Written by Jimi Izrael
January - February 2002
Avon Lake (Ohio) UCC Director of Contemporary Music Chris Young lets his guitar do the preaching during a Casual Sunday worship service. W. Evan Golder photo.
Jesus rocks—and Chris Young wants you to know it. Young is the leader of a youth ministry at Avon Lake (Ohio) UCC. "Casual Sundays" is the rock-and-roll evening worship service that has all the young church members making a joyful noise, and the older ones wondering: Why does God's music have to be so LOUD?
"We regularly have older worshipers, couples, in their 50s, coming to the Sunday evening service," says the Rev. Kelly Peters, senior minister. "Some older people come to check it out, but," she says with a snicker, "they haven't stuck around. 'Casual Sunday' is loud rock-and-roll Christian music." Joyful noise must be a subjective observation.
Peters began researching contemporary services two years ago as a remedy for youth exodus after confirmation. Often times when teenagers graduate from confirmation class, they feel like they've graduated from church and you only see them on holidays, she says. "The purpose of this kind of service is to keep them coming," says Peters. She visited churches in the area doing alternative worship services and started one at Avon Lake last February.
"Feb. 4, 2001, to be exact," says Young—blue-jeaned, bespectacled and five-times-pierced bandleader of the as-yet-unnamed, four-piece Casual Sunday band. "And it was cool. It was really loud and really raucous—the young cats loved it." After that and "thousands of committees later," he says, a consensus was reached on how to proceed. The service is an hour long and includes youth giving the welcome and the reading, followed by a scriptural reflection by Peters.
Young chooses the music each week. Some are hymns he's adapted, some are tunes he's written. He's sensitive to the words: Young wants the words to ascribe to UCC theology. The lyrics appear on a projection screen above the band so that all can sing along. "We decided to play a style of music that would appeal to the youngest cats around—and it's music I liked, so it pretty much worked out."
It certainly seems as if it has, as you look about the hall and see older siblings with their younger tag- alongs, grandparents with grandchildren singing along with the band. All smiles and holding hands, sharing worship perhaps in a way they never have before. While he would someday like to be a minister, Young concedes, "I wouldn't be your average minister kinda dude."
Young is happy to see so many partaking, and takes his ministry seriously. "It's so cool—on the first day of summer, school's out and the church is full of kids. They could be elsewhere doing God-knows- what, but here they are."
"My main thing," he says, "is to preach to cats my age and younger, who seem to be afraid of God and spirituality. But God is good, man, and I want to say something about God in a youthful language, that can make the Word relevant ... that it's cool to hang out with God."
Peters thinks this new ministry rocks, and she's pleased with the response from the church at large. "One of the older parishioners stopped me and said, 'It's not my cup of tea, but I'm so glad we're doing it,'" says Peters. "Everyone wants young people in church, and this is one way that is certainly worth trying to reach them."
To see photos of Avon Lake UCC's Casual Sunday service, visit my.en.com/~alucc. For youth worship and education ideas, join the education forum at www.ucc.org. Click on the "education" tab across the top, then the "education forum" link on the side.