December 16, 2009
Authors in Their Native Habitat
This nugget of strange dimness brought to you by David A. Zimmerman.
If you are related to Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver and author of the forthcoming Likewise Book Pure Scum, I have three words for you: Watch your back. Mike may give someone the coat off of it.
That's what happened to me during my visit a couple of weeks ago. Because I'm a reasonably ignorant traveler, I packed a windbreaker to help me stave off the winter weather. Because Mike knows Denver well, he quickly surmised that a windbreaker wouldn't be enough. So he dipped into his son's closet (his son, incidentally, is in Brazil, blissfully unaware) and gave me--not loaned me; gave me--what his assistant later told me was "probably a $200 coat."
It's awesome. I'd be wearing it right now if my coworkers would promise not to look at me funny.
I would have counted it a great visit even without the free coat. I've been eager to get a look at Scum of the Earth since I first heard of the church, and now that they've moved into their new, permanent location, the timing seemed perfect. A wildly creative church with a longstanding relationship with the Denver homeless community, Scum has always struck me as both innovative and orthodox, a combination that many churches struggle to master--as much as anything, because attempts at both innovation and orthodoxy are so often met with contempt from outsiders.
Case in point. The new building Scum finds itself in, formerly a church-turned-residence for a mosaic artist, is smack-dab in the middle of a Denver neighborhood gradually being transformed from cosmopolitan crevice to arts district. As such, the church's creative streak is for the most part (one holdout notwithstanding) welcomed by its new neighbors, but the homeless community the church attracts is not. It can be tough to be orthodox sometimes.
Similarly, the name of the church (taken from a passage in 1 Corinthians 4) draws as much ire from church purists on the right and left as it does praise from the "left-out and right-brained" it seeks to serve, and curiosity from ambivalent onlookers. Like I said, it's not easy being orthodox.
And yet the people from across the spectrum of Christian orthodoxy who get it, get it. I attended a year-end banquet for the church, a sort of Christmas celebration of all the good news Scum has experienced in 2009. Also in attendance were students, alumni and faculty from Denver Seminary, pastors and congregants from a number of other Denver churches, and longtime friends and supporters of various members of Scum's staff team, who count on such supporters for their salaries. We enjoyed a dinner of homemade Greek food and the company of this eclectic mix of people, set against a backdrop of good music and a slideshow of the church's activity over the past year--which included acquisition of the new building, which includes what friend of Likewise Margaret Feinberg has called "the coolest bathrooms in Christendom," or words to that effect.
Seriously, you should see the bathrooms at this church. Same goes for the kitchen, the "nursery" and the cross. It's only fitting that a church made up of so many artists and craftspeople would house itself in the former home of an artist who considered every wall, ceiling, floor and counter as creative space.
If you're intrigued by the prospect of visiting such a church, I have two words for you: sensory overload. Still, I'd recommend a visit to anyone and everyone. Mike tells the story of the church in Pure Scum, but you won't have the whole story till you've walked through the foyer and stood before the cross--not to mention used the bathroom.