O holy night! This reverend has a real open-door policy

Transubstantiation was what did it for Nate Lappegaard. Raised within the strict dogma of the Catholic Church, Lappegaard was fifteen years old when he argued with a priest over whether he was really consuming the body and blood of Christ during Communion rather than just downing wafers and wine.

"I had no problem at the time accepting the bread and wine as a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, but even then I refused to admit that when the priest blessed them they became the actual flesh and body of Jesus," Lappegaard recalls, standing outside Orange Cat Studios on a frigid Sunday night. "The priest told me I would burn in hell if I didn't believe in this miracle. That was pretty much it for me and the Catholic Church."

Lappegaard's family moved to Colorado soon after, and he ditched God for alcohol, drugs and DJing at raves. Now 33, Lappegaard still performs regularly at Beta as DJ Ishe, but he's off the drugs and alcohol, having found sobriety three years ago. He now works a day job at Whole Foods in Lakewood and helps Sean Rice, Orange Cat's owner, book his space. That's how he first became aware of the Red Door. DJ Brett Starr, a friend, asked if Lappegaard knew of a place where a start-up church could meet; Starr had been approached by the church's founder because, he says, "The kids from the tribe around Denver that like to party all night had pegged me as the most spiritual DJ in town."

Nate Lappegaard (above) found community in the circle of friends that is the Red Door.
Nate Lappegaard (above) found community in the circle of friends that is the Red Door.
Members of the Red Door congregation shake their groove thang.
Members of the Red Door congregation shake their groove thang.

Lappegaard was happy to help. Although he hadn't entirely realized it, he missed the sense of community he'd gotten through church, of belonging, of reaching for something bigger than the mere human experience. Those weren't the elements that had pushed him away from Catholicism. And through the Red Door — which has fashioned itself as a church without religion, where the only theology is humility — he is filling that void in his life.

So are most of the spiritual sojourners at Orange Cat tonight.

They begin trickling in around 7 p.m., as DJs Ishe and Starr spin mellow trance and electronic music from the elevated stage at the back of darkened room. The congregation is mostly thirty-somethings, men and women who wouldn't look out of place in a yoga studio or at Burning Man, but there's a handful of graying fifty-somethings as well, some with ponytails and goatees, who project the sort of eerie, unwavering calm typically associated with kindergarten teachers. Members of the congregation greet each other with long hugs and smiles. Some take seats on pillows surrounding a table covered with candles in the middle of the room; others occupy the folding chairs that line the walls and wrap themselves in blankets. After an opening prayer, Reverend Eryn DeFoort, the 33-year-old life coach/mentor/educator/author and founder of the Red Door, takes the mike and offers tonight's message: "Remembering the Primal Self."

Six feet tall, with black hair and a mild speaking voice that belies her powerful presence, DeFoort leads an hour-long discussion on balancing the primal and the civilized self in today's modern society. The conversation meanders from archetypes of divine feminism and masculinity to the kabbalah to tales of Lamoria and Atlantis to why people are so afraid of feeling their experiential side. It's heady stuff, but the forty or so people gathered in the room listen intently, treating the subject matter and the opinions of those commenting with, well, reverence. This is not "mental masturbation," DeFoort says, not the pointless, self-congratulatory intellectualism she experienced so often as a "workshop junkie." She's adamant that her growing congregation of spiritual frontiersmen and -women — many of them former club kids and ravers — not only hear these Sunday lessons, but internalize them so that they leave the Red Door feeling loved and balanced and ready to attack the week.

"Oh, wow, is it 8:30 already?" she asks with a start, surprised at how quickly the time has gone. "We're going to have to wrap this up."

At DeFoort's urging, everyone helps move the chairs out of the way so that the floor is clear. People drop the blankets and remove their coats, while others grab bongo drums from a pile by the stage. The DJs start spinning electronic music, more intense and primal than before.

And then they dance.

As a kid growing up in a small town in South Dakota, Eryn DeFoort was immersed in the Worldwide Church of God, which rolled the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity and orthodox Judaism into one bizarre theology. She was taught that members of her church were "the first fruits," modern-day Israelites, and that while the rest of the world would burn in a hellish lake of fire, she and the rest of the chosen ones would usher in the return of Jesus Christ. During a first grade art project, when the kids were instructed to draw pictures of Santa Claus, she gave him a purple hat and stoically referred to him as an old man with a white beard. Her church taught that Christmas, Easter and most American holidays, including Halloween, were not only bad but evil, occasions to be avoided at all costs — and certainly not celebrated through idolatry.

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