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Church in session at Nanaimo nightclub, with music, drinking and dancing

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church hosts gathering every other Sunday night
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Started in 2022, UpperLvl Worship combines nightclub dancing with Bible study. (LevelTwo Nightclub photo)

A nightclub isn’t where one would normally go to try to find Jesus, but for those attending UpperLvl Worship at Nanaimo’s LevelTwo Nightclub, that’s exactly what’s happening.

The open Nanaimo faith group meets at the nightclub every two weeks to dance and talk about Jesus.

“It is shaped by the nightclub experience. We gather around 6 o’clock on alternate Sunday nights,” said Rev. Jeremy Bellsmith with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. “We gather for pizza and drinks, the bar is open, people are catching up with each other. It’s noisy, it’s lovely, there are good tunes being played.”

First launched in September 2022, Bellsmith said he was approached by Austin Penner, a DJ at LevelTwo who was reconciling his job at a nightclub with his newfound relationship with God and the church.

“He was just coming to faith … He and I had been meeting regularly, he was growing and putting down his roots to Christ and His teachings and the time came for Austin to come back to work, and he was wondering if it’s something he should be doing,” Bellsmith said. “When we prayed about it and talked about it, long story short, we [made] a plan: let’s go and see if we can take the best of the nightclub and bring the church experience.”

Bellsmith said the idea was rooted in the similarity of the two spaces. What people enjoy at a nightclub is community, a sense of transcendence that churches have nurtured for the past 2,000 years.

There was just one problem – the reverend had never been to a nightclub.

READ MORE: Presbyterian church celebrates 150 years in Nanaimo

Knowing he would have to be aware of what he was in for, Bellsmith, filled with anxiety and excitement, headed to the club.

“I showed up at 9 or 9:30, the place is almost empty. Austin, who is DJing that night didn’t get there until 10, which is his usual start. I ended up excusing myself at 10:30-10:45 just at the front end of when things start to pick up,” he said. “This was well out of my comfort zone, but we believed it needed to happen … I really started to rely on Austin, he knows it well, this was his world.”

At first there were just 10 attendees, sometimes fewer. Now, they have about 25 people attending. The increased interest hasn’t been the only change in the two years.

At the beginning, Bellsmith gave a traditional church sermon, but through feedback he learned that just didn’t work.

“We use a lot of questions and answers and breaking into small groups so we can chat with each other. Some of the feedback we had gotten early on is they enjoyed each other’s company and so let’s give them opportunity to hang out and have different conversations.”

The night starts at 6 p.m. with socializing and drinks. At 6:30 p.m, the more formal part begins with a group sit-down conversation, when Bellsmith or a visiting pastor will take a story from the Bible and talk for 10-15 minutes with some back-and-forth discussion. Then the group can break into smaller bunches and discuss amongst each other for another 10-15 minutes.

Those who feel comfortable praying pray together, before returning to the dance floor.

“In the mainline church we have established ways of reaching young people,” Bellsmith said. “This was an acknowledgement those ways may not be as effective to reach those folks who may not know Jesus but would benefit from knowing him. So it was to build a bridge with them in a non-traditional way.”

Community members can find more information at http://upperlvlworship.ca.

READ ALSO: Census finds that Nanaimo is Canada’s least-religious metropolitan area





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