By KELLY MOELLER
It all started while Pastor Rob was just going for a drive down Route 202 in Mahwah, thinking to himself, “where would Jesus hang out?” As his drive continued and he passed the MB&G, he figured that Jesus would probably spend his time at the bar.
With that, Parker decided to launch “God in the Bar” on Sunday evenings at the Mahwah Bar and Grill. At the Sunday service Pastor Rob invites everyone to the restaurant at 7:00. Upon arrival you would receive two tickets which get you two drinks from the bar as well as appetizers.
After everyone has had ample time to come, get a drink and get settled, the doors shut and the group is engaged in a specific conversation, whatever the church feels is appropriate, where everyone is invited to express their opinions and beliefs.
This is the Plant. More of an unconventional, hip way of reaching out to people.
The Plant, located at 150 Ridge Rd, in Mahwah, New Jersey has a congregation of around 200 patrons. But at this church, faith goes beyond just an individual or local level; it stresses the importance of using faith to help oneself help others near, and most importantly, far. Parker explained that part of loving the entire world surrounding us is to help everywhere.
“We not only focus in Mahwah, we also focus globally. We have been a part of a project in Uganda, working with them now for four years to get a community started. We’ve also been involved in water projects helping to build a well, schools, and a lot of work over seas. We not only serve the people locally but we empower people to make a global difference”
According to PewResearch: Religion and Public Life Project, more than 81 percent of adults in the United States affiliate themselves with some kind of religion. The Plant Church goes one step beyond, being a church of believers under one roof: they are a “community of faith committed to live out the love, truth, and compassion reflected in Jesus Christ.”
What is The Plant?
What is The Plant? Parker describes it as, “Cultivating a community where the love of Christ is revealed in the relationships we have with one another, that the truth of Christ that we study is found in holy scriptures, and the compassion of Christ is how we love the world around us, both locally and globally.”
It’s an organization where people from all walks of life are welcome and encouraged to attend. “Everyone who has come to experience our service, no matter what their life situation is, has felt comfortable and really encouraged to have a relationship with Christ,” explained Parker, “we want people to relate with the real Jesus, not the one of the western church, but of the ancient scriptures.”
The Cornerstone Christian Church located in Wyckoff, NJ founded the Plant in January of 2008. Because the Cornerstone Church was expanding, they felt that more locations in the Bergen County area would better help them to carry out their mission statement, being to spread the word of Jesus.
In terms of denomination, The Plant is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The mission statement of the alliance is that they are focused around Jesus with their mission being to fulfill his final request on earth, The Great Commission. Parker says that what sets apart Alliance, as well as the Plant, from other Christian organizations is that not only do they function on a local level, but a global level as well.
On Sunday December 8th, a mere 2 weeks before Christmas, Parker greeted every single person who came out to God in the Bar. As more and more people entered and the room became noisier, Parker didn’t pay any more attention to one person than another.
“In college I was playing college sports. Eventually I had suffered a spinal injury where I had to stop playing. At the same time I had started going to high schools, sharing stories of failures of success at assemblies, and that made me realize I wanted to preach. Additionally, one summer I worked at a summer camp for kids in the urban setting and I thought, ‘I really want to be in a career that serves people,’ and I knew that because of my faith, preaching was the perfect spot for me.”
Prior to his work with the Plant, Pastor Rob has worked with Hawthorne Gospel, Cornerstone Christian Church, and a non-profit youth ministry called Young Life. Parker is currently finishing up his PhD in Semiotics and Future Studies at George Fox University.
Omar Niebles, The Pastor of Community Life, who has worked with Rob since the formation of the church in 2008 says, “Rob is a visionary, but he doesn’t leave people stranded. Rob is someone who wants to help people along and have them figure out the vision with him. So he’s a journeyman that wants to bring others on board. He’s humble and teachable.”
What Does The Plant Do?
Last year, in response to Hurricane Sandy, Parker and his congregation were immediately figuring out ways to raise money, food, as well as other necessities. Last year just in the month of December alone, the church, accompanied by others willing to help, raised $15,000. Half of that amount went to Uganda to assist the group with which they are associated, the other half was used to ease the monetary burden thrust upon those who experienced damage from the storm.
Not only do they help in monetary senses, but also in emotionally supportive situations. It is apparently not uncommon to have a service on Sunday morning in which very few people are in attendance because they are out participating in events such as fun runs for cancer awareness or suicide prevention walks.
After examining all of the good work and effort that the members of The Plant contribute to the entire world around them, it begs the question, what do other churches as well as other conservative Christians think of The Plant. It could be perceived as a more “modern” institution, if you will.
When approached with that notion Parker said, “It’s a very relevant church to today’s communities in that we study and believe the scriptures. We live out our faith in a very real and tangible way. We make faith and community extremely relevant.”
Jim Murphy, a guest at the Mahwah Bar and Grill saw God in the Bar and inquired. “Me being a catholic, I’m turned off by church, it’s too stodgy. And the fact that they put a basket in front of you and tell you to put money in it, as opposed to thinking of other ways to raise money for the church and those who benefit from it, said Jim Murphy, who is a Catholic, but has become despondent towards the Catholic Church.
“I went to get married in the Catholic Church and my fiancée was divorced, so the church said it would not be a problem, but her previous marriage needed to me annulled.” Murphy said, “We were willing to do it until they asked for a hefty donation. So we opted to go to an Episcopal church and they wanted nothing from us. With my charitable background, this church seems very appealing to me. It seems that it could make church fun as opposed to something that you feel morally obligated to go to.”
Does everyone love the Plant?
Parker shed some light on the fact that people simply enjoy the congregation and the church as a group and appreciates what they do. While there are people out there hesitant and uncertain when it comes to organized religion or perhaps have their own disbeliefs or theories, there is no uncertainty that the things this group of people does to help their friends and neighbors is astonishing.
“One specific example that I remember involving negative energy towards us was when we did a September 11th remembrance at the Mahwah Bar and Grill, there was someone who purposely came out with a negative eye to see how Craig, the owner of the restaurant, and I would handle it, Parker said, and afterwards he came to me and thanked me because of how respectful we were to those who had lost loved ones.“
In the almost six years that the church has been active, there was only one memorable instance of negative energy towards the church, which in the end was quickly rectified and never a problem.
Parker says that he frequently asks himself, why do church this way? His answer was, “I always want to see a church that would reach a person who would never ever want to go to church; to find that faith can be real, it’s tangible, and that the Christmas story, the story of Jesus is real.”
The Plant meets every Sunday morning at 10:00 am at 150 Ridge Road in Mahwah, New Jersey (Ramapo Ridge Middle School). Check the website for dates and time of God in the Bar.
He expressed that if anyone were to have potential problems with the church it would be their partners in crime. “If anyone thinks were crazy, other churches think were crazy. We’re a little edgy with God in the Bar.”