O Scum all ye faithful: Christianity gets the punk-rock treatment at this Denver church

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Liann, a feminist pastor who runs a women's ministry program at Scum, does not identify as an anarchist. "There may be some issues that everyone [on staff] disagrees on, and that's okay," she says. Scum strives for diversity, the couple points out. Some members vote Democrat, some Republican, and some (such as the anarchists) don't vote at all.

This mission statement is posted on Scum's website:

We strive to be a church who:

seeks intimacy with God and honest relationships with others

cultivates creativity and uses everyone's gifts

asks questions while seeking Truth

recognizes our need for a Savior

passionately yet respectfully shares the saving love of Christ

demonstrates God's love in our community

But sometimes it seems that if Scum has any mission at all, it is to completely scramble the public's image of Christianity.


Mike Sares recently published a memoir: Pure Scum: The Left Out, Right Brained and the Grace of God. In it, he chronicles the path that led him and his church to the place where they are today, describing a difficult road of rejection, failure and consistent conflict with the established powers of Christianity.

He was born into a Greek Orthodox family in Toledo, and it was years before Sares heard a sermon in English. For most of his youth he was cynical about Christianity, but he got involved in the Young Life ministry because "there were a lot of hot girls there," he says. That was in the early '70s, when many hippies stopped dropping acid and began picking up Bibles. Ministries like Young Life and Billy Graham's Youth for Christ were riding on the cresting wave of the counterculture aesthetic; such mainstream artists as Barry McGuire and Bob Dylan were becoming "born again" and recording rock albums with a new message. Suddenly churches were full of earnest worshippers with beards and bell bottoms and folk guitars, wanting to sing about Jesus. Some were embraced with loving arms, others told to get a haircut.

Sares was one of those Christian hippies. In Pure Scum, he describes the mystical experience of dreaming that he was being filled up by all those who'd loved him in the name of Christ: "They were like clouds in a clear-blue sky.... I could see water pour out of each cloud, like a stream...descending straight toward my head.... Suddenly I was an empty jar being filled up.... It was a total spirit-meets-body experience." Converted, he returned to his Greek Orthodox church, assuming his newfound enthusiasm for Christ would be accepted as a breath of fresh air amid the centuries-old traditions. (On the Scum of the Earth website is a picture of Sares with a Welcome Back, Kotter mustache and 'fro.)

"I volunteered to teach Senior High Sunday School Class," he writes. "We talked about how radical Jesus was in the Gospel stories. I'd bring my guitar and lead the students in songs I had learned from my Young Life buddies." But there was a group of women (called the "church ladies" in Pure Scum) who didn't appreciate the new methods Sares was using to teach their children about Jesus. Recalls Sares: "They talked to the priest, and he talked to me: 'You're causing division in the church, Michael,' he said. 'So you're going to have to stop teaching Senior High Sunday School Class.'"

Sares was undeterred. He felt that God had called him to preach to the ones who were "left out," people from his generation who were eager to know the love of Christ but were not accepted because of the way they looked and talked. He took various positions in churches as he married and raised a family, supplementing his income with jobs ranging from sticker salesman to steel-mill worker to English teacher. He was convinced that his life's purpose was to set up a ministry for young outcasts — but by the time he turned forty, he felt that he'd made no progress toward that goal, and he felt like a failure. He confessed his existential crisis to a group of close friends, who talked him into moving his family west so that he could enroll at the Denver Seminary. "Moving to Colorado at age forty with my wife and four kids was no picnic," he remembers in the chapter titled "Risk."

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse