Kids' hangout blends MTV, Christianity
By EILEEN SCHULTE
© St. Petersburg Times,
PALM HARBOR -- Through a chaotic swirl of orange and blue lights and fog, a band called Unknown Hour plays deafening music in the dark, cavernlike club called the Grind.
Teens dance before the stage, two of them trying to form an impromptu mosh pit, but it lasts only seconds before they gently pull away from each other and break into laughter.
On the other side of the smoky room, a crowd of young people play pool, bending over the red felt tables, concentrating, trying to make that impossible shot.
Others sit at tables sipping drinks and talking. The band launches into a hard rock song called Wolverine Wannabe.
It is a Sunday night, and Jeff Winstead, whose child, Ben, is somewhere lost in the crowd, stands in the back near the sound booth, arms crossed, watching the action.
He seems at peace.
"This is a good, clean environment for the kids to have fun and learn about Christ," he says.
Learn about Christ? In the Grind, with its black painted walls, neon lights and rock music?
The Grind, Harborside Christian Church's arts cafe and student center, opened in April in the Palm Lake Shopping Center in Palm Harbor.
The cafe was fashioned out of a former bingo hall and old Eckerd drugstore, and was designed and built by the teens themselves, with assistance from adults at the non-denominational church, which has regular services at Countryside High School while it builds a sanctuary in Safety Harbor.
"I helped strip carpet and paint," said Lydia Majure, 15, a Palm Harbor University High School student.
Fifteen-year-old Blair Keller's father helped install the flooring. She likes the finished product, with its snack bar, computers, games and activities.
"It's so much to hang out with your Christian friends," she said. "We have really great music. Every weekend we have something going on."
"It's cool," echoed Ben Winstead, who was standing nearby.
The Grind was designed to attract Christians and even curious non-Christians without intimidating them, said youth minister Greg Pas.
Then he thought for a moment and said, "That's one of the benefits of being in a strip mall without a steeple. "We started this because we really saw a need to reach out to the community and establish a foundation for youth," Pas said. "Give them a safe place to hang out wherever they are with their walk with the Lord, and do it in a cutting-edge way."
He said the name the Grind was chosen because this is a "student-driven ministry." Then he points to the definition of "grind" from a story he once wrote about the cafe.
It says "to shape, sharpen or refine with friction as well as to devote oneself to study or work."
The name fits, he says, because "we're really into giving the kids an internlike experience, hands-on training," Pas said.
"You won't see any adults in the sound booth," he said. "We want to give them a purpose."
The space is also used for praise and worship sessions, adult Bible studies and other activities. But it was built mainly for use as a place where middle and high school students can let loose and have fun with their friends.
"This place is awesome," said Brent Beaton, 17, guitarist and singer for Unknown Hour who attends Calvary Chapel in Pinellas Park. "We need more of them. The reason kids do drugs is because they have nothing to do."
After a break, Unknown Hour launches into Mike's Life.
One of the singers tells the crowd it's about how God changed his life backward, forward and all around.
"I really like (the band)," said Elizabeth Eastley, 17, looking toward the stage. "They're really out for God."
If you go
The Grind Arts Cafe and Student Center is at 32676 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, in the Palm Lake Shopping Center. The facility hosts Christian and youth-oriented concerts, dances, classes, karaoke and game nights. For information, call (727) 726-0202.
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