The old pews at the First Baptist Church in Saratoga Springs were chock-full of young people Sunday night.
Troy-based nondenominational congregation Terra Nova started up a new branch in Saratoga Springs on Jan. 6. Sunday night was just the second service in the new location, but the young church seemed to be off to a strong start.
Music Pastor Scott Womer mounted the old stage. In the shadow of a massive pipe
organ installed a good century before the tunes of Elvis Presley were dubbed the devil’s music, he strapped on an electric guitar and pounded out what can only be described as pure rock ’n’ roll.
The crowd moved with the rhythm of his six-piece band, bobbing their heads and belting out the religious lyrics. Many held surprisingly calm babies.
A few hours before the service, site pastor Daniel Williams was out front staking signs and LED lights into the ground.
First Baptist still uses the church in the mornings, so Terra Nova rents the space, setting up and tearing down every Sunday evening.
“It’s a trade-off,” he said, going through the big old church doors, “This venue is used for a number of nonreligious things, so people are more comfortable showing up, but we do have to tear everything down late at night.”
He pointed out some of the decor: stylish curtains at the entrance, a nicely designed logo and sign. It’s a place any young musician, artist or writer would feel right at home, but Williams hesitated to use the word “hip.”
“We’re about Christ,” he said. “All this other stuff, the contemporary look, that’s secondary.”
The original church grew out of head pastor Ed Marcelle’s years as a starving artist on Lark Street in Albany.
“I wasn’t a church guy,” he said.
But when he took on the Christian faith, he realized none of his artist friends would feel welcome at church.
“There’s a disconnect between the arts and the church,” he said. “There shouldn’t be. All art, consciously or unconsciously, is an imitation of God’s creation.”
In 2006, he and a few others started the church in Troy with the idea of closing that gap, which starts to explain the hip atmosphere.
There are four highly practiced worship bands in rotation, even a graphic designer willing to volunteer services. Terra Nova seems to attracts the artists.
“People say 30-year-olds just aren’t interested in going to church,” Marcelle said. “I think they’re not interested in being bored. They want a connection to this ancient religion, but they want it in language they understand.”
Terra Nova has grown from a group of a dozen believers to 400 in just six years and doesn’t plan on slowing down.
The location in Saratoga is one of several Marcelle has in mind. From the beginning, he’s planned to build churches in Albany and Schenectady as well as Troy and Saratoga Springs.
“The Northeast is one of the least-churched regions of the country,” he said, but he hopes to change that.
Services are held at the First Baptist Church in Saratoga Springs Sundays at 5:30 p.m. and in Troy at 9 and 11 a.m.
For information, visit terranovachurch.org.