Police officer Loyce E. Spells counts 105 churches in Evanston. “We need all of those,” he says, “and more – more productive and efficient ministries.”
Acting on that conviction, Officer Spells, who is also an ordained minister, began working with a launch team last spring to plan for a new ministry — “a church for the unchurched, the dechurched and the overchurched,” he says. “We’re not some new Christian sect or denomination,” he emphasizes; instead theirs is a ministry rooted in Christian theology and doctrine yet designed “to reach the unreached in a radical manner.”
The House of Prayer @ Evanston, will hold its first service at 5 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Evanston Ecology Center. Both the time and the place were chosen to set it apart from mainstream churches.
Rev. Spells says the service will be the first of three public “previews.” He has named the un-Sunday weekend gatherings “Saturday Night Live” to suggest a dynamism and spirit he expects will distinguish them from traditional worship services.
Information about the House of Prayer @ Evanston announces its intent to depart from stereotype: “Rated R Ministry: Revolutionary, Relevant, Real, Risky, & Radical,” says one page. “Come rediscover church!” Another says “Join the Revolution.”
The Saturday event was designed to call attention to some of the ways in which the House of Prayer diverges from the typical church. A live band and a team of vocalists will take the place of the usual choir, says Mr. Spells. A Christian comedian and a Christian clown will offer provocative entertainment. Plans for the avant-garde service also include the “It’s on the HOUSE” Café, featuring “coffee, cappuccino, cold drinks and more.”
The goal is to project “a casual mentality,” says Rev. Spells, so people will “feel comfortable coming as they are.”
However secular its trappings, Rev. Spells’ ministry is grounded in Christian theology. The contemporary accouterments are part of a plan to “give the [institutional] church a health check” and to step backward to what he sees as the Biblical sense of the Greek word “ekklesia,” which he translates as “the called-out ones.”
He is intends to address problems he sees in the institutional church, including denominationalism and a “lack of diversity” — a true diversity that is socio-economic as well as cultural, he says.
The House of Prayer is renting City of Evanston’s Ecology Center, a location whose natural beauty and symbolism he says send the right message for the preview. Located next to the bridge at the corner of Bridge Street and McCormick Boulevard, the Center lacks religious connotations but connects the 5th Ward with the 6th and 7th wards across the canal. Physically and metaphorically the building is well placed to attract a congregation that is diverse in age, race, ethnicity and income, says Rev. Spells.
Forging connections is part of Rev. Spells’ day job. He has spent seven of his 11 years with the EPD in community policing, “charged with building relationships and rapport with the community,” he says. In his current position as a problem-solving officer, he says he helps “develop strategies for crime prevention” and serves as a liaison between the community and the police department.
He sees the ministry as an extension, not a contradiction, of his EPD work. Ministry “goes hand in hand with being a cop,” he says. “Both [involve] public service and caring for people.” Six years ago, he says, he felt called to the pastoral ministry. He entered seminary in 2004 and completed a master’s degree in Religion and Urban Ministry at the Doulton campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School while working full-time at the EPD.
He served on the staff of a Maywood church and then, two years ago, he says he was “called to church planting.” Rev. Spells and his launch group have formulated a vision statement for their ministry and have articulated a purpose, a list of core values, a mission and a strategy for fulfilling them.
Growing up as a Muslim on the west side of Chicago, Rev. Spells read the Koran and the Bible side by side and found Christianity wanting. But when he was introduced to Christianity in college, he says he became a believer. Later he baptized his mother.
In founding The House of Prayer, Rev. Spells says he is addressing things that cause people to leave the church and that are “hindrances to spiritual development.” He says attendees can expect to find at the House of Prayer “ministry over money,” “people over programs,” “relationships over races,” “truth over tradition” and “humility over haughtiness.”
The sermon he will deliver on Saturday night, “Fear Factor,” has a title appropriate to Halloween eve. But its content will deal with a post-911 world where “airport alerts are always high,” he says, and the news is filled with “media-mongering” and incessant product recalls.
“Fear incarcerates us,” says Rev. Spells; “fear incapacitates us. I want to tear down fear and set people free.” It is part of “an unchanged message to an ever-changing world,” he says.