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

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While at the seminary, Sares began working with the Corona Presbyterian Church in Capitol Hill, where he met a group of musicians who were starting a band and looking for a church that didn't want them to check their ideals at the door. It was 1995, and a new alternative Christian movement was starting to bloom — one that was into punk. "I was a very lost young college student who had stumbled through the doors of the church nearest my house," one of those musicians, Reese Roper, writes in the foreword to Pure Scum. "I had recently been asked to leave the third church I had been to in four years — either that, or cut my hair, or at least stop dying it obnoxiously bright colors, and get rid of some of the earrings and the nose ring. It was, in a way, the death of church as I knew it. The smaller institution of the church — as in 'the building' — was becoming far less relevant to me."

Sares and the musicians bonded instantly. The band they started, Five Iron Frenzy, would soon grow into one of the biggest Christian rock bands in the country, even though their lyrics included heavy criticism of Christian culture. The kids loved them — the adults weren't so sure. "We had far more acceptance outside of the church than inside the church," says Roper. "Early on, we played a lot of bar shows, and the Ska Against Racism tour with Less Than Jake and Mustard Plug. And the church was pointing fingers, saying, 'Why are you playing in bars?' But that's what Christ was about. He wasn't hanging out with religious people in the temple. He was hanging out with prostitutes and thieves and tax collectors."

Even as Five Iron Frenzy's fame spread, its members and Sares were dreaming up their ideal church. They wanted a place where the homeless were welcome, where making money was not the focus, and where there definitely was no dress code. Their combined vision was everything Sares had dreamed about since he was a young Jesus freak in the '70s — but he also recognized that there would be no financial security in starting a church that courted a congregation with no money. Sares had two daughters about to enter college, and the offers he was getting to pastor at the mega-churches blooming around Colorado at the time were looking pretty good.

In Pure Scum, he compares this time in his life to the gospel story of Peter seeing Jesus walking on the water during a horrible storm. Peter's boat was in the middle of a lake, and when Jesus invited him out onto the water, Peter conquered his fear and stepped off the boat and into the chaos. Sares was terrified to put himself and his family in financial peril, but eventually he came to the conclusion that "Peter was actually safer on the lake in the storm with Jesus than on the boat with the rest of his friends."

The thunder only grew louder when Roper suggested they call the church Scum of the Earth. The name comes from the writings of the Apostle Paul, describing the persecution of his ministry. Sares wasn't sure that a church with such a name had a chance, but he was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that young people had for the project.

He stepped out onto the lake.

******

Over the years, Scum of the Earth has attracted a large following of young people — around 250 today — most of whom have outgrown their suburban homes and are looking to find their own identity as Christians. "If you can come to a place called Scum of the Earth and that pisses your parents off enough, a place where people look and act and think like this," Sares says, referencing the anarcho-punk stream flowing through his church, "then you're far enough away that you can think about Jesus and whether you are really a follower of his."

"We're more mission-driven than doctrine-driven," says Joshua Dylan. "We welcome discourse at Scum. It can be frustrating at times but has a lot of value."

"It's not my job to tell someone what to believe," says Liann Dylan. "It's our job to show God's love to people, and he can take care of the rest." She and her husband are showing God's love by hosting the free Sunday bike workshop in the garage by the church. As she speaks, a handful of kids — some Christians, some not — work on bicycles. The Dylans' dog sleeps on the ground as tools clank, cigarettes burn and Wu-Tang Clan plays on the stereo. The Dylans, like almost everyone else at Scum, insist that they don't want to push their ideals on anyone; unlike most evangelicals, they say, they aren't zealots.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse