A five-member worship band is leading the congregation in a contemporary favorite — “Your Love Never Fails” — with lyrics, “You stay the same through the ages/Your love never changes.”
That may be true of God, according to Scripture. But the nearly 200-year-old Hope Moravian Church is preparing for some changes.
“This is a place of new beginnings,” said the Rev. Andy Kilps.
Is it ever. The congregation known for its adherence to its liturgical roots from 1830, when men and women sat on opposite sides of the church, is now dressing its latest outreach in new, modern clothes and a rock band sound.
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Kilps, the young lead pastor who always wears suits for the traditional, organ-led Sunday morning services, wears a T-shirt and jeans like many others attending the just-launched Sunday evening contemporary service called The Cross of Hope.
The first gathering May 3 at Hauser High School’s auditorium drew 221 people.
“This is the first time I’ve ever worn my shirt-tail out,” Kilps said.
While the new service’s dress is casual, including shorts and flip-flops, its approach is serious in its focus on God’s love and mercy in a hurting world. Kilps’ message this day focused on the prodigal son and God’s yearning for wanderers to find their way to his extended forgiveness and friendship.
And Hope Moravian organizers, who planned this newfangled ministry for two years, are serious about reaching especially those with no church background or those undecided about their faith.
That explains why 16-year-old Hauser High School exchange student Harry Lyu has loved the service. He grew up in China with no religious training of any kind.
“But I’ve started to be impressed (by this) — and really started to like going to church,” Lyu said. “I really have started learning a lot. I love the music.
“And I think the whole thing is just awesome.”
Worship leader and new Moravian staff member Bryce Bell’s musical résumé boasts some pretty awesome experience. He’s a former keyboard player for nationally touring Christian pop-rock arena acts Rebecca St. James and also Grammy-winning Petra, a force in the genre since the 1970s.
Yet, by design, the only spotlight on the stage at the Hauser auditorium shines on — literally — a gnarly, old rugged cross.
“We believe that the cross points to the one true hope — in Jesus,” Kilps said.
Kilps and others originally believed the service would draw plenty of young people who perhaps struggle to connect with organ-powered hymns in a traditional church setting such as the church on Hope’s Main Street. But, while maybe 15 teens attended recently, the service also drew its share of retirees, including one 90-year-old.
“We certainly want to keep it open to everyone,” Bell said after the service. “We’re very pleased to see such a diverse range of ages.”
Bell seems a good fit to reach younger audiences. Singer St. James, whom he toured with in the early 2000s, built an audience heavily on teens. Plus, Bell has been leading Moravian youth camps, retreats and conferences for years in Ohio and elsewhere.
“We feel like we’re off to a good start (here),” Bell said of he and his wife Lauren, who helps run sound for the services.
Some Sundays, both the bassist and the drummer for the band have been teens. Teen listeners such as Matthew Sweet, 15, have noticed all that.
“The songs are a little more upbeat,” Sweet said in comparison to the organ-oriented morning service he still attends. “I think this is definite something younger people can more easily relate to.”
One other twist of The Cross of Hope is that it is attracting people from other churches, since its 6 p.m. time generally does not compete with other congregations’ services.
Flat Rock’s Bill Lentz is among those with something of a dual citizenship here and at his home church of Flat Rock Christian.
“I think it’s a great outreach,” Lentz said. “I think we always can work together. And we’re just so blessed to have someone of Bryce’s talent.”
What: The Cross of Hope, the new contemporary music and ministry service that’s part of the ministry of Hope Moravian Church.
When: 6 p.m. Sundays in the auditorium of Hauser High School, 9273 Indiana 9 in Hope.
Dress: Casual. Many of those attending wear The Cross of Hope T-shirts and jeans or shorts.
Musical style: Keyboard-led contemporary pop praise-and-worship tunes.
Ages: A broad range, from youngsters to retirees.
For children: Nursery and children’s church provided.
Target audience: Those “who don’t currently believe but are seeking spiritual truth,” organizers say, to dedicated followers of Jesus.