The newest church in Dallas has two unusual greeters: The Blues Brothers.
Uptown Church began holding Sunday morning services at the House of Blues, the iconic music venue in downtown Dallas, this month.
Standing at the top of the stairs as worshippers enter The Music Hall, where services take place, are statues of Jake and Elwood Blues. The two were originally played by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd on Saturday Night Live sketches in the 1970s.
Many of the worshippers attending Uptown Church weren’t even born when the Blues Brothers became famous, but holding services in a place where rock stars, pre-COVID-19, regularly perform, may be just the ticket for attracting a congregation of the millennials living in Uptown.
That was Rev. Joy Gonzalez’ idea in starting the church. Gonzalez, 35, is a pastor with Highland Park United Methodist Church.
“Highland Park has a tradition of starting new churches. We’ve started forty,” she said. “When my husband and I moved to Dallas a few years ago we moved to Uptown. And we started asking around ‘Where do you guys go to church?’ A lot of people told us, we’re Christians but there’s nowhere close to us to attend.”
Highland Park United Methodist did some demographic studies and found that 70% of the people living in the area aren’t connected to a church. Such was the case with Ellen Barker, a recent transplant from Montgomery, Alabama, who now is a volunteer at Uptown.
“There’s no church down here, and this is a cool place,” she said.
That’s what Gonzalez thought on her first visit to the venue as music fan. “I went to a concert at the House of Blues one weekend and realized, man, this is what we try to create in church spaces that we build.”
With portraits of Fats Domino, Al Green and countless others hanging on the wall, the vibe is musical excitement. And that’s the tempo of the service. Concert lighting imparts the mood of a night club.
The congregation wears jeans, running shoes, yoga pants, what singles -- as many of them are -- might wear on a Saturday night. COVID-19 protocols dictate that seating be spaced out, which enhances the non-traditional feel.
An ensemble of three vocalists, a drummer, keyboardist and guitars belt out several minutes of beat-heavy music with a religious theme before hardly a word is spoken. Toes tap, bodies sway. Flat screen monitors bear the words to the songs for those who want to sing along.
The religious message though, is traditional. In her first sermon, Gonzalez spoke of the parable of the prodigal son, the story of one of a wealthy father's two sons, who leaves home, squanders his inheritance and is still welcomed back by his dad.
This dovetails with a video about Uptown Church, which plays at the beginning of each service. That message is Uptown is here for the most flawed of us, as well as the best and brightest, saints and sinners.
In her second sermon Gonzalez spoke of Nehemiah from the Old Testament, and the leadership skills shown by a humble man to rebuild a city.
One of her final points: the good that is not happening today can be tomorrow. A bulwark of both rock and religion.