Boring churches have pews, hymnbooks, organs and stained-glass windows. Hip churches have guitars, rock videos, podcasts and piercings that aren't limited to that dude on the cross.
Both in its message and its setting, the Village aspires to the hip, if not the edgy. Launched just seven months ago, the nondenominational church holds services in the Glitterdome, a sprawling warehouse in the RiNo district that's also the practice facility for a roller-derby team, the Denver Roller Dolls. The church's website proudly welcomes "hundreds of prodigals" to its "1st Generation Christ-Centered Community," while its Facebook page declares that the Village is "where Black Sheep gather to receive grace and where White Sheep get humble."
See also: Hear Gil Jones admit he messed up
On this summer Sunday morning, around forty prodigals assemble to pray and praise in an intimate, curtained-off and dimly lit section of the warehouse. There's no altar, just a small stage suitable for improv or a house band. The vibe is casual, the demographic young, with more women than men.
The service gets under way with songs on guitar and a welcome from an associate pastor clad in hoodie, cargo shorts and sandals. Then come clips on a big screen from VH1's Couples Therapy and a music video featuring Carrie Underwood, savagely vandalizing the truck of her cheating ex. All of this is mere buildup, though, to the main event of any Village service: the message delivered by lead pastor Gil Jones, a talk that tends more toward passionate monologue than sermon.
Dressed in a black T-shirt bearing the word PEACE and frayed, paint-stained jeans, Jones bounds to the stage, eager to kick things up a notch. He's 48 years old, tall, slender, with thinning hair. He's also a dynamic speaker, fervent and funny and occasionally profane, a maverick preacher who can keep a room full of questing twenty-somethings enraptured for the better part of an hour.
Today's topic is how to help a friend who's going through a breakup. Jones talks frequently about relationship issues; at the Village, you're more likely to hear about "relationship smashers" and "intimacy killers" than, say, the problem of evil. Divorced for the past six years, Jones weaves Bible verses with tales of his own dating follies into exhortations to be compassionate and selfless.
This morning's message is breezy but earnest. Jones talks about the need to "roll in," to comfort someone who's going through a relationship meltdown in person rather than by text or e-mail. He jokes about his own friends giving him grief about the series of breakups he's been through, grabbing popcorn and watching him "burn the house down," when what he needs are "words of grace and hope and love." Most of all, he stresses helping your friend to accept the breakup and forgive his or her former lover — rather than unloading a "big FU."
"I've got a huge FU in me," he confides. "But the biggest FU you can give anybody is to love and forgive them."
It's an effective talk, delivered in the weary, been-there-done-that tone of an expert in busted relationships — someone whose authority comes, strangely enough, from claiming to be even more of a hot mess than his audience.
And it's timely, too. Although he doesn't mention it today, just a few days earlier Jones had been in a courtroom dealing with the aftermath of one of his own ugly breakups, one that had ended in a humongous FU.
On July 17, a woman named Tabitha Pratt appeared before Denver magistrate Catherine Cary, seeking a permanent restraining order against Gil Jones. Jones was there to object to having such a reproach on his record.
Pratt, 39, testified that she and Jones had been dating "off and on" for eighteen months. The pair had met at a Christmas Eve service at Pathways Church in 2011, when Jones was the pastor there. They broke up several times only to reconnect, until Pratt finally requested a few weeks ago that he no longer contact her. When Jones subsequently texted her, "Love you. Always," she replied, "You must be joking. Go away."
Jones responded with more than a dozen increasingly "aggressive" text messages, Pratt explained. She'd kept them all as evidence. The words weren't exactly hopeful, loving or gracious, let alone pastorly:
You're the biggest mistake anyone could make. Biggest bitch. Ever.
Sleep in hell, Bitch. You have no idea who you're fucking with.
WHORE. 3 Kids. 3 Guys. They left you. For Good Reasons. You. Attract. Shit.
You deserve shit.
Rot. In. Hell.
Pratt considered the texts threatening, particularly the one about how she had no idea who she was fucking with. "I feel unsafe," she told the magistrate. "I don't feel he will stop unless there's a protective order in place. This scares the crap out of me."