Monday, August 5, 2013
A young church in the Valencia Park neighborhood of Southeast San Diego is playing hip hop music during its services. The pastor says hip hop is already central to many young people's lives, so he wants it to also be central to their church.
The music is bumping. Young people dressed in jeans and sneakers, sundresses and sky-high platform heels mingle in groups. One man has headphones dangling from his neck. They high-five and hug, heads bobbing to the beat.
This is church.
The Body Church has been meeting in the Valencia Park neighborhood of Southeast San Diego for over a year. It plays hip hop music during its services to attract a young and racially diverse congregation. The church's pastor, Victor Schloss, said hip hop is already central to many young people's lives, so he wants it to also be central to their church.
"We play hip hop music because we are a people that has been influenced by the Hip Hop culture," said Schloss, who goes by Pastor Vic. "When we're in our cars, when we're at home, even when we're taking a shower, we play hip hop music. So it's natural for us when we come to church and get together as a bunch of believers to play the genre of music that we naturally listen to."
Music is a big part of many church services, but that's especially true for predominantly African American churches.
Some churches have adopted a pop music sound to appeal to younger audiences, but Pastor Vic said very few churches have music that resonates with his congregation.
"The people that we're reaching out to typically don't come from an African American church background, haven't grown up listening to gospel music," he said. "We're just reaching a different type of people. We're reaching the unchurched, people who have maybe had bad church experiences."
The Body Church does lots of outreach in its surrounding community, including a mentoring program at Valencia Park Elementary, which is also the school where Sunday service is held.
The church does play some acoustic worship music, but when Tinsley Martins talks to the congregation about God's help in her battle against depression, she does it as beat poetry:
Tinsley Martins performs spoken word at The Body Church.
"But depression's only rehab is made by the power of the tomb, three words to heal and to seal an open cut: I Give Up.
Let your mind and the voices know that there's only one King on the throne, and without him, Elohim, life will always be dim.
Life, dark like the reflect in your mirror, evil like the thoughts in your head, ugly like the desire in your heart and dead like Jesus on the cross that you forgot about."
Then, the rapper LP, or Livin' Proof, takes the stage to sing about his mother's battle with cancer:
"What you want from me Lord?
Cuz I ain't walking tough.
Carry me instead because I ain't strong enough.
I still recall when we were first introduced.
You took me by the dust and said you would give it use."
LP said he used to be a "secular rapper." But after he became a Christian four years ago, he switched to rapping about Jesus.
"It feels better honestly, it's not about all the materials and the girls and stuff, it's actually about real life and real things that people go through and people can relate to," he said. "So it does feel different, but it's a good different."
Pastor Vic also works on the side as a DJ. He fits in references to rappers like Jay-Z and Puff Daddy during a recent sermon. Yes, Pastor Vic knows Puff Daddy goes by P. Diddy now, but he doesn't care.
"If Puff Daddy is in the room with some other rappers, Puff Daddy is looked to as the guy that's the most glorious, the guy who has the most weight in the room," Pastor Vic tells the congregation. "Puff Daddy wants to grab the mic from any rapper in the room, he'll grab it! That's Puff Daddy! He's worth $580 million!"
People laugh, then grow quiet as Pastor Vic says that when someone is glorious like Puff Daddy, people give him attention. But unlike rappers, he says, God's glory will never fade.
When the service ends, people's moods seem light. Children weave between legs, laughing and screaming as the adults linger to talk with each other.
Pastor Vic's vision was to bring people together around hip hop, and then hit them with messages about God. It seems to be working.