Musings of an Ethnomusicologist on Unrelated Topics

Field Notes: First Sunday at Cross and Crown (formerly Mars Hill Ballard)

Written on 1/4/15, the date of Cross and Crown’s first service.

Mars Hill had fashionable carpet. Taupe and coffee-colored stripes angled in a mismatched, rebellious kind of way.

It was the kind of carpet you didn’t realize was fashionable until it went out of style. It only just went out of style. I can’t tell when, except I suddenly noticed it today.

It’s a strange experience to attend a new church in the carcass of the old, a week after the old disbanded clumsily. After a clumsy and confusing and opaque and yet strangely vulnerable year. Or six months. Or less. Even as a researcher, it has been topsy-turvy. Emotional. So, as a congregant, I can’t imagine.

I wasn’t there last week when Rick Warren closed out Mars Hill’s 18 year boom-and-bust with a nationally televised sermon. But this week, the now un-fashionable carpet was still there, stained and smudged with years of tracked mud and spilled coffee, the two essential symbols of our rainy Pacific Northwestern city. A new start, but the carpet looked old. Worn.

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A modest banner reading Cross and Crown hung on wall facing Leary Way; a sandwich board with a handful of windswept balloons announced the service times. But they hung like temporary accessories alongside Mars Hill’s slick signage, still set in the concrete building’s facade.

Like ever, I went in the building, this time to one ambivalent greeter who flashed a bewildered smile. Now an old habit, I continued into the back room where, faithfully, coffee is served. Even the displayed coffee signs still featured the distinctive “M” logo, connoting its Mars Hill past. The branding, the clean sans serif fonts, the block lettering painted on the lobby walls: an elision. The ghost of Mars Hill past.

And how quickly the past becomes past. A week ago, we could speak with some continuity about the connections between Mars Hill of 2014 and Mars Hill of 1996. Now, in only a week, the threads which hold Cross and Crown its parent, Mars Hill, together connect with what feels a tenuous and ambiguous hold. It’s best to assert a distance, is it not, from the toxicity of that institution and its reputation?

Yes, but these people lining the seats: they have been changed here. Changed how? I can’t say exactly. And I can’t say I agree exactly, or even somewhat. But I know each story is unique, and some stories are quite remarkable.

Matthias Haeusel’s rambling sermon, initiating a series around the book of Titus, encapsulated the elision. Embedded in his soliloquy included the most lucid definition of New Calvinism I’ve yet to hear. He touched on the tenant of godliness, a Mars Hill buzzword and object in relationships and identification. And he insisted “it’s all about Jesus,” the hallmark, seemingly innocuous, phrase transformed in Driscoll’s rhetorical style. In his button-down shirt and expensive jeans, he assumes the Driscoll aesthetic. Just not as well-spoken. His sermon set it out clearly, but strategically did NOT state it plainly: We’re still that same church. We’re still Mars Hill. I guarantee the church’s critics are thinking this is not what we want to hear. It’s not what I want to hear.

I have sympathy and empathy and grace, but lack the uncertain sorrow and investment necessary to know what went on inside the skins of the former members of Mars Hill this morning as they filed into their seats at Cross and Crown. But when the band played a familiar song which exemplifies Zach Bolen’s hallmark compositional style – I felt a certain sense of loss, too.

I don’t know what will come next for that church – I’m concerned it’s more of the same, just in miniature. But its hip, edgy days as a growing behemoth in its pregnant prime are gone.


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This entry was posted on January 10, 2015 by .
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