Out here, at the tail end of this leg of my religious journey, denominational differences have faded, church names have gotten creative, and the music has grown a steady beat. I’ve just left a rented event center packed to the brim with mostly young, good-looking college students. The music was played by five guys, each more adorable than the last, like an angelic boy band on the brink of fame.
The name of this congregation does not tie it to any kind of Christianity that came before. It’s christened for a sound and news too good not to share. I’ll call it “the Buzz.”
The cavernous auditorium was filled with studs, jocks, and even handsome hipsters; so many young women had clear complexions and long silky hair. A sprinkling of stylish middle-agers and mature high-schoolers rounded out the crowd. These were the kind of worshippers who don’t believe in wearing business casual to honor the Lord so much as the right wash on their denims.
The lighting during the services was dim and moody; I felt like Jesus might appear on stage at any moment with a big digitally re-mastered halo around his head. I had the impression of Jesus as the ultimate celebrity: all the boys want to be like him and the girls want to date him.
After attending the service, I find the website for the Buzz and click a link to send an email message to the head minister, Jackson, asking if he’ll meet me. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about the sermon he gave, which was not at all what I expected. With all those young people in expensive jeans as his audience, I imagined he’d talk about something generically positive like the power of love or manifesting abundance in your life. Instead he gave a detailed lecture about Nehemiah, a lesser known character in the Old Testament. I knew nothing about Nehemiah, whose claim to fame was rebuilding the destroyed walls of Jerusalem—hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Nehemiah had never even been to Jerusalem or seen the walls before he decides his life’s mission. He was an unlikely candidate for the job. He was working as one of the king’s servants miles away when he asks permission to go.
I also realize I have no idea what denomination the Buzz is, or if it even has one. No mention is made of it on the website or in any of the literature from my visit. I go back and scour the local newspaper’s Worship Directory, but the church’s name isn’t listed. I search the phonebook but don’t see it there either. It’s managed to fly completely under the radar. Its members must learn about it by word of mouth. Come to think of it, that’s how I first heard of it. A teenage daughter of a friend of mine said I should check it out.
Jackson agrees to meet me at a coffee shop a few weeks after the semester ends. The girls working behind the counter know him by name. Others in the café say hello. Suddenly I feel like I’m meeting a member of Jesus’s entourage. Maybe Jackson will be the next mega-preacher superstar like Joel Osteen. He certainly has the camera-ready looks: friendly blue eyes and a full head of sandy blonde hair with just a touch of grey starting at the temples. Maybe he’ll head up a popular mega-church like Saddleback in California, providing sermons to hundreds of thousands both in person and online. He’ll write a Jesus-centric bestseller like Rick Warren’s the Purpose Driven Life.
We sit in a pair of cushiony chairs facing each other. We are roughly the same age and his easy-going and open demeanor makes him feel familiar. I tell him a little about my background: that I’m a None whose been attending church for more than a year now. I have my notebook on my knees, ready to take notes, but he wants to hear from me first.