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Hip to God

New church in loft space offers relaxed worship

May 2, 2007

It's OK to show up for worship services at the new Mercy Hill Church at the Hide House in shorts and a T-shirt. It's even OK to grab a beverage from the coffee bar on your way into the sanctuary.

Nobody will chastise you for tapping your feet along to the contemporary beat from the pop/rock group on stage, and, if the spirit moves you, go ahead and sing along - the lyrics are projected on a large screen.

In a corner, a cross made from industrial chains glints in the morning sun shining through the windows of the former tannery, now converted to artists' studios and rock band rehearsal spaces.

About 50 people turned out for the first service of Mercy Hill's "inaugural gathering" on Sunday, April 29, and about 100 more for the second service.

Unique approach to worship

Among them was Rozlyn Russo of Bay View, who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church but now describes herself as more spiritual than religious. Russo said this was her first visit to Mercy Hill. She was attracted by a postcard recently sent to neighbors announcing the launch of the church.

The message of the postcard is simple. For those who are "fed up" with traditional churches, Mercy Hill promises a different approach to Christianity.

"…we don't care what you look like, who you voted for, or even if you're religious," the postcard says. "We're just on a spiritual journey of getting to know God and learning to love each other and our community. Maybe you'd like to come along."

Russo accepted the invitation and was pleased she did.

"I've tried many other churches and felt uncomfortable because everybody was kind of cliquey," she said. "I thought I'd give this a try and it was awesome."

Appeal to young crowd

If the style of Mercy Hill is contemporary, complete with videos and slide shows to accompany the sermon, the Rev. Tommy Orlando said he believes the message of the non-denominational, independent church is fundamentally Christian.

"I think there's a need in the American culture for churches to get back to traditional Christianity," Orlando said. "I'm more interested in being the hand of God extended than being the wing of a political party. And I think that gets to the heart of it."

Orlando, the son of a retired Milwaukee police officer and a public school teacher, was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and when he was a boy, his family converted to Protestantism.

He holds a degree in pastoral theology from North Central University in Minneapolis, a Pentecostal Bible college operated by the Assemblies of God that prepares students for the ministry.

He said he has been involved in church work for about 14 years, including being pastor of a church in Padua, Italy, and heading up youth ministries in the U.S.

His father, Tom Orlando, said about 200 young people participated in Orlando's last youth ministry.

"I think his style of preaching is what brought young kids in and I think it's what's bringing adults in now," Tom said, noting his son uses personal stories and analogies to illustrate his points.

"It's stuff all of us are involved in," he said. "When you can relate to that, you can relate to the scripture he's referring to."

Name based on God's mercy

On April 29, Tommy, dressed in jeans, an open-collar shirt and jacket, preached from the Book of Hebrews, comparing the new covenant between God and man with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, using dimes handed out to the congregation at the beginning of the service as a prop. He talked about his personal experiences as a Christian, alternately passionate and low-key.

One of the central points of his message was that Christians should be known "by our love."

He said the name Mercy Hill is a reference to Golgotha, the hill where Jesus was crucified, because "The place where God's mercy was so evident was on that hill."

Contact reporter Nan Bialek at (262) 446-6632 or amuehlbauer@cninow.com.

At a glance

WHAT: Mercy Hill Church

WHERE: Hide House, 2625 S. Greeley St.

INFO: visit mercyhill.org or call (414) 915-7972

SUNDAY SERVICES: 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

COMMUNITY OFFERINGS:

Foundation: Biblical study intended to create a foundation for a peaceful and productive home; meets 6:30 p.m. second and fourth Thursdays at a private home in Bay View; for information, call (414) 349-9288.

Beyond: Designed to take a deeper look at the current teaching series at Mercy Hill in a learning environment; meets 7 p.m. first and third Fridays, location to be announced; for information, call (414) 687-5351.

Friday Night Fight: Debate pre-selected biblical and doctrinal topics over a cup of coffee; meets fourth Friday of the month at church

Men in the Morning: Male bonding, hot coffee and conversation; meets Wednesday mornings at Sven's Café, 2699 S. Kinnickinnic Ave; for information, call (414) 418-7541.

Wednesday Night Women's Group: Designed to build relationships and facilitate growth and biblical understanding; meets 7 p.m. first and third Wednesdays of the month at a private home in Bay View; for information, call (847) 406-0665.

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