Dallas is home to one of the richest religious music scenes in the country. Over the summer, we'll be attending services, both big and small, of many denominations, as well talking to musicians , directors and pastors.
Here at DC9 at Night, we've covered many churches this summer, but none with so many extra-cirriculars as Life in Deep Ellum. The building, nestled between the bars and tattoo parlors of Deep Ellum, views itself as a cultural center: On top of their church services on Sunday, LiDE also has a coffee shop, rents space to businesses, hosts concerts, community meetings and even art galleries.
Focusing on its four pillars - Art, Music, Commerce and Community - Life in Deep Ellum builds upon the area's culture, rather than standing in contrast to it. "By design, we didn't set out to be a place where it would be just Christians to be around other Christians," Derek Templeton, one of LiDE's two music directors, said. "We wanted to be a place that was integrated into the community."
To get to the service, the congregation first walks through LiDE's art gallery, full of works by local artists. The service takes place in a room that is similar to many other small venues in the area - low ceilings, concrete floors, a brick wall, a rug and candles on the stage.
At 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings, LiDE's only church service begins. To kick off the service, Templeton leads a full band in a worship, covering many popular contemporary Christian songs, like Gungor's "Beautiful Things" as well as original songs like "Who You Are," which Templeton wrote.
Each week, bands of between six and eight people perform during the service. Templeton and the other music director, Jenise Zuildema, usually alternate leading the band, although they do sometimes perform together. Altogether, there's a pool of about twenty volunteer musicians that perform. The groups only practice together for about two hours on Sunday mornings before the services, but they still play extremely well together.
On Sundays, The Gathering, as Life in Deep Ellum's church service is called, is very similar to many other churches in the area, but during the week, LiDE is one of a kind. LiDE moved into their current building on the corner of Malcolm X and Taylor Street in 2007. The building, which looks more like a warehouse than a church, seamlessly blends in with the rest of the area's buildings. Like so many places in Deep Ellum, LiDE's outer walls are covered with art; in their case, a man in a suit holding out an umbrella dominates the front of the building.
Lead pastor Joel Triska explains that the umbrella man is the church's icon, symbolizing sacrificial service. When Life in Deep Ellum moved into the area, Deep Ellum was really struggling. Their goal has always been to not only help the area spiritually, but economically as well.
The congregation is an accurate representation of the locals. The members are largely in their 20s and 30s. Various members had beards, brightly colored hair, tattoos, fedoras and snapbacks, and almost everyone wore jeans. Triska, with his button-down shirt with rolled up sleeves, jeans and cowboy boots, matched the casual feel of the congregation.
Ashley Roper, a student at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, has been interning with LiDE over the summer. Roper loves how involved the church is in the area. "It's not just a church in the Deep Ellum community. The community is also in here." Roper has grown so fond of the church that she plans on continuing to make the thirty-minute drive from Waxahachie every Sunday even after her internship ends.
Sam Kirkendall, a resident at Parkland Hospital wearing his scrubs, and his wife have attended the church for two years. They love the young community and the ministers. He also told me, "A lot of people here were jaded by other churches."
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LiDE frequently hosts art galleries, often focusing on artists that have had trouble getting into other galleries. They also have various tenants to whom they rent out office space to local entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, they own and operate Mokah Coffee Bar, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday to Friday, as well as before The Gathering on Sunday mornings. Mokah hosts a few small concerts throughout the week as well.
The church's main stage is sometimes rented out for larger concerts for both Christian and secular musicians. "It all flows together," Templeton said. "It all intertwines."