“…seek the peace and prosperity of the city…” (Jeremiah 29:7)
For Bob Hyatt, the 40-something, ball-cap-wearing lead pastor of the Evergreen Community, anchoring Sunday church inside a beer hall where bitters, stouts, and golden ales flowed freely the night before is a good way to shine a beacon—and a warning—to the faithful.
“It says that we don’t fit the stereotype of the anal-retentive sort of Christian,” he says, sitting at one of the communal tables at Lucky Labrador Brew Pub in Southeast Portland. “It also helps to weed out the type of Christians that wouldn’t fit with us. But most importantly, meeting in a public space embodies what we’re about: we don’t want to hole up in some building with big doors and be a sanctuary from the world.”
Evergreen’s cornerstone, Hyatt explains, is Jeremiah 29:4–7, a passage in which God tells the exiles in Babylon to build houses, settle down, plant gardens, and pray for the peace of the city they were put in. But much of the church’s ethos lies in the sense of home and mission Hyatt has created for those wayward souls turned off by more traditional evangelism. A recent survey of his 210-member congregation found that more than 60 percent had spent significant time away from the church. Among them is Hyatt himself, who, raised as a Baptist, admits a period of deep “burnout, hurt, and distance” from the church. “We’re not just hanging out and waiting for the rapture,” Hyatt says. In fact, Evergreen is involved in outreach efforts like serving food at the Portland Rescue Mission, and has started its own nonprofit counseling service, Evergreen Clinical.
After graduating from Western Seminary, Hyatt bounced around congregations big and small. He founded Evergreen in 2004, aiming to create a community far removed from the pious and prostrate. Dress is casual; sermons are less lectures than a dialogue between speaker and audience; musicians play under battered dartboards. What Hyatt calls the “refrigerator buzz”—an undercurrent of discomfort with conventional evangelism that permeates Evergreen—has run off some members used to more traditional worship. “For people who’ve never had any angst or anger toward the church, Evergreen is kind of hard to get,” Hyatt says. “But for people who’ve told me, ‘This is my last church experience, and if this doesn’t work, I’m done,’ we offer a place to express that discomfort, heal from it, and move on.” —BB