The brassy theme from "Perry Mason" blared as the players took the stage: the judge and lawyers for the defendant, God, and the plaintiffs, humanity.
The plaintiffs had sued God for being unfair and uncaring, and the 220 people in the audience at Howard Community College last Sunday were the jury.
Those 220 jurors also comprised the congregation of the Valley Brook Community Church, an innovative, non-denominational church that began services in Columbia last week and plan to eventually build a 600-seat church on 17 acres on Hall Shop Road in Clarksville.
The trial, which included a "nerd" who blamed God for his social handicaps and "the Rev. Pat Answers," who couldn't explain why misfortune is allowed to happen, helps introduce the theme of Senior Pastor Dennis Clark's "mini-series" titled "Why storms strike."
The drama, the computer jargon, an electric guitar and a pastor on drums combine for what the church's eight pastors hope is a "relevance" that will attract people into their flock.
The 11 a.m. service in the college's Galleria follows a 9:30 a.m.
service in the Springbrook High School auditorium in Montgomery County, where the congregation numbers about 500, about 100 of whom live in Columbia.
The new church to be built in Clarksville probably will not be completed for another two to three years, so the congregation plans to continue the services in Springbrook and Columbia on Sunday and every other Wednesday evening.
Trying to attract liberal Columbia professionals into a conservative fundamentalist church may be an uphill battle, but Clark believes spirituality crosses political boundaries.
No matter what political affiliation, he said, "we all have needs, emotional needs and spiritual needs."
While members are allowed to cross political boundaries, the church is trying to steer clear of them.
In 1986, four members of the church ran unsuccessfully for state delegate seats in Montgomery County while eight others ran for seats on that county's Republican Central Committee.
"We've kind of backed off of the whole political involvement," Clark said, explaining that the church members' past political activity stemmed from a desire to "promote righteousness."
Political aspirations helped the church choose Columbia six years ago as the headquarters for its parent organization, Great Commission Inc., an association of churches with nearly 80 congregations across the country and in four Latin American countries.
Columbia was seen as a politically influential place, but after the church's brush with politics, "we just want to make sure we stay clear of controversial things.
"We'd like to keep our nose to the grindstone in our main mission, which is sharing the Gospel," Clark said.
To reach Columbia's young professionals, the church sent three postcards and a letter to each of 6,000 homes in the Columbia area, said Rob Pait, a Laurel resident and church member who is handling its marketing.
"We're not trying to go after members of other churches. Our desire is really to reach people who aren't going to church for whatever reason," Pait said.
In a time when many people have been turned off by traditional churches, said Pastor Rob Lamp of Scaggsville, "we've just re-packaged biblical truth in a way people of the 1990s can buy it."
Modernizing Christianity is not an unusual concept to traditional churches in Columbia, said Pastor David Luecke of St. John Lutheran Church of the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. Drama and contemporary music are also included in the liturgy of his church and other Columbia churches, he said.
Pastor Allen Harris of the Columbia Presbyterian Church, which also has services at the college, said he welcomes the new church.
Valley Brook has joined the Howard County Coalition for Spiritual Renewal, which is sponsored by Columbia Presbyterian and comprises 50 churches that seek spiritual renewal and the betterment of Howard County, Harris said.
Like Valley Brook, the group tries to go beyond church doors into the community, encouraging church programs to combat such problems as drug and spouse abuse.
"Too often as churches we've kind of rearranged the furniture, appealing to people who belong to other churches," he said, in order to reach people who have turned away from the church.