WESTMINSTER — With keyboard, mandolin, guitar and bass, the Spirit of Grace is evangelizing the message of Christianity through contemporary music.
The seven-member group, performing the third Sunday of each month at Grace Lutheran Church's 9:30 a.m. service, has presented topics in a modern format since March.
On Sunday, they offered insights into social ministries.
"The format is very flexible," said Randy Huver, the group's leader. "I can change words that are standard in typical service manuals to focus on the theme."
Rather than follow the hymnal format, Spirit of Grace addresses specific groups the congregation prays for and biblical readings that reflect the day's topic.
Huver invites individuals to share the message, rather than rely on the pastor's sermon, and often explains the context of biblical passages before reading them to the congregation.
"It started as a pilot effort to reach a segment of our congregation who needed something different from traditional services," Huver said. "Our purpose is to reach those who haven't beenreached yet and bring them to the Lord."
John Grohs of Spirit Song -- a contemporary Christian music group -- and Sheila Buttner and Randy Landy, members of Grace, spoke along with Pastor Frederick P. Eckhardt on Sunday.
The idea for the group was sparked by the visitsof Spirit Song to Grace over the last few years.
In their travelsto Lutheran congregations in the area, John and his wife, Chris, help members start contemporary musical groups of their own.
In addition, they provide the music at St. Dysmas Lutheran Church on Friday and Saturday evenings. The congregation, named for the repentant thiefwho was crucified next to Jesus, is at the Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup.
"I suggested starting a group at Grace to Randy, who thought it was a good idea," said group member Susan Hively.
Other group members are Kris Brown, Kelly Conover, Matt Cooper, Monte Leister, Jon Light, Andrea Myers and Susan's husband, Jim.
Members say belonging to the group has strengthened their commitment to Christianity.
"I really didn't want to do it at first, but it was something for my church," Leister said of his decision to join Spirit of Grace. "Now, it's really changed my life and turned it around."
Leister said church attendance is now more important to him because of the friends he has made.
"I find it really interesting that everyone is different. We're different age groups, from different walks of life with different ideas and beliefs, yet we all get along well together," Leister said. "We're all Christians, and we all respect what everyone else believes."
Support from the congregation and the clergy has been strong, group members say. Many were surprised that older people have enjoyed their music.
"The message is the same, but themedium is different to appeal to a group of people whose music styleand method of being with each other is different," said the Rev. Connie S. Miller, Grace's associate pastor. "Remember, hundreds of yearsago, the organ was brand new."
Miller admitted, though, that someyounger members, as well as older ones, do not care for the contemporary service.
"For those who want and like traditional worship, this service is not very appealing," Miller said. "But for those who are open to other ways of worship, this is very appealing. It just depends on a person's background and their understanding of worship."
Miller said church members have discussed a permanent contemporary service for Saturday evenings.
"Part of the rationale is to open a ministry to Western Maryland College students," Miller said. "Young people tend to party on Saturday nights and not get up Sunday morning. We want to interest a group who would come Saturday before they went out."
However, the fledgling group needs to grow into that type ofcommitment, she said.