Church offers faith without pretense

Grassroots ministry is not your average Saturday night ritual

Story and photos by Casey Lessard

“This is guts,” says Reg Finkbeiner. “This is Sermon on the Mount.”
Finkbeiner is one of the regulars at Church, a grassroots faith ministry hosted at the Grand Bend Youth Centre at 7:30 p.m. every Saturday.
“I come here to worship,” he says. “This is an expression of what I believe. If I want to put up my hands, I can do it. If I want to do a little bit of soft-shoe, I can do it. Nobody’s telling me I can’t.”
Thomas and Gail Bailey started their ministry, earlier this year after leaving the Church of God congregation, the church where the Baileys met Finkbeiner.
“Despite the fact that I left the organized church and the official title of pastor and whatever that means, I’m still a preacher,” Thomas Bailey says. “God has laid it on my heart to preach his word. That’s part of the reason for doing this: to continue to preach and reach people. The other reason is to provide a way to get the message to people who wouldn’t otherwise walk into a church building. The last several years I’ve realized there are a lot of people who are seeking or already have a faith in God, but have walked away from the status quo religion tradition for a variety of reasons, and there’s nowhere for them to go. Almost a third reason would be to prove that it can be done without all that stuff.”
“A lot of people have been hurt in relationships with churches and other people in churches,” Gail adds. “I think they need a place to go that welcomes them with open arms.”
Finkbeiner was attracted to the purity of their effort.
“I connected with Tom and I connect with his principles. It’s not a theology, and it’s not a doctrine. It’s a way of being real. I love tradition, but tradition can produce a lot of incorrect reality.”
“We seem to be connecting with people who are otherwise unconnected,” Thomas Bailey says, “and this gives them a chance to be with people and worship again and be connected, without all the strings that come with it.
“There’s no offering. It’s certainly not money-oriented. People do donate, and the rest is out of our pocket. Our only expenses are rent and advertising. You have to really want to do that. I’m not here for the money. I’m here because this is what I want to do.”
The Baileys make it work by maintaining normal jobs. Thomas works at the Seaforth E.D. Smith creamery while Gail works at the Forest Subway.
“What makes this different is that we don’t own our own building and we don’t have an interest in owning one,” Thomas says. “We prefer to be in a public place that’s accessible to everyone. It’s more like we’re part of the community. The atmosphere is more relaxed. We certainly don’t care about how people look when they come in. The worship style tends to be more upbeat and contemporary; not a hymn book in sight. There’s more emphasis on the worship and the preaching.”
The average attendance at the services is between 10 and 12, he says.
“I don’t know if we’ve hit 20. Sometimes it’s a little discouraging, but I take solace in the fact that we’re reaching people that wouldn’t otherwise be connected. We’re ministering to them, so we are filling a need.”
One of the main ways the church separates itself from others is the Saturday night schedule. Bailey realizes it can conflict with other ways to spend a Saturday night, such as the nightlife in the summer and watching hockey in the winter. Their main concern, however, is getting out of the Sunday morning mold.
“We’re not competing with other congregations because they’re pretty much all Sunday morning. We’re very much into unity, and that’s why we’re unaffiliated. We’re into the unity of all believers. If we went to Sunday morning, we would be forcing people to make a choice, and that’s divisive.”
It’s a big risk for a couple that could have remained traditional church leaders, but they have no regrets.
“God asked us to do this,” Gail Bailey says, “and it took us a long time. We’ve left it in God’s hands. Whatever comes of it, comes of it. We’re just acting on faith.”