A lot of things are new to Bushwick as of late: a fancy hair salon, increasingly exclusive arts festivals and a ginger ale factory, to name a few. But amidst a wave of consumer-oriented businesses, there is a new neighbor that doesn’t want your money—it wants your soul. Enter: Swerve, an evangelical megachurch from Oklahoma.
Swerve is actually a church plant, which means that it’s a new congregation established by an existing parent, with the hope that the new church will eventually function on its own. For now, services will take place in various event spaces, including art galleries and schools until founding pastor (and Bushwick native) Danny Torres can find a permanent home, reports Bedford + Bowery.
Here’s what’s most unique about Swerve: all its services are held via video-stream from an Oklahoma-based evangelical megachurch called Life Church and delivered by pastor Craig Groeschel. Currently, Life Church streams to nearly 20 “campuses,” most of which are located in Oklahoma and Texas. So why Bushwick?
Turns out, Torres’ approach isn’t much different than the businesses who flock to the neighborhood in search of hipster eyeballs: “Cities are trend-setters and lead the way as far as shaping culture. More and more, people are moving out of rural and suburban areas and into large cities like Brooklyn,” states Swerve’s website, which features images of the Brooklyn Bridge, graffiti-style font and photo filters reminiscent of Instagram. If this didn’t scream “not your childhood church experience,” each service begins with music—not gospel or choir, but rock, hip hop and DJ sets. The alternative ethos also jives with Groeschel’s latest book, Weird, in which he explores how having “normal” American values (like materialism) doesn’t work for Christians, as well as Life Church’s collection of online videos, featuring titles like “The Artisan Soul,” “Altar Ego” and “Friending.”
Which begs the question: Has Brooklyn branding infiltrated the most sacred of industries? And if it’s done for a noble cause (leading its followers to Jesus), can we put it up for public debate? To be clear, it’s not my intention to criticize Swerve. What’s interesting, though, is that a Brooklyn-based religious organization is adopting similar techniques of attracting attention as, say, a new neighborhood bar or boutique might: by appealing to young hipsters. And why wouldn’t it? Perhaps we’re too used to seeing religious institutions as out-of-touch and inexcusably ignorant of modern-day social concerns, and why leaders like Pope Francis are so enthusiastically revered. And hopefully, Swerve is part of a new wave of religious leadership that confronts and incorporates progressive ideas rather than ignoring or excluding them.
In the future, Swerve hopes to expand to the surrounding neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy, Ridgewood, East New York and Williamsburg. Its inaugural Easter congregation will take place Sunday, April 20 at 1 p.m. at Crick Manor.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa.