Colette M. Jenkins
Sunday morning has always been the time for church in Danielle Bentley’s home.
“It’s always a rush, with four children, trying to make sure everybody is ready on time,” said Bentley, 35. “It can be a struggle. Sometimes the socks match and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes the Sunday clothes don’t fit anymore and you find out on the morning that you planned for one of the children to wear a particular thing.”
Bentley chuckled as she recounted the time that she and her husband, Marcus, discovered (while en route to church) that their 9-year-old son, Marcus II, was wearing his tap dancing shoes instead of his dress shoes. When they inquired, young Marcus explained that the dress shoes were too tight and hurt his feet.
The Bentleys have similar stories about their two daughters — CaraMia, 11 and SaMya, 7 — outgrowing their dress clothes. But they are expecting things to be different when it comes to their 19-month-old daughter, Maaria, because of the launch of a new “come as you are” Saturday service at Arlington Church of God.
The new 5 p.m. service, called Fresh Water, will start on April 14 and will offer a casual and contemporary environment. While all ages are welcome, it targets young adults, ages 18 to 35.
The Rev. Diana L. Swoope, senior pastor at Arlington, said the goal of the service is to offer a fresh perspective to the unchurched and those who have not attended church regularly or recently. The service will feature a praise team and a rearranged sanctuary that looks less traditional.
“The service will be moving all the time, because that’s where young adults are. It will be technology driven with interactive preaching,” Swoope said. “I already use my iPad to preach from, so it will be easy for those in attendance to tweet questions during the message. We want people to come as they are and leave with a message that will help them in their daily lives.
“I know that many young adults have questions and issues like: What am I supposed to do with my life? And what kind of relationships should I pursue?” Swoope said. “I think [the church] has sat around too long and not spoken some things into their lives. I want to help them get to a place where they’re not only asking what shall I do, but who do I impact? I want them to ask themselves the question, how do I change the world?”
The Fresh Water service is scheduled to last 90 minutes, ending in time for worshippers to make other plans for the evening. An additional 45 minutes will be set aside in the youth center for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the daily message.
The service will feature contemporary gospel music and Christian pop, drama, dance and mime. A special service for children will be offered simultaneously.
Billboards went up this week, including one at the University of Akron, inviting people to the service. Church members plan to distribute door hangers and fliers within a four-mile radius of the south Akron church and the university community. Transportation will be provided by the church for university students.
“We will pick them up and drop them off in time to make their 7:15 movie,” Swoope said. “We believe we have a message and an atmosphere that is conducive to the spiritual growth of young adults. When looking at the research, we find that students on college campuses hear from everyone but the church — they hear from the fraternities, the sororities, the credit-card companies but no church.
“We want to intentionally reach out to them and plant a seed that allows them to see the brightness of the light that God has put in them and the greatness of God.”
In addition to college students and young families, Swoope believes that the service will attract other groups, like those who would prefer to spend some Sunday mornings on the golf course.
The predominantly African-American church attracts more than 900 people to its two Sunday services at 8:15 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Saturday Sabbath, which has roots in Judaism, has not typically been part of the African-American church tradition. But in the past decade, it has been a growing phenomenon, particularly in megachurches in large cities to better accommodate contemporary, busy lifestyles.
The Saturday services, like the one starting at Arlington, are typically less rigid than Sunday services and liberated from traditional structure. Blue jeans, basketball jerseys and tennis shoes replace high heels, hats, suits and neckties.
Bentley hopes the re-?imaging will draw people who shy away from traditional church trappings.
“It’s going to be nice not having to get our children dressed up, but more importantly, I hope this service can help people understand that God wants us just as we are, with all of our bumps and bruises,” Bentley said. “Church is a place where we can all come, lay our concerns out and learn about God’s love.”
Arlington Church of God is at 539 S. Arlington St. For information about the church and the new Saturday service, visit www.arlingtonchurch.org or call 330-773-3321.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.