The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 8, 2012

New digs lift Elevate Church to a new level

MANKATO — In this building’s past, it probably wasn’t uncommon for people to stumble over and fall because of spirits.

Today, however, people are rising. Lifting. Elevating. And it’s because of a much different kind of spirit.

Elevate Church, a non-denominational church that has operated for several years in the Mankato area, has new digs: the site of the defunct Bandana Brewery, a micro-brewery, bar and restaurant. And Easter Sunday seemed the perfect time for the church to take the next step.

In a freshly carpeted room with exquisite acoustics, a half-dozen HD TVs and comfy chairs, several hundred members of the newest church building in town got a their first chance to celebrate their faith in their new building.

“They do church differently here,” member Cheryl Hamond said.

Indeed.

In the lobby is a little cafe called The Brewery, which got its name — and the sign that glows hot red in the lobby — from the business that used to live here. There they brew coffee. Good coffee. Complimentary, too, to go with your complimentary doughnut. Members who brought the kids can drop them off at the day care, where there’s enough room for a kid to run around or, if she wants, to play with an Xbox Kinect.

But just as many bring their kids into the auditorium, where all the action happens. At the beginning of the service, a eight-member band performs a five-song set that — with electric, acoustic and bass guitars, drums, keyboard and three singers — is a far cry from traditional church music.

The music gets people moving. Some people dance, some raise their arms upward or toward the stage as the singers sing songs of praise to God and Jesus. And some are in tears. At one point, when a song’s lyrics turn grateful to God, several members wiped away tears. Nearly everyone sang.

Once the music was over, it was time for Ron Phares, the senior pastor at Elevate, to deliver an Easter sermon.

Like most churches in town, Phares chose Easter Sunday to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. But unlike most churches, Phares does so with the gift of an orator who knows how to speak to his audience.

Using a Peep, those yellow marshmallow confections that come out each April to fill Easter baskets, Phares asked the gathering, “Are you one of God’s Peeps?”

Phares created this environment in a building they discovered about a year ago. They first took a look at it last April. After making an offer, they closed on it in June. Then the work began. For six months they dismantled the restaurant/bar/brewery, removing walls and tile and carpet and anything else that needed to go.

After that they started from scratch on building the space they wanted for their church. Today, it looks like it was custom-made for the purpose it now serves.

They’ve come a long way from their previous basement location, the one on Riverfront Drive across from the Salvation Army. That was basically a basement. Phares joked to one member that they moved from a basement to a brewery, and the next stop might be a brothel.

Phares described Elevate as very conservative doctrinally. The church also likes to engage with and help the community. Locally, they donate to the ECHO Food Shelf and Habitat For Humanity. They also donate to Call+Response, a group that fights modern-day slavery and sex trafficking, and Never Ending Hope, a group that helps small and impoverished communities through micro-lending.

And sometimes, they donate to their own members. Phares said one weekend, just to mix things up a little bit, instead of collecting money they gave everyone $10 as they came in.

Members are impressed with both the church and the new space.

“It’s very nice,” said Jennifer Reeves. “And a lot nicer than the other place. ... But it’s not about the building. It’s about the people.”

Reeves said she came to Elevate after meeting Phares. They happened to be in the market for a new church.

“He said, ‘Come, hang out and just kinda heal,’” said Reeves.

And so she did. Five months later, Reeves and the rest of her family are happy they came.

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