Rev. George Potter doesn’t like to see anyone locked out of church.
He didn’t like it when his grandfather locked the church doors to keep African Americans out in the 1960s. He didn’t like it when The United Methodist Church voted to exclude practicing homosexuals from being ordained or married in the church.
“Are we as a church expected to exclude people who may not live or believe as we do? We reach out to other communities, we take the Word to all nations, but not gay people,” he said.
For Potter, it created a crisis of conscience. How could he stay in The United Methodist Church?
|Rev. George Potter says all are welcome at Hippie Church.|
“I sat with it. I prayed with it. I like being Methodist. They are generally tolerant, open, loving and caring. We have an open table. I’ve always loved that,” Potter said. “But I feel bad for a whole community of people who are being told they are not welcome to full inclusion.”
Potter, a substance abuse counselor with Recovery Ministry, thought about starting a fellowship, something open and unstructured, for people who felt excluded or uncomfortable in a traditional setting.
He was sharing his idea with someone, and they said “that sounds pretty hippie;” and the fellowship was tagged Hippie Church.
He contacted friends in the music community in Tallahassee. They liked the idea and came up with a graphic of Jesus with a Stratocaster guitar wearing a crown of flowers surrounded by an eclectic group of people.
Potter loved it.
“I thought, ‘I can preach to that,’” he said.
They put the image on flyers advertising the fellowship. At first, they met at 4 p.m. Sundays at Gray Memorial United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.
“People came, but not much was happening,” Potter said. “I realized a lot of people don’t feel comfortable in a church. I needed to meet them where they are.”
Potter invited a musician friend to the fellowship, but he couldn’t make it because he goes to jam sessions on Sunday evenings at the Midtown Kava Lounge. Potter asked the owners if Hippie Church could meet there. They gave a green light.
It turns out a Kava Lounge is the perfect venue for a Hippie Church.
Kava Kava is a tea that originated in the South Pacific, where it’s served in a coconut shell. Co-owner Roman Baker calls it an alcohol alternative because of its anti-anxiety effects. It’s a drink for people who want to chill out.
“It’s very communal. We have a bar atmosphere, and people order a shell and we drink it together. George brings food. It’s a great setting for what George is trying to accomplish,” Baker said.
Hippie Church meets in the outdoor patio for a jam session.
“It’s a free-flowing band. We’re all over the place with the music,” Baker said. “People bring bongos, guitars, brass instruments. Whatever shows up, we make it work.”
|Midtown Kava Lounge hosts Hippie Church.|
The session is open to anyone and has turned out to be a great way to be introduced to the church.
“It’s an inviting atmosphere, a Christian community circle for people who have questions or are skeptics or are intimidated by church structure,” Baker said.
“It introduces young people to the core principles of Christianity without the judgment. It conveys a message of acceptance, open-mindedness and tolerance that has been missing from the mainstream church.”
Hippie Church has been meeting about three months and attracts between 10 and 20 young people, mostly musicians and creative people.
Already, Potter said, he has had opportunities to pray with people about serious personal issues.
One young man with a history of mental illness was very depressed. Another young man said the mother of his children had committed suicide.
“I can’t say I’m making Methodists,” Potter said. “A few are coming to the church that weren’t coming before I started this process.”
One young man has joined Gray Memorial.
“He has hair down his back and writes and plays music,” Potter said. “We want to put together a praise band.”
Potter said he didn’t think of Hippie Church as a Fresh Expressions ministry when he started it, but he would call it that now.
“It’s a community-building activity,” he said. “It’s how we share the love and can be the church in this environment.”
And he’s talking to another Kava Lounge about having another session of Hippie Church.
“I’ve been frustrated when trying to share with young people what I value so much in my church—the family, the love, the community,” he said.
“I don’t know if this is going to get many people into the Methodist Church, but they are interested in community and are willing to talk about things in theology terms.”
—Lilla Ross is a freelance writer in Jacksonville.