When the hipster label hurts

Religious Studies
By PHILIP EIL  |  May 9, 2012

THE CONGREGATION Sunday at the Sanctuary Church.

Don't call it a "cool church," pastor Andrew Mook says.

His congregation may meet on Sundays in a bar with Guns 'N Roses and Sex Pistols album covers on the wall. The attendees — around 100 of them, usually —may be mostly twentysomethings holding iced coffees and wearing plaid shirts and jeans. And there may be a live band with pounding drums and distorted guitars playing onstage as the service begins.

But calling Sanctuary Church a "cool church" entirely misses its purpose, he says. Churches should be places where walls of race, class, and age come down and labels like "cool" or "hipster" only serve to build those walls back up. "No way do you want that label," he says, shaking his head. "Grey hairs and mohawks need to be in the same room together."

Ditching the "cool" tag might not be so easy for the 31-year-old, who made his name in Rhode Island as the front man for Bridges Fell — WBRU's "Local Band of the Year" in 2000. The band was meeting with record execs in New York City and sharing bills with Guster and Collective Soul before splitting up a couple of years later.

Around this time, when Mook returned to Rhode Island to start a graphic design shop and work for a local Congressional campaign, he started hosting Sunday evening gatherings at an East Greenwich church. "We'd sing and read the scriptures and read Flannery O'Connor and Dostoevsky and drink wine," he says. As the gatherings grew, Mook noticed two things: first, he was on his way toward becoming a pastor, something that he never set out to be; and two, most of the new members of his group were driving down from Providence. It was time to plant a new church in the capital city.

These days, Sanctuary Church is officially incorporated and picking up momentum in the final months before its official launch in September. During the week, its multi-use office/gallery space on Westminster Street in Federal Hill (nicknamed "The Port") is headquarters for planning the church's various community outreach efforts: after-school art and tutoring programs for children, neighborhood beautification projects. The church's Sunday worship space is across town at Davol Square in a space better known as Point Street Dueling Pianos.

That was where Mook could be found on a recent Sunday morning, wearing a black shirt and jeans, and delivering his sermon from behind a metal music stand onstage. As he juggled references to ancient Judaism, the Book of Thessalonians, and V for Vendetta, he passed plastic honey bears through the crowd and told members to place a drop on their fingers and taste it when he reached a verse from Psalm 119: "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth."

His sermon became more animated as it progressed. "I believe we have a city, a state," he said, "desperately in need of seeing something in people who can fail well, love well, give themselves in a way that the city has not seen in so long."

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  Topics: This Just In , Rhode Island, Sex Pistols
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