On Easter Sunday, the basement of Evergreen Baptist Church looked more like a karaoke bar than a typical congregation: Yellow and red lights illuminated the darkened room, and a big screen played music videos with lyrics blasting across it. People in the audience sang along, sometimes standing up from their seats and exuberantly waving their arms to the beat.
But the lyrics weren’t of the played-out “just a small-town girl” variety, and no one was clutching cheap vodka. Instead, the scent of fresh-baked cookies wafted through the room and you could hear voices joining in soft-pop refrains of “unstoppable God, let your glory go on!” This was the Easter celebration and launch party for Swerve Church, Bushwick’s newest nondenominational congregation, two years in the making.
According to Bushwick native Danny Torres, the church “planter” and pastor, the neighborhood is already chock-full of worship houses, but many of them cater to a certain culture or nationality. “There’s lots of traditional churches in the community for someone who wants to go dressed up in a suit and tie,” he said. “There’s not too many places where you can come casual.”
Instead of organs and a choir, he hopes to eventually tap into local musicians and DJs who feel the word of God, helping “hip-hop and hipsters” come together in adoration of Jesus. The music scene and casual vibe are meant to help the
heathens skeptics “belong before they believe.”
It’s also an effort to heal new shifts and rifts in a fast-gentrifying community, where 32 percent of the population still earns under the poverty line. With new artists and creative professionals flocking to the neighborhood, Torres contends that the area could use more common places of intersection. “Bushwick has changed a lot, the demographics are changing, the community is changing,” Torres explained. “I would love to see a church open the doors to everyone in the community so the same diversity you see walking down Knickerbocker Ave or Wyckoff Ave […] you see in the church as well.”
So far the eight-person team behind the church has begun some discussion groups and volunteer initiatives, giving out free lunches and participating in adopt-a-blocks and park clean-ups. As they grow, they hope to do more.
The main teachings of Swerve are beamed down from Craig Groeschel, the uber-successful video pastor of Life.Church, one of the largest congregations in the US with “network churches” like Swerve around the country. After the music wrapped up Sunday, Groeschel’s weekly sermon video (an argument on why Jesus is the one true savior of sins) played to many “Amens.”
Two Bushwick natives, Milagros Lopez and her daughter, Tiffany Lopez, said they’d come this afternoon to try “something new.” They heard about Swerve on Facebook and liked the idea of bringing hip-hop and hipsters together in their evolving neighborhood.
“Given how the culture of Bushwick is changing so much, I think it’s something that’s really needed so I wanted to come check it out,” said Tiffany. “We go to a church in Greenpoint, so we see all the change and gentrification going on there. We see the change in people– ultimately you see how God changes people– and that’s the most important thing. So it’s like, I came here today just to see how God’s going to move in Bushwick.”
But can the so-called “hipsters” (aka young newcomers) be persuaded to join in? On Sunday there didn’t appear to be any hipster-esque types biting the cookie just yet– at least not the stereotypical types sporting leather jackets and greasy dyed hair, or outfitted in denim-on-denim and Harry Potter glasses.
But with the motto “we will do anything short of sin to reach people far from God,” you wonder what the Swerve congregants might get up to next on their quest to add more devotees to the fold. At the very least, expect to bump into the team around the nabe soon, handing out granola bars, water, and their signature chocolate chip cookies.
“It seems like some people are interested,” said Torres slowly. “A lot of people are skeptical because I guess churches sometimes have a bad rep and a lot of churches tend to stay behind the four walls of their church and aren’t out in the community– not all of them, but some. I would hope that just anybody would come and give it a shot and see if this is the place where they can plug in.”
Swerve Church at 455 Evergreen, meets Sundays 4-5 p.m.