with no front bumper pulled up to the building.

"Here comes our celebrant for today," Mr. Sares said.

Out stepped Marcus, a skinny guy in jeans and dark plaid shirt, wearing a silver-and-blue Mexican wrestler's mask. The mask is cool, Marcus explained, because it has a cross on the forehead. He peeled it off and handed it to a grade-school boy named Rocket ("Rocket's his real name," Mr. Sares said. "His father's an aeronautical engineer.")

Scum of the Earth calls itself a "church for the right-brained and the left out," and its ministry is to artists, skateboarders, goths, punk rockers, the tattooed and pierced, and anyone who would feel unwelcome in a traditional church setting.

Mr. Sares, meanwhile, looks like a normal, well-adjusted, middle-aged, ordained, seminary-school grad and pastor. He didn't want to call the church Scum of the Earth, but the young people on staff insisted.

The average age of Scum attendees is about 24 or 25. They come to hear Bible-based sermons and to hang out with other Christian outsiders. Aside from its name and the way people look, it's not much different from many modern churches.

On Sunday morning, people sat in a circle of couches and folding chairs. The service began with a few songs led by a woman playing an acoustic guitar. During several responsorial readings, the crowd read from words printed on a handout sheet.

Mr. Sares introduced himself, saying, "I'll be your sermonator today," and preached from Mark, Chapter 10, in which Jesus heals Blind Bartimaeus.

When the blind beggar shouted at Jesus, the disciples told Bartimaeus to be quiet. The modern church too often tries to shut people up, Mr. Sares said. The church can be a hindrance.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked Bartimaeus, Wasn't it obvious, Mr. Sares asked. Bartimaeus was blind; he wanted to see.

Jesus' real question was about how much faith Bartimaeus had "sloshing around in his soul." How much faith would you have if Jesus asked you that question?

The service ended with Communion, with a guy in a Chuck Norris T-shirt holding a clay chalice and another person holding the bread. People lined up to break a piece of bread, dip it in the wine, then partake of the sacrament.

I asked a middle-aged woman who helps teach at Scum and whose husband is a noted Scripture scholar and seminary professor why they became involved with the church.

Because at most churches, she said, you have to behave and believe before you can belong. At Scum, you belong first. Then the hope is that you'll believe. And after that, maybe behave - with or without tattoos, piercings, and black T-shirts.

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