Christian rave

May 20, 2002

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Throbbing nightclub beats, crushing decibels, writhing dancers.

And Jesus.

Believe it.

Over bumping hip-hop and amid spinning lights and a fog machine that turns the Olympian Ballroom in West Reading into a blender of camouflage pants, baby tank tops, bandannas and khakis, DJ Jon Carlson reads aloud from Isaiah 40:

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

At Club Worship, the Christian rave held here the second Saturday of every month, don’t forget the rules: no smoking, no booze, no drugs, no sex.

“I used to go to after-parties with kids from school,” said Becky Horning, 18, who lives near Morgantown and is a regular at Zion Mennonite Church. “I’d be dancing and having fun, but then I’d listen to the lyrics,” she said at the club’s most recent incarnation, pulling her short, curly hair behind her left ear during a dance-floor respite. “They were… not something I wanted to associate with. Here, I get my exercise and blessings from God at the same time.”

Since the early 1990s, Christian raves have evolved a step behind the secular cousins that are often the target of law-enforcement raids.

Lately, a loose ring of promoters, DJs, and Christian rave-goers has surrounded Philadelphia – inching ever closer to the city.

A traditional rave takes place in a warehouse, an underground garage, or in a remote area – the woods or the beach – that won’t catch the attention of law enforcement. They last anywhere from four hours to four days, fueled mostly by music – trance, techno, house, hip-hop.

But they are fueled also by drugs: acid, mushrooms, ecstasy and others.

“Beyond the distractions of drugs and promiscuity, here young people communicate their souls closer to God – all while getting their groove on,” said Jeff Stoltzfus, who opened Club Worship two years ago.

Hair spiked and clad in the head-to-toe black of a club impresario, Stoltzfus, 32, said the rave idea came from meeting people such as Horning, whom he knew from church. He also remembered back to his first rave in 1994 at the religious Cornerstone festival in Illinois.

“There was a hole in the experiences of a lot of Christian young people,” he said. “So many of them love this kind of music, love dancing, but were put off by what they’d have to experience on Delaware Avenue [in Philadelphia]. Here, it’s still music and fun, but God is relevant.”

The narrow doorway into Stoltzfus’ vision reveals the long, soaring ballroom. Faux-gilded mirrors the size of small garages line its 75-foot-long walls to the left and right. Above them, thin black cloth covers wide windows just below the 26-foot-high ceiling.

The DJ tables sprawl into a corner to the right of the door, where peeking statues of Greek gods – a permanent feature of the room – keep watch over them.

Ravers, 133 of them at $5 a head last Saturday night, swarm the dance floor waving colored glow sticks: blue, green, orange. Red lasers cut through the manufactured fog and make patterns on the spring-loaded hardwood floor, which vibrates from dancing and thick bass.

For the sweaty dancers, rave becomes rapture. Fractured fingers of light envelop them as they stomp and twirl to the music.

Andrew Torres, 17, of Reading, stopped at one point to adjust his black boots and wipe his glasses clean.

“I just came from the Reading High School prom, and I just felt confined by the attitudes there,” he said, mopping sweat from his forehead with his baggy white T-shirt. “People all into getting nasty and turning their back on God. Here I can be who I want to be.”

Most Christian raves haven’t yet penetrated major cities. Promoters and DJs say the costs of rent, licenses and insurance makes urban forays prohibitive. Instead, the shows appear on the outskirts of places such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Detroit. But they are getting close.

Planet Jesus, a collection of DJs from Allentown to York to College Park, Md., has thrown two since January.

“I truly believe that God can use this kind of music,” said Erik Sellin, 29, of College Park, who goes by Rapture Man behind the turntables. “I mean, God created music. It’s man who corrupts what we were divinely given.”

DJs at Christian raves make no active effort to convert ravers. Music need not invoke Scripture for them to play it. Everyone is welcome.

Jamey Wright, 29, has spun at what he calls fusion parties in Jacksonville, Fla., since 1995 – among the longer tenures for Christian rave DJs.

“There’s hardly ever a Jesus reference at our gigs,” he said. “But all our DJs are Christian. Anyone who comes in the door – 400 people on some nights – gets invited to our Tuesday Bible study. We don’t want to Bible-thump everybody, but we’re open about it with whoever asks.”

Frank Brian Horvath, 36, a North Jersey Christian DJ known as Frankie Vibe, said the music should create an environment for ravers to communicate with God.

“We’re ministers on turntables,” he said. “I can’t make you believe, but I can make you dance yourself closer to God.”

At Club Worship, every song has Christian lyrics. Some, such as Nitro Praise’s house version of the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” are remixes that offer a Sunday-morning preview on Saturday night.

Glowing cross-shaped necklaces sell for $3 next to 50-cent bags of Doritos and $1 bottles of water.

Jacob Norotsky brought 15 people from the youth group at Victory Christian Fellowship of Indian Valley, a nondenominational church in Souderton.

“My friend and I used to go clubbing all over,” said Norotsky, 20, of Green Lane. “We’d hit Delaware Ave. in Philly, the Chameleon in Lancaster – wherever – and grind on girls all night, going crazy.

“We came to Club Worship about a year ago just to check it out,” he said. “Now I’m a youth leader, I oversee three youth groups, and that buddy of mine is training to become a pastor. It changed my life.”

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Comments
  1. Dewald Niemandt says:

    I would love to see something like this in South Africa. I used to be a raver and absolutely love the music and dancing, but Jesus saved me from the drugs and now I don’t dance anymore because of the drugs, lyrics and people associated with it.

    Praise God Almighty!

  2. Anything like this with House music, rather than Hip Hop? And in London? Get in touch!

  3. travis Nevers says:

    Sign me up? Where is this located? I love to rave. This sounds like an awesome idea!!!

  4. Juri Haukka says:

    i also started a Club Worship here in Finland at kerava city 🙂 you can find our sites at facebook:
    http://fi-fi.facebook.com/pages/CLUB-WORSHIP/188819451169464

    please pray for us that God would do a great things in club!

    I love christian rave parties and i want to get more thinks like that in our country!
    Ravers for Christ! amen!

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