Scum of the Earth Church - Seattle Church for the Right Brained & the Left Out
We don’t compromise the Gospel, but we focus on the condition of the heart and not the appearance of the package.
In 2000 we opened The Tollgate Coffeehouse, a place where the homeless could come in out of the cold, get a shower and a hot meal, do a load of laundry and learn about God.We also opened Metro Manna, a Foodbank for the inner city.
I had heard about Scum of the Earth Church but to be honest with you I thought it must be some kind of a joke. After all with a name like that, how serious can they be?Over the course of the next six months I must have had ten people approach me stating that Scum was looking for a place to meet.I usually didn’t respond but inside I would think “Not my problem”, after all I was having enough problems with the neighborhood just by serving the homeless, the last thing I needed was to put a Scum of the Earth sign up and (in my mind) add fuel to the fire.
Then one Sunday while attending New Community Christian Church, a friend told me he was going to go to Scum that evening and asked if I wanted to join him.As I agreed he added “You know, they need a new meeting place?”I just smiled.Just then Raylene sat down and I quietly asked her if she would like to check out Scum.She replied “Yes, you know they are looking for a place to meet?”It was at this point that I entered into a heated discussion with God.I explained to Him how it was a bad idea, how I couldn’t risk the ministry, everything we had worked to build just so some flakey church could have a new place to meet.God simply responded whose ministry are we talking about?Mine?Or yours?By the end of the service I was on a mission to move Scum of the Earth Church into The Tollgate Coffeehouse.
We attended Scum that evening and God continued to convict me for my attitude.Since the band Five Iron Frenzy were the founders of Scum, I expected the services to be more of a rock concert.However what I saw was just the opposite.We arrived early and sat at a counter while a handful of young adults sat up the small room for the services.They offered us coffee and asked of we would like to join them in praying for the night.They prayed for the pastor Mike Sares, they prayed for the neighborhood and for several homeless youth.I remember thinking it had been a long time since I witnessed a group prayer that shared that much passion.I asked where the chairs were and they told me they didn’t have room for them.Then the young people started coming in.There were several homeless, a few yuppie types, a couple with dreadlocks and several tattooed, pierced, mohawk sporting punks.There were Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Whites.But I was most impressed by the fact that they just kept on coming in.Well over a hundred of them, into a house smaller than my own.While standing shoulder to shoulder I was thinking “How in the world do they manage?”The band showed up and a young lady began by singing Amazing Grace.I started to cry.I watched as a room way too full to please the fire codes broke into worship like I had never seen before.I remember thinking These are the people Jesus would hang out with.I can’t tell you what the message was that night but I can tell you the young people were taking notes and intently listening.About a month or so later Scum of the Earth Church moved into The Tollgate Coffeehouse.I continued to attend New Community Christian Church on Sunday mornings but I found I was also becoming a regular on Sunday evenings at Scum.
September 11th 2001 was a day that not only devastated our country; it also crippled several small ministries throughout America.More than 50% of our support base began to divert their contributions to large National organizations in order to help with the enormous needs on the East coast.We never recovered.Our struggles continued another year until we ended up having to close The Tollgate.Then as a result of announcing its closure, we lost even more support.Our mailing list shrank to just over one hundred and fifty with a substantial majority being non-supporters.
This became one of my most difficult times.I felt like my whole life was slipping away.Everything I knew was feeding the homeless and spreading the Gospel.Then without warning, The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception where we had been feeding at for well over ten years told us they were going to begin their own ministry and we could no longer serve there.I tearfully asked God what he wanted from me.I desperately wanted to serve Him but I felt I had no direction.For the last decade we had worked full time in ministry and I knew nothing else.I felt lost.Then, plain as day, I heard God tell me to move to Washington.I had no clue why, but I know I had to go.So in April of 2003 we packed up and obeyed.
We soon learned that Washington is the most unchurched state in the union.We started trying to figure out why God had us up here.We assumed it was to feed the homeless, after all that’s what we had done for ten years.We began feeding at several different locations but we always felt like we didn’t belong.
My son Bo and I also played in a church worship team until one day he was severely scolded for wearing a baseball cap to church.I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much but I was grieved in my spirit.Then I looked at a photo Raylene had taken on the streets of Bo witnessing to some street people.They had tattoos, piercings and mohawks.I took the photo to the pastor of the church and asked, “If my son wins these kids to The Lord can we bring them to church here?”He replied no.I couldn’t hold my emotions, I began to cry.I left and called a pastor I knew at another church and met him for lunch.I posed the same question to him and received the same answer.I realized that it wasn’t about not allowing Bo his liberties, it was about not welcoming a whole subculture into the body of Christ.A week later I received a call from a young girl that was also asked to leave church.They told her she couldn’t return until she removed her Labret and the hole had healed.I asked her how long she had been a believer and she told me she wasn’t.I then knew why we had moved to Washington.I told Bo to share the Gospel with her and then I told her that she would soon have a place to worship.
I met with Mike Sares in Denver the following week and began the process of creating Scum of the Earth Seattle. We started out meeting at our house and soon moved to Tully’s and then to our present location in the University district.
In 2007 We brought Zach McCauley on staff.I knew he was the one to take over when God moves us on.Then in 2008 We returned to Denver.Zack is head pastor and we meet with the staff of Scum Seattle often.As founder and overseers we cherish the times we get to visit and help with direction.We love Scum Seattle, the staff and its members.
Our hearts desire has always been to have a place where everyone is welcomed.A place where you can worship without wondering what the other person is thinking about you, a place where we can serve Christ and serve each other.
"Scum of the Earthis a church that focuses on the condition of the heart and not the appearance of the package."
I want to ask that you pray for Scum.Pray that it would always be in the will of God.Pray that the doors would always be opened to welcome the lost.
John & Raylene Swanger
To love the unloveable & Touch the untouchable. . .