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Not Your Father's Kind of Church
or "Church Without Walls"
by Susan Finck-Lockhart

"Turn my passion for this world into passion for You. Gentle longing for the things of your heart. Turn my passions in this world into passion for You. Sweet devotion for the things of Your heart. Teach me to turn it loose; the things of the world -- unfold this mystery of your love for me.Turn my passion for this world; into passion for You. Gentle longing for the things of your heart." --- Janet Dorrell, one of the founders of Church Under the Bridge, Waco, Texas

At 9 a.m. on Sunday morning the concrete space underneath the I-35 bridges over 4th and 5th street is empty. By 10:30 a.m., a mix of cars, trucks and vans have jumped the curb and are parked in a random pattern around several hundred well-worn folding chairs arranged in rows. Behind a large U-Haul style trailer emblazoned with "Mission Waco," several folks are setting up microphones and music stands on a flatbed trailer, while fifty or so others dine on pancakes, sausage and fruit.

The congregation gathers.

Welcome to Church Under the Bridge or "CUB" in Waco, Texas - a church that lends new meaning to terms like 'seeker sensitive' and 'come as you are.' A large contingent of Baylor University students joins with homeless folks, recovering addicts, and a cadre of young couples. Several families and a few bikers -- one with an enormous wooden cross that he pulls behind his Harley -- complete the picture. One young African-American man in his uniform from the McLennan County Correctional Facility takes a seat next to a 60-something white man with wire-rimmed glasses, clad in a polo shirt and ballcap. The attire spans the gamut from shorts, T-shirts and torn jeans to a few skirts and even a sprinkling of starched button downs.

The worship team climbs up on the flatbed and begins to play a mix of 70s Jesus songs, traditional hymns, and contemporary praise songs. Also spread throughout the songbook are original songs composed by Janet Dorrell, who founded CUB with her husband Jimmy nine years ago and leads the singing with a hint of country western flair.

The chief 'usher,' not a centimeter under 6'6" and clad in a Church Under the Bridge t-shirt and old jeans, smiles at us through his chest-length salt and pepper beard as he hands us a bulletin. His shirt reads: "...black, white, and brown, rich and poor, educated in the street and educated in the university… all worshipping the same loving God who calls us to himself." Several other worshippers sport a second style of t-shirt, which reads: "These are my church clothes."

It smells of the street. Exhaust mingles with after shave, cologne and the "natural fragrance" of those whose last baths are a distant memory. Cigarette smoke wafts through the air: My daughter is horrified, "Mom, there is someone smoking-- during church!!"

"We're just ordinary folks under an ordinary bridge all made holy by Your Presence," Pastor Jimmy Dorrell prays. He evokes the image of the Great Banquet from Luke's Gospel as he invites us to worship. As he prays, we hear the grinding of eighteen-wheelers shifting gears and the sound of cars whizzing by overhead. Folks hang around on the periphery, some standing, some whispering to each other; some finishing up their food from the meal that is served each Sunday prior to worship. No silver offering plates here. Ushers pass around a coffee can covered with contac paper.

When it's time for Sunday School, children pop up from among the crowd and gather by a woman holding a bright yellow rope. They line up, holding the rope, and cross the frontage road, processing through the Mobil station parking lot and disappearing into the Clarion Hotel. (The Clarion donates a room for their use each Sunday.)

The message from the pulpit at CUB "afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted" in a wholistic, balanced way. The forgiveness of the cross and the transforming power of God in Christ are front and center. Bulletins feature sermon notes on the back with summaries of key points. One Sunday, Dorrell preached a hard-hitting message from James about the tongue. Several youth groups were there who had been working at various outreach ministries associated with the church. Dorrell hit on sins from "buying too many shoes at the mall" to "doing too much booze or slipping back into drugs…" Another Sunday, the worship team equipment was removed from the flatbed, and Dorrell preached on Samson "WWF Style." Clad in a green wig with flowing hair to his waist, and a sweatshirt stuffed to look like bulging muscles, Dorrell wrestled several large men from the church playing the part of "Philistines" as the congregation catcalled and roared with laughter. "Delilah" appeared in a later scene - a church member clad in tight leather pants and a cleavage-revealing top. In between 'scenes' Dorrell's message was driven home: "Moral impurity, deceit and rebellion affect one's character. And "an immature faith built on emotions rarely leads to strong character that honors God."

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