My host at Scum of the Earth Church on Sunday, August 5, spent a good part of the evening explaining to me why this so-called “emergent” congregation is less than newsworthy. Yes, the parishioners are mostly tattooed and pierced 20-somethings and yes, the pulpit band includes a bongo set. But other than that, it’s really just like any other Christian church, he said.
After three hours at Scum, I must admit I agreed with him.
Scum holds Sunday services in Church in the City just off of East Colfax. The congregation cohered in the late 90s, when Pastor Mike Sares worshipped with the ska/punk band Five Iron Frenzy. Envisioning a congregation for the “left out and right-brained,” he created Scum, titled after a phrase in Corinthians. Today, the church draws punks, ravers and the homeless — people who might otherwise feel isolated from typical Sunday morning services. Some say Scum is at the forefront of the “emergent” church movement, employing a no-frills style to attract unlikely parishioners.
When I arrived at Scum, I passed through a throng of smokers, “greeters” who ushered me inside. Dozens of people sat on a blue tarp in the main hall, eating spaghetti and meatballs from paper plates. Scum provides this weekly dinner to all who enter, regardless of whether they stay for the ensuing service. The worshippers seated themselves in folding chairs and a KFC bucket was passed around the room for donations. A guitarist on stage strummed for several songs, the congregation singing along sleepily. Then the preacher took the pulpit.
Up until that moment, I sensed that Scum deviated from the traditional Christian church. But, like my host had explained, the community actually falls in line with many conservative houses of worship. The preacher may have looked punk rock, but he didn’t espouse it in his sermon. Instead, he hammered repentance through the story of Bathsheba. In that biblical tale, King David sleeps with a woman he spies bathing. When he finds out that she’s pregnant, he orders her husband killed. Later on, he realizes the folly of his ways. God only forgives him when he gives himself fully to his creator.
The story, said Scum’s preacher, reminded him of a time when he ministered to a lost soul in Ohio. The young man had just broken up with his girlfriend — premarital sex had ruined their relationship and now she would no longer speak with him. The preacher coaxed the young man to forget about the girl and focus on repairing his connection with God. Lo and behold, things started to fall into place.
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Church ended shortly after the sermon, and the “left out” parishioners trickled onto Colfax, mixing in with the Denver traffic. As I exited the church, I wondered about the sermon. While Scum is no frills, it’s not radical either. This was not a free for all, not a fundamental redefinition of what Christianity should look like. And tattoos and piercings do not a liberal make.
But therein lies the joy of Scum. It’s a place where Christ-loving people can do just that, no matter what they’re wearing or where they live.
-- Naomi Zeveloff