By Rogier Bos
Easter Sunday 1999 was an exciting day for
Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles. Not only did the church
move into its new facilities and was it visited by 7000 visitors; Calvary also launched
'Calvary PM', an alternative church service led by Kirk DeWitt,
specifically aimed at
people in their 20's and 30's.
Pastor Kirk DeWitt
I met Kirk DeWitt in January, when I visited
Calvary Community Church. After we had been properly introduced he told me that
would formally launch a service for a younger generation on Easter-Sunday, and he invited
me to come and observe. This report is the result of that invitation.
4:45 PM I arrive. I
count about 12 people in the room, setting up candles, food and coffee, an info table, a
video-projector, and a worship band. I find Kirk, who tells me that if this was a normal
service he would now be in his office, preparing himself in prayer. But it isn't, and he
needs to be closely involved in the preparations.
Some three hundred chairs have been set up
in the dimly lit room. They are set up around a low stage on which the worship band is
practicing. Something must be wrong with the sound, because the vocals aren't even close
in harmony. I hope that gets better.
Around the 300 chairs round tables have been set up, giving a little bit of a
Behind the stage some people lighting candles. I have never seen
this many candles in my life!
With the lights dimmed and the candles lit the large roomalmost
takes on the atmosphere of a dark cathedral.
|The dimly lit room with
candles at the front.
the candles was this large cross made out of scrap iron, lit by a red spotlight.
As someone explains to me
later, this is done because you do not feel as self- conscious when the
light isn't so bright; the darkness hides you, gives you the opportunity
to worship God the way you want, without other people being able to
really see what you are doing.
In the back of the room two people are
setting up a 40 ft. table with coffee and tea, fruit, cookies and bagels. The smell of the
strawberries fills the room.
leads me to a small conference room to the right of the sanctuary, where we find the
so-called evangelism team receiving their last instructions. Their role is to connect with
people who have been convicted one way or another at the end of the service. They divide
the Bibles and tracts, and pray together.
I ask Kirk for a 'order-of-service' or 'program', and he gives me one. Everything looks
the way I would expect, until I notice that it does not contain any times. Kirk explains
this to me later: he doesn't want a tightly programmed service, where everything is
adjusted to the precise minute. In this service it's OK if the worship runs a little long.
5:30 it sounds
like the worship team have solved their sound problems. Kirk invites me back to the
conference room where this time the evangelism team is joined by more people, all of whom
are part of the leadership team. Kirk quickly goes over the program, and they discuss how
people can respond to the message.
Someone comes up with the suggestion that at the end of the service Kirk
will designate a corner of the room as a prayer corner, and invite people to go there. The
evangelism team will then go to that corner and wait for whoever might join them. Because
there's around 10 of them on the team, this means that it actually looks like some people
are going to that prayer-corner, making it easier for others to follow. I smile and admire
this simple but brilliant idea.
The door opens and Larry DeWitt comes in.
Larry is the pastor of Calvary Community Church, and Kirk's dad. Kirk invites the
leadership team to prayer, and together we bow our heads and ask our heavenly Father for
his blessing. Lord, let us get out of the way of what you are doing. Have your way with
this service, and with us. Invite the prodigals to come home, Father.
A beautiful table with
lots of food and drinks quickly becomes a great place for conversation and fellowship
6:00 We are
done praying, and I think the service is supposed to start. But instead everybody mingles,
a CD is playing, and no one seems to be bothered about starting. The room looks and feels
wonderful, and the food is good. People are coming in from everywhere. I see a few faces
of people over 40, but the average person is around 28, I reckon. I also see a few
we would like to start the service," announces Kirk over the sound system, "so
if you would please find a seat, then we will begin in a moment." It takes another 5
minutes before we really start, and the atmosphere is relaxed. Kirk explains to me later
that the fellowship time is part of the service - it's just the programmed part that
starts a little later.
But the lights dim even further, and Kirk
opens the service with a prayer. He thanks the Lord for the opportunity to meet and
celebrate Easter, and the new life we can have in him. So far it's all standard stuff.
Then he suddenly switches topics. "Lord, we ask that you would bless our brothers and
sisters around the globe, and also all those who are suffering. We think of Kosovo
tonight. We ask that you would somehow work in that situation to show people truth in you.
Teach both sides mercy... We don't even know how to pray in this situation, but ask that
you would touch that part of the world."
It's more than just a short prayer - it's intercession for peace, and it sets the tone for
the meeting. Instantly the audience is on the same page with him. A great idea? Clever
manipulation of the crowd? Not even close. It's the heart of God being prayed out, and a
generation of young people agree in prayer.
Then the worship starts under the
leadership of Tim Rhodes, who plays a sparkling blue guitar.
I guess I was wrong about the
this band rocks! It consists of 2 acoustic guitars, drums, a bass, a mandolin, a violin
and a piano, and they lead us straight to God. And wait for the female vocalist starts her
adlibbing: her voice reminds me of Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries - she can wail!
We sing the following songs:
- Fall like rain
- Arms of love
- What a friend
The words are projected on a screen by a
massive LCD projector. The music is intense and has an alternative, guitar-driven quality.
Around the room I see people worshipping, and, yes, I do feel a sense of safety in the
As the music plays its last tunes Kirk gets
up and invites people to close their eyes. "Imagine that you were there with Jesus.
That you were there when he fed the 5000, or when he healed the sick. See him ride into
Jerusalem on a donkey. Can you picture yourself there on that Thursday before the he was
arrested the next day?"
And that is the start of the teaching. Kirk speaks for about 35 minutes, and his teaching
follows the story of the crucifixion, high-lighting the different characters that play a
He begins with this question: "Who are
you in the story? Who can you identify with?" He actually reads the entire passage of
Jesus' trial before Pilate, and his crucifixion. Kirk describes what death on a cross is,
and some baskets are passed around with large nails in them. Kirk contrasts the two
criminals on either side of Jesus.
Then he tells the story of the resurrection.
He speaks of how Jesus meets Mary, and tells her to tell the others. He speaks of Peter,
and how Jesus restores him. Who are you like? Whom can you identify with?
He ends with a simple prayer. "Happy
Easter, Lord Jesus..." The prayer is a simple request for forgiveness, and invitation
to Jesus to come indwell us.
The teaching is followed by communion. On
either side of the platform two small tables have been set up, where people can pick up a
piece of bread, and dip it in a glass of wine. Kirk takes a couple of moments to explain
what communion is all about, actually mentioning that it is possible to take communion in
an unworthy manner, thereby inviting Judgment on yourself. He makes it very clear that
there is no pressure to come forward and take communion; that in fact communion is not for
While Kendall (the female vocalist) sings a
very mellow song, people line up in two lines to get to the communion table. The
atmosphere is very quiet and contemplative.
After a while the rest of the band joins her, and start the second set of worship songs.
- Like Rain
- Better is one day
- Happy Song
The last song is sung with the room lights
on pretty bright, as Kirk explains, to end more upbeat. The room erupts as people jump to
their feet and worship God with everything they can.
"I could sing unending songs
Of how you saved my soul"
I could dance a thousand miles
Because of your great Love!"
Probably later than anticipated Kirk closes
out the service with a prayer, and invitation to go to the far-left corner for prayer. The
evangelism team makes the way to that corner, and pretty soon I see some of them in
prayer. Meanwhile all around people are chatting and drinking coffee. It seems like no one
is really ready to go home; people hang around for ages.
After a while I retreat to the conference
room with a number of people for an interview, which takes
about an hour. When we come out, the room is almost empty and the candles have been
cleared up. The time is 10:00
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