A Phoenix Church That Practices Dinner, Not Worship

By  Stina Sieg
Published: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 7:09pm
Updated: Monday, January 11, 2016 - 12:49pm
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(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Every Sunday night, many young people - some of whom would never feel comfortable in a typical church - come to Rebel and Divine for the food but also for the community.

Dinner, every Sunday night.

That’s the foundation of the Rebel and Divine congregation, which meets in an unassuming brown building on a quiet street in Central Phoenix.

Jeffrey Dirrim, known as Pastor Jeffrey, uses the pronoun “they,” like several of the people sharing a meal at Rebel and Divine on a recent Sunday. Dirrim was running around, getting everything ready before the crowds came. The building, glowing with warm light, is owned by the United Church of Christ. This is church – even if it doesn’t fit the standard definition.  

Walking in, Dirrim smiled at something sparkling in the doorway.

“And everywhere you see glitter, yes, that’s us,” Dirrim said.

You won’t hear a lot of talk about Jesus or the Bible here. It’s fellowship without worship, and that’s the design. The whole idea of this church is to reach young people between the ages of 14 and 25, many of whom have felt alienated by religion - transgender kids, homeless kids, atheist kids.

“We’re doing our mission work, and we’re caring for our neighbors, and we’re building community, caring for each other,” Dirrim said. “And the ripple effects from that, yeah it’s making a better world.”

Sitting together at long tables, plates loaded down with pizza and nachos and homemade casseroles, Rebel and Diviners like Joshua Lopez were breaking bread and sharing the cup.

“I’ve been going to churches my whole life, and I think this is the first one I’ve actually felt comfortable in,” Lopez said, cuddling his fiance, Joseph Padilla.

Chiming in, Padilla agreed, “You can just feel the love and the community and the togetherness from everybody here. And just when anybody new comes, everyone just greets them like, ‘Hey, where have you been?’”

It’s all about where you've been and what you need, explained Sydney Harrison, who also uses the pronoun “they."

“Stuff like food and toilet paper and deodorant,” Harrison said. Or the mound of brand new, donated jackets sitting by the Christmas tree.

And shoes. Rebel and Divine originally grew out of a Christmas shoe drive for many of the same young people who still eat dinner here on Sundays. It’s the kind of outreach many churches do, but Dirrim says this one just goes about it in a different way.

For people like Harrison, the church is one of the few consistent things in their lives.

“That’s the most important thing,” they said. “Like, Rebel and Divine is always here.”

Here like family. That’s what Harrison, and so many others, call this thing that Rebel and Divine has created.

“We’re there for each other, and we love each other,” they said. “Even as unconventional as we might be or as crazy and hectic as it might be, we’re still family at the end of the day.”

After dessert was served the kids left with plates heaping with leftovers. Dirrim said this is what they call a “pomo” church. As in post-modern.

“Many who came in here wounded, still walked out of here with smiles on their faces,” they said. “And that is church to me.”

This “pomo church” concept is an ongoing process, Dirrim said, not just at Rebel and Divine, but for so many churches looking to reach young people. They’re often the same people who might benefit from the love and support of a church the most.

“Do I think that what we’re doing right now with Rebel and Divine is the answer?” Dirrim asked. “No, absolutely not. Do I think we’re on to something? Yes. They’re showing up.”

They’re showing up on Sunday nights, and also on Christmas Day, when they’ll be gathering around a giant Christmas tree and opening little gifts of shoes and toiletries and chocolate. Little things that are actually huge.

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