[FoRK] Jesus Pizza

Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> on Mon Apr 16 14:11:09 PDT 2007

Funny how these come in seemingly unrelated series.
One good model for generating traffic, especially if you have something 
less offensive to "sell".
Rational Pizza?  RaRa Pizza?  EvoSpir Pizza?

Jesus on the Side
An Alexandria Church Gives Students Pizza Every Week, But the Sermon 
Served Up With It Bothers Some of Them

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2007; Page B01

On a recent warm spring day, four T.C. Williams High School students sat 
sweating inside a Jeep Cherokee in the parking lot of a Baptist church 
scarfing slices of pizza. Scores of their classmates streamed into the 
church in search of the same pizza. Jesus Pizza.

Jesus Pizza, as the students call it, is warm. It's good. It's free. And 
it's available to T.C. students for lunch every Wednesday at the First 
Baptist Church of Alexandria. Some weeks, as many as 150 or more 
students trek the half-mile down King Street from the school to lounge 
on old couches, thumb through Bibles or play pool while waiting for free 
slices and sodas in the church basement. The only cost is that they have 
to listen to a prayer and a short sermon before digging in.
And that part of the bargain is why the four boys have chosen to take 
their cheese, pepperoni and Hawaiian slices out to their stuffy car.

"I'm half-Jewish," one said.

"My dad's an atheist," a second said.

"I'm Hindu," a third said.

"And I'm agnostic," the fourth answered.

The free food they like.

"We're broke," said half-Jewish Chris Stephens.

The praying they don't.

"And we have to sit around listening to Christian rock," Ian Mabley said.

"Yeah, the lyrics are horrible," added Juan Parducci as Mabley broke 
into a high falsetto, "Gaaaaaaaahd, Gaaaaaaahd, Gaaaaaahd."
Jesus on the Side

Some might call this proselytizing, this allure of easy, free food to 
those with young, impressionable minds, hungry bellies and empty 
pocketbooks. "They're trying to brainwash you!" insisted Rachel 
Goldfarb, a T.C. student who refuses to go to Jesus Pizza.

To others, such as Tommy Clark, who are devout, it's a great place to 
come for fellowship. "I've had people say, 'I love to come here. 
Everyone is so nice. I feel so welcome,' " said Clark, who runs a Jesus 
Pizza group on the Internet. "It's pretty cool to see the biggest 
stoners and drug dealers come, too.'"
Still, when the morning announcements at the public school include an 
invitation to come to Jesus Pizza could that blur the bright line 
separating church and state?

"They come in. If they want to hear what we're saying, they stay. If 
they don't, they can leave," said Mary Rhoades, who works with youth at 
the church.

Added interim youth pastor Mac McCreery: "We just want to be a blessing 
to the students. To show that we care about them. God cares about them. 
We open up the church, show we're available. There's no pressure. This 
is a safe place to come and have fun -- when they're here, they're not 
behind T.C. smoking weed."

John Porter, an assistant superintendent of the Alexandria school system 
and former T.C. principal, said the school's policy allowing students 
off grounds for lunch means that where kids go and what they do is up to 
them, not the school. And the morning announcements don't mention "Jesus 
Pizza," he said, just an invitation from a Christian student group to 
come to First Baptist for pizza and fellowship.

"In my experience over the years, most of the kids have gone for the 
food," Porter said. "It's free pizza. And kids certainly enjoy free food."

And he doesn't recall any parent expressing concern about it.

That's because most parents don't know about it, said Sheila Martin, 17, 
who joined the church after coming to Jesus Pizza and now leads 
Wednesday night teen Bible study. "I imagine if some of the kids' 
parents knew they were coming, they'd be upset," she said. "Some people 
would see it as a conversion tool. Others might see it as a positive 
thing for students."

As the four students roasted in their car, Rhoades and McCreery greeted 
the high school students who filtered into the basement youth fellowship 
hall and steered them toward the computer where students are asked to 
provide a phone number and e-mail address. The turnout was big on this 
spring day, perhaps 145 students.

As students grabbed their slices -- a three-slice limit until all are 
served -- and flopped on couches, McCreery turned down the music, took 
up a microphone and prayed. "Father, thank you for this beautiful day . 
. . "

He told a story about how he had gotten in trouble as a high schooler 
for toilet papering a friend's house. "How many of you feel God is like 
that? Waiting for you to screw up so he can punish you?" Then he told 
the Bible story of a woman about to be stoned for her sins who was saved 
when Jesus began writing the sins of her accusers in the dirt, telling 
them that the one without sin should cast the first stone. "Do you 
believe Jesus could have compassion on you? Like with that lady?" 
McCreery asked. "Just think about that."

Off went the microphone. Up went the music. And the students began again 
to chatter and eat. Keith Wiggins, 16, doesn't really believe in God, 
but coming "is helping us stay out of trouble." Across the couch, Celina 
Johnson, 15, said, "Most everyone I know at least listens."

Jesus Pizza is three years old. The program began when a former pastor 
decided the church needed to reach out to the high school community. It 
began sending vans to the school to take kids to a pizza joint. By last 
spring there were too many kids for the vans, and ministers began 
serving pizza at the church.

Don Davidson, First Baptist's senior pastor, said Jesus Pizza has a 
long-term mission.

"We do not expect to have hundreds of students showing up at church on 
Sunday. But we want them to feel this is a friendly place," he said. "So 
someday, if they're at a crossroads or experiencing a difficult time, 
something they can't handle by themselves, they will remember there was 
a church on King Street that opened its doors to them."

Back out in the baking parking lot, the four boys debated whether to 
dash back into the church for seconds. They are used to the 
state-mandated Moment of Silence in school. And they know students who 
belong to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an after-school club 
that came to campus three years ago only after lengthy meetings with 
Porter and school system legal counsel to make sure the club would not 
cross church-state boundaries.

But the four like to keep their free food free of religion.

"I had to block their e-mails," said Sumeet Mahal, who is Hindu. "They 
were like, 'You came on Wednesday, maybe you'd like to come to our 
Sunday service to hang out and talk.' My mother doesn't care if I come 
for pizza. But she would be kind of upset if I were to convert."

"What! You gave them your real e-mail address? I never do," Mabley said. 
"It's a reverse missionary project. Instead of them coming to you, they 
get you to come to them."

"It's really clever," said Stephens, who lifted up a heavy sweatshirt to 
show off the Jesus Pizza T-shirt he wears, he said, to be "ironic." The 
black T-shirt, which was also free, sports a triangular slice of pizza 
and the words "Jesus Pizza" on the front and reads on the back, "Jesus 
Got Hungry, Too."

Most parents don't know about Jesus Pizza, they said. They began to muse 
what parents and administrators would say if it were a local mosque 
handing out Mohammed Pizza, say, or a synagogue with Moses Pizza. Or 
Hare Krishna Pizza.

But by the time parents figure out what's going on, they said, Jesus 
Pizza will have come to an end. Next year, when the new T.C. Williams 
building is complete, the cafeteria will be big enough for all the students.

They will no longer be allowed to leave for lunch.

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