Musicians, weekend workers find home at Monday night service

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Musicians, weekend workers find home at Monday night service

May 31, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0860}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Although the atmosphere is laid back, the content of the Monday evening service at Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church is anything but lightweight Christianity.

Worshippers at the Holy Grounds Café service at Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church enjoy a light meal before Bible study and music. The casual, high-tech service is held every Monday night, giving people who aren’t able to go to church during more traditional times a chance to be part of a faith community. Photo by Mary Lee Downey. Photo #08-0864. Web photo only.
And it’s a service that demonstrates the church’s commitment to reaching out to believers and seekers who may not be able to attend church at all if a conventional Sunday service was their only option.
Ocoee Oaks’ Holy Grounds Café serves around 100 worshippers each week. A nursery, live band, coffee and cappuccino greet the crowd.
“It is café style,” said the Rev. Ernie Post, senior pastor of the Ocoee Oaks church. “The lights are down. Chairs are out. We have tablecloths, candles, coffees, snacks, popcorn, cheese crackers, trail mix, pizza rolls.”
In addition to a light dinner, the service, which is located in the church’s regular worship area, includes 20 to 30 minutes of singing with the church’s live band, occasional music videos, prayer and a Bible study delivered in a relaxed, conversational fashion by Post. A huge screen projector meets the service’s technical needs. Post says it is “very casual … very high-tech.”

The group shares a potluck dinner once a month, and worshippers take communion the first Monday of every month.

Although an offering is never taken, there is an offering box in the room for participants who would like to give. “I never say a word about finances,” Post said.
Post describes Holy Grounds Café as a “younger service” in terms of the ages of worshippers, with a diverse socioeconomic representation. He says many people who attend have lifestyles that do not enable them to attend a Sunday worship experience.
“These people would have never come to (typical) church (services),” Post said. “Most of them work weekends or would be uncomfortable in a big church setting like we do on Sundays.”

When the service first launched in 2005, about 65 adults attended. Now, the service boasts an average weekly attendance of about 100 to 150 people, with approximately 15 to 20 children, Post says.
“The teenagers love it (as do) elementary kids and middle school kids,” Post said. “Families come together and bring kids from their neighborhoods.”
At the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, the church was recognized for having 53 people join by profession of faith. The Rev. Jeff Stiggins, director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, sees Ocoee Oaks as a fruitful congregation.
“One of the five practices of fruitful congregations is radical hospitality,” Stiggins said. “Fruitful congregations find effective ways to extend the radical hospitality of God’s grace to the community and the next generation.”

“How do we welcome persons into our community of faith so that they can come to be followers of Jesus Christ with us? Ocoee Oaks has done an excellent job at finding creative ways of engaging people who are not yet part of their congregation and helping them feel at home. As a result, people are coming to know Christ through them.”

Trading nightclub for music ministry
At the heart of the service’s success lies a lay person named Danny Huff, a musician whose life changed after he began attending Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church about seven years ago.

Musician Danny Huff helped start the Holy Grounds Café service after seeing a need among many of his friends working in area nightclubs for a worship service during the week. Photo by Mary Lee Downey. Photo #08-0865. Web photo only.

Huff, who worked for years in nightclubs and struggled through the negative effects of what he considered a bad environment, discovered Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church after being introduced to the pastor by his sister. His first appearance at the church happened shortly after an unexpected, unique experience one night while playing with his band in a club.
“I felt like someone put their hands over my ears and I stopped playing and I looked down and my arms were still playing,” Huff said. “I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And all of a sudden — boom — I was back to playing, and I had this amazing feeling of peace and warmth and love and I knew exactly what I had to do next.”
Soon after going to his first worship service, Huff and Post began meeting regularly for discussions about life and faith. Post suggested Huff’s unusual experience was the arrival of the Holy Spirit in his life.
“I’ve been meeting with (Danny) on Wednesdays ever since … we had prayer together, and he started learning about faith,” Post said.
Although Huff considered leaving his nightclub gigs, Post encouraged him to wait for God’s timing.
“I said, ‘Get strong where you’re at and see where God leads you,’ ” Post said.
Huff knew the nightclub environment was difficult, but acknowledges it was a wonderful place to witness. As word got around that he was a Christian, people began asking him for his prayers or a copy of a daily e-mail devotional he received.

