organic church in alabama

From the August 4 Birmingham News:

Cullman’s organic church

New kind of ministry strips worship of modern trappings to find its elemental roots

KENT FAULK
News staff writer

CULLMAN — Breads and coffees aren’t the only organic offerings at Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House these days.

Food for the soul is dished out Thursday nights at Organic Church, a new Christian ministry meeting inside the 1960s California-style coffee house in downtown Cullman.

Like many church groups, worshipers at Organic Church read and discuss Scripture, pray, and sing. Sometimes they read spiritual poetry or entries they’ve made in journals.

But what the church doesn’t have are committees, a staff, buildings, membership or a collection plate.

“We started off with trying to be the church without the additives of modern church,” said Jason Elam, a minister and founder of Organic Church. “This is our attempt to strip back all the things that were added to the church.”

Elam considers Organic Church part of the house church movement, a term that describes a move back to the way early Christians as described in the book of Acts in the Bible met in small groups in houses.

A recent study, based on interviews of 5,000 adults around the United States, by the George Barna Group says that 9 percent of adults attend a house church during a typical week. While still small, it represents a big increase from 1 percent a decade ago.

Elam said he began considering forming a small group ministry during a couple of events in his life. First was the birth of his daughter, Emily, in 2004. She had birth defects that had to be corrected with multiple surgeries, he said. Soon after the final surgery last year, his wife, Csilla, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, he said.

Throughout the time of his daughter and wife’s health problems, Elam said their church family at The Father’s House in Vinemont helped them through the crisis. He said he came to believe there are many who love God who haven’t been able to find that kind of intimate relationship in a traditional church setting.

‘Experiment in faith’

“We wanted to try and provide that,” he said.

Elam is testing the idea of whether a church can succeed without anticipating going to a church building and paid staff. “This is an experiment in faith,” he said.

Instead of a house to meet in, Elam found the coffee house to rent for a minimal fee that Elam pays.

Walls are painted with peace symbols, flowers, “make coffee not war,” and a large purple Volkswagen bug with a yellow heart. A small stage sits in a corner where folk singers belt out ballads in concerts and novices sing, read their poems, and tell stories on open-mike nights. Worshippers sit on cushioned chairs or around tables with tie-dyed tablecloths.

“I thought this place was so cool – the environment would compensate for my uncoolness,” Elam said.

Services began the first of May and are held Thursdays at 7 p.m. with anywhere from a half dozen to 25 people showing up. Elam doesn’t preach but rather moderates discussions among worshippers about Scripture. Often a person who attends will bring up Scripture they want to discuss.

Those who attend believe Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, Elam said. Other than that core belief, Organic Church has no doctrines, rituals, no connections to a national organization, and no preferred Bible translation.

“I believe the church to be an organism, not an organization,” said Jonathan Graves, of Hanceville, who first found out about Organic Church through an advertisement in a shopper’s guide.

Graves said he likes the family togetherness displayed during the sessions. “Openness and sharing is what Jesus teaches we should have,” he said.

Most, like Graves, also attend church on Sundays at their own denominations.

One minister from a local Baptist church also is among those who often attend. Diversity of the local churches – both Southern Baptists and Catholics have deep roots in Cullman – makes it ideal for what they’re trying to do, Elam said.

“We’ve got every church on the Christian buffet here in Cullman,” he said.

Joshua and Beth Haynes, of Fairview, attend a Southern Baptist church, but said they come sporadically to Organic Church.

One recent Thursday night the discussion evolved into how ritualism can sometimes replace developing deep spiritual relationships in churches .

“It doesn’t mean these things are wrong – it’s just these things can be empty,” Joshua Haynes said.

E-mail: kfaulk@bhamnews.com

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