(Photo: facebook/Ecclesia Church)
No, you can't get a drink of beer from the Buffalo Chip Saloon during the worship services of the Ecclesia Church, in Cave Creek, Ariz., on Sunday mornings, but you will most definitely be offered a taste of Jesus.
Since Easter Sunday, 2012, a small group of Christians who later evolved into the Ecclesia Church have been sharing space with patrons of the Buffalo Chip Saloon for their Sunday morning services. Now, Ecclesia, popularly known as Church at the Chip, has become a spiritual home for a number of people including recovering alcoholics.
"People find the fact that we meet in a bar to be a very affirming place," Church at the Chip Pastor Steve Gilbertson told The Christian Post in an interview on Thursday.
"Jesus himself was accused of being a drunkard and a friend of sinners and he wore the badge with pride. I always say to people, why not have church in a place where people like to go already," said Gilbertson.
"We are not being judgmental. The big criticism of Christians is often that we are judgmental, hypocritical, condescending and all that and I think people simply meeting in a bar is just a way of affirming our culture. We are a cowboy town," he said of his community.
While many churches sometimes exist in anonymity to the secular world, Pastor Gilbertson says he has no such problem with his church because of the unorthodox venue for his services where Coors and Budweiser are openly advertised.
"It's really been quite fascinating, in that just by being where we are, doing what we are doing, our town has really embraced us," explained Gilbertson.
"I think they feel glad that we are here. Often churches struggle in anonymity. People go about their business and don't even know they exist. We don't have that problem. People know who we are," he said.
And the Cave Creek community knows Church at the Chip not just because they keep their Sunday services at the unorthodox bar venue but because they are very involved with the community as well.
"We have a big bike week, we sponsored blessing bikers. In any case, we have a couple of parades. We try to be welcoming to the community and the community has welcomed us as well," said Gilbertson.
Gilbertson explained that the church is currently having services behind the building that houses the bar in a scenic rodeo area to enjoy the weather.
"We meet outdoors as much as possible," he said. "They actually have a very nice rodeo ground area behind the bar where we meet. It's really quite beautiful in Arizona much of the year but we'll be back indoors in September I'm sure," he noted.
And for those who might think the church with about 50 adherents skim on the quality of their worship and Bible study, think again.
"We have real church when we are there it's not like we're trying to have church light," quipped Gilbertson. "When people do come in, we have worship, guitars, hymns, new songs of worship, we have communion every Sunday and we teach from the Bible," he added.
"People appreciate that we take seriously the gospel and also the culture. All too often churches overstress one against the other. We don't want to be too culturally relevant that they lose the sense of the gospel or so keen on the gospel that we become culturally irrelevant," explained Gilbertson.
"I think the incarnation was when God became flesh among us and somehow Jesus found that balance and we're hoping to find that too, to be culturally relevant but with the truth of the Gospel," he noted.