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Marching band will help a church get in the spirit

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- From rock bands to coffeehouses to contemporary services, churches these days are devising numerous ways to draw the masses through their doors.

Take Trinity United Church of Christ, for instance. Sunday the 50-year-old congregation will marshal the forces of part of the St. Petersburg High School marching band, cheerleaders and football team in its ongoing effort to attract more people to its church.

In the days leading up to this weekend cacophony that will wend its way from 49th Street N and down Trinity's aisles, passers-by are being summoned to the spectacle by a life-size, plywood Jesus. He wears a painted-on Green Devils football jersey -- representing the St. Petersburg High team -- and is holding a football in one hand and waving with another.

People have been seen waving right back, said the Rev. Roger Miller, pastor of the church at 1150 49th St. N.

Miller, 61, who arrived at Trinity United Church of Christ three years ago, said the church has been working at changing its image. About a year ago, the average Sunday attendance was about 50. Now, with its 9-month-old contemporary service, attendance has climbed to about 150.

"We wrote a mission statement last fall. The key points were the basis on which we began to develop more interesting and participatory worship. On the basis of that, we developed much more of an outreach to the community," he said.

A year ago, he said, the church invited a music and art studio to use its education building.

"We have recently invited another music studio and then our minister of music and fine arts has been developing contacts throughout the community. We opened ourselves to be a seven-day-a-week church."

And what is the point of Sunday's pep rally?

"To be of service to our community, to raise the community spirit of teamwork, to help our community see that all church does not have to be boring," Miller said.

"We will talk about how spirituality fits into sports, community affairs, politics, all the rest. Spirituality is best defined as that which gives purpose and meaning and value. . . . There is a spiritual warfare in all of life, which we will lose if we don't work together as a team."

Trish O'Neil, assistant principal for athletics and activities at St. Petersburg High, said only a scaled-down version of the band, cheerleading and football teams will appear at the church Sunday. Their participation, she added, is voluntary.

"They had a request that we come and do some activities for the congregation. This is not part of the service. It is only to perform for the congregation," she said.

"They are trying, I think, to give the kids a little bit of notoriety. Actually, we're promoting community, that's what we're doing."

In any event, Miller also views Sunday's program as part of the church's efforts to draw more people.

"If you don't have a crowd, there's nobody to preach to anyway," he said.

"Christianity is not meant be hoarded. It's meant to be shared. And if we are good news people, then we ought to have smiles on our faces. We ought to be clapping our hands and having fun. Fun and faith are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, in much of religion, they have been."

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