"During communion, we will play Johnny Cash, Radiohead, or even an old hymn on the stereo."
"Beer is one of our core values. We enjoy it and like to drink it. Drinking is part of our culture and a great way to spend time with others," said Pastor Justin Bragg of The Resolved church. "The American church has perpetuated this separatist movement that we shouldn't mix with nonbelievers. We want to go where people are. We don't expect people to come to us. In [Pacific Beach], people are at the bars, parties, and drinking beer, so this is where we go." The Resolved church plans to have a Theology on Tap night for people to meet over a few pitchers of beer to talk about God. "We definitely hold to scripture, so we don't get drunk when we go, but we believe we need to be in the world, not of the world," said Bragg. "It's messy and I know we will make errors along the way, but our confidence is in Christ, and we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us." Pastor Duane Smets added, "We see it as being missional that we are just hanging out with other people. Loving people with no agenda in the time we spend with others. We really want to care for others and help them out. Most nonbelievers just need a hug. We want to take down the barriers that a lot of churches have put up. Some churches think that the gospel means that you don't drink, smoke, and that you vote for Bush. Jesus didn't seem to have any qualifications with the people He hung out with, and He wasn't involved in politics or military things."
Last Sunday night, seven people gathered in an 850-square-foot apartment in Pacific Beach to read and study the Bible. Pastor Smets opened the service with lyrics from the band Bright Eyes and a prayer from Ansem of Canterbury. "The Bright Eyes song conveys words of longing by a non-Christian and the prayer of Ansem is a prayer of satisfied longing [in God]," said Smets. Pastor Justin Bragg preached a sermon on Romans 1:18. Pastors Smets and Bragg rotate the preaching each week. After the sermon, people pray and take communion, using as the elements a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. A song from Sigur Rós played in the background during the communion time. "During communion, we will play Johnny Cash, Radiohead, or even an old hymn on the stereo," said Pastor Smets. "It is a time of reflection where people deal with their soul and God."
After service, people gathered outside of the apartment for barbecued hamburgers and hotdogs. "Each week we BBQ, drink beer, and hang out together," said Pastor Smets. Nearly all of the people at The Resolved live in Pacific Beach and work there. At Sunday's service, six of the seven people who attended worked within one block of each other, on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. "I work in a record store, two people work in coffee shops, and two at a clothing store. We all ride bikes to work. I haven't bought gas in a month-and-a-half," said Smets.
"Since we all ride bikes, we started a bike gang called the DreadKnocks," said Joe Foster, a congregant of the church. The name, DreadKnocks, came from the Cobra gang in G.I. Joe that hangs out in the swamp. Foster and the gang wear denim vests with their gang's moniker on the back. Foster said that a local rival gang has felt threatened by them. "We're thinking of challenging them to a jump duel to end the rivalry once and for all." Foster moved to Pacific Beach from Nashville after he met Smets and Bragg at a conference about starting new churches. Foster said this church has been a departure from past church experiences. "If you are looking for someone to give you all the answers and pump you up to make you feel good, you won't like this church. If you want honest people that talk about how we can deal with the human condition from a Biblical perspective, you will like it. This is a nonthreatening environment for people to learn about the Bible."
Amy Smets, Pastor Smets's wife, said, "This is a place for people to be real. When people ask how you are, you don't need to answer 'fine' and put on a façade. If you have a bad day, you don't need to pretend or act a certain way. This is a place where people can be honest about life."
Duane and Amy Smets moved to PB from a church in Orange County. When they first decided to relocate to PB, people warned them not to move. "Friends from another church told us not to befriend sinners down in PB. They told us that as Christians we should 'draw people to the light instead of take the light to them.' I really don't like this whole us-versus-them mentality," said Pastor Smets. "I like Jesus, and when I look at Him and His life, He seems to hang out with whores, drunks, and thieves and call them friends. I want to help people find true happiness. Everyone is searching for true happiness, and I believe it can be found." Smets said he believes happiness is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I asked Pastor Smets the question I ask each week: What happens when a person dies? "When the physical body dies, the nonphysical part goes on," replied Smets. "At this point, we'll be judged by whether we've glorified God. I believe in heaven and hell, but I don't really classify heaven with streets of gold or hell as a place where the devil is constantly stabbing you with a pitchfork."
The Resolved Church
Founded locally: April 2005
Senior pastors: Duane Smets and Justin Bragg
Congregation size: 15
Staff size: 4
Sunday school enrollment: 0
Annual budget: unknown
Weekly giving: $200
Singles program: no
Sunday worship: 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1-1/2 hours