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Young evangelists reach out at bars, block parties

Curt Kiser (right) visits with Joann Murphy outside a nightclub in Maryville, Tenn.
UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Sept. 23, 2009 | MARYVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Some nights, they stand outside bars offering free hamburgers and soft drinks.

Kiser (center) gives out ice cream
in Alcoa, Tenn.

At other times, they can be found changing the oil on cars or having neighborhood block parties.

They are members of The Remedy, a church that stresses community service projects and often uses unconventional means to reach out to those ages 18 to 35.

“We’ve kind of adopted a 1950s, 1960s culture in the churches,” says the Rev. Jeremy Laduke, pastor of The Remedy. “And we now have a generation that is totally removed from that.”

The Remedy is an offshoot of Maryville’s Fairview United Methodist Church, where Laduke is an associate pastor. The Remedy began meeting last year in a renovated downtown movie theater and recently moved to a community center in Alcoa to be closer to a blue-collar factory neighborhood.

“We have to approach it as missionaries, and two things missionaries do when they go into a culture is they learn the language, they learn the culture,” Laduke says.

Out with the traditional hymns, in with rock music during worship. Sunday services are held in the afternoon. And members of The Remedy often brainstorm about new ways, including spending several weekends outside bars, to reach the community.

No judging

Many people approached outside a nightclub were supportive.

The Rev. Jeremy Laduke helps lead worship at The Remedy.     

“I believe that they should change with the times and reach out to the youth, especially,” Joann Murphy says of the church. “And it’s a good way to get people involved.”

One bar patron walks up to the group and asks, “Are you going to judge me?”

Remedy members point to their T-shirts with the church’s motto, “No Perfect People Allowed.”

James Ivens says he was surprised by the lack of aggressiveness of Remedy members outside the bars.

“When I walked up (to) this place, I needed to be reached,” Ivens says.

“If you tell me not to drink, I’ll probably tell you, I’m going to drink anyway,” he says. “But if you tell me to love, hey, I need somebody to tell me to love.”

Remedy members also recently welcomed about 250 people for a block party featuring children’s games, food and a concert by a hip-hop performer. Laduke says about 10 of those who attended the party later came to the church service with their children.

Community service

“Opening up the lines of communication for people means actually living it out and going and feeding the homeless, or helping single mothers or doing something in a way that shows young adults we’re not just worried about converting you. We want to see a change in this world,” Laduke says.

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Remedy member Chris Boyd enjoys the group’s service projects.

“So many churches are just active bystanders,” Boyd says. “It makes me think of what a church should be doing.”

Another Remedy member, Jessica Jeter, 22, says she was attracted by the community service work.

“The biggest problem I’ve had with every church I’ve been to is (for) the age group of 18 to 25, everything stops,” she says. “And to me, it’s the biggest time when you need some direction in your life.”

Member Kari Sharp, 24, says, “There’s no way” a church should focus only on Sunday services.

“We have to reach out and get the people who aren’t coming to church,” she says. “If they’re not willing to come to us, we have to go to them.”

Average attendance at The Remedy services is about 50. But Laduke says he measures the success of the effort by faithfulness, not by attendance numbers or the amount of money in the collection plate.

“As Christians, we don’t grow by sitting in pews,” he says. “We grow once our butt leaves the seat and we get out into the streets and start doing things.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  

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The Remedy

Fairview United Methodist

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