During this time, Post told him he usually finds a place of service quickly for each new Christian in the church, but did not do that with Huff.
“The thing he did with me … he groomed my spirit, and he led me through the Bible and to Christ,” Huff said.
After about five more years working in nightclubs, Huff eventually transitioned to a new office management job and followed his calling to launch the Holy Grounds Café service.
“I’m a musician, and at the time (of the Holy Grounds launch), I worked nights and a lot of people at the club felt they couldn’t get up in the morning (for church),” Huff said. “(We said): ‘Why don’t we try a Monday night service that’s not too late?’ ”
Huff continues to play in the band for the service. His girlfriend sings with the band. His hopes for the service are to simply follow where God leads.
“If we continue to do the best thing in Christ, then He will do everything that is supposed to happen in that service,” Huff said.
Post describes the music as similar to the styles played on local contemporary Christian radio. Rehearsals take place just before worship. The band relies on several important people to prepare for the service, including Fam King, “the guy (who has) been writing out all the charts and all the lyric sheets,” Huff said. Huff also credits the church music director, Ralph Wilder, for playing a key role in the music.
“He had a big part in this too, as far as musicians, songs — he’s always there and always has a wonderful spirit,” Huff said.
Stunt person by day, worship singer by night

Singer Marybeth Ortiz has been attending Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church for 10 years, and her second and third children were baptized there. For her, singing in the worship group is a dream come true, especially because she was a voice performance major in college.
“That’s my passion, and what better way to do it than to praise God for it,” Ortiz said. “That’s been a release for (me) to creatively use my talents.”
Ortiz’ work schedule as a stunt performer at Walt Disney’s MGM studios includes weekends, so Monday night worship fits her schedule and her desire to use her vocal gifts.

“It’s made a difference in my life. For someone who works unorthodox hours, it gives me a chance to connect,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz brings her three children along for rehearsals and worship. She laughs when she sees her daughters doing cartwheels in the back of the room to the music or finds her 3-year-old’s shoes tucked in where hymnals would normally belong.

The Rev. Ernie Post, senior pastor at Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church, says the Holy Grounds Café service every Monday night is café style, but also “very high-tech.” After launching in 2005 with about 65 adults, the service now boasts an average of about 100 to 150 people each week. Photo by Mary Lee Downey. Photo #08-0866. Web photo only.
“They do their homework while I’m doing rehearsal,” Ortiz said.
From the vantage point of the stage, Ortiz notices all the types of people who attend the service.
“There are people coming in right from work, and it’s really neat because they’ve all reached out to their families and their communities,” she said. “All the kids in my neighborhood love coming to my church.”
Serving outside the church’s walls

In characterizing the spirit of Holy Grounds Café attendees, Post said most of them relish opportunities to serve people in underprivileged situations.
“They are not going to be my Sunday school teachers,” Post said. “They are project workers.”

As an example of their commitment to works of service, Post recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he felt led to go to the Gulf Coast and assist survivors in some way.
“I had 14 people who went with me, and 12 came from Monday night,” Post said.
In another service opportunity, nearly 60 people from Ocoee Oaks assisted a 98-year-old Winter Garden woman in making extensive home repairs that might have caused her to lose her home if the work had been left undone. Almost all of the workers came from the Monday night crowd, Post said.
“They went over and completely renovated that house … new roof, washing machine, landscaping,” Post said.
More information about the Holy Grounds Café is available on the church’s Web site at or by calling the church at 407-293-0700.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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