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Posted by Dave
Rap News Network
11/28/2005 5:30:54 PM

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Tampa, Fl -- The pastor bounds past the disc jockeys at the turntable bank under the nightclub lighting of Crossover Community Church's worship/concert space.

The Rev. Tommy Kyllonen is in his Sunday best — a sparkling white "Twice-born" T-shirt under his open sport shirt — as he strides onto a catwalk and launches into a sermon on "how Christ would roll," how he would act, facing anger, self-righteousness and deceit. (Related audio clip: Passport by Urban D)

Would the Son of God give offenders the "ice grill"? Kyllonen asks, freezing in a confrontational pose, eyes glowering.

Or would he be "pouring out love onto them"? Kyllonen asks, citing in Psalm 86:15 how God is "slow to anger, abounding in love."

Welcome to hip-hop church — a multiracial, multi-ethnic, mega-decibel, authentically biblical worship service where urban street sound and style take a holy spin.

Crossover does 21st-century church in first-century fashion, going into the world like the Apostle Paul in Athens, telling of salvation in the language of the streets. He meets people where they are and speaks them, sings them, dances them to God, even if it takes a break-dancer gyrating with the chorus.

If under-40 adults white, black and Latino are into hip-hop culture — the MC's rhythmic lyrics and DJ's driving beats. the free-wheeling break-dancers, the bold graffiti-design imagery, the big, flashy fashion — God goes there, too.

Crossover and a handful of other hip-hop churches are a growing niche in "emergent churches," young-adult Christian congregations that turn their backs on denominations and politics and set aside the staid hymnals and dense texts of their elders.

They want their worship, study and service to be of a piece with their daily lifestyle, not segregated into Sunday mornings, says Cameron Strang, head of Relevant, a media company marketing magazines, books, websites and music to post-collegiate Christians.

Just as many baby boomers still flock to concerts by grizzled rockers and cling to the '60s' do-your-own-thing ethos, so teens who grew up with hip-hop are still tight with the beat as adults.

"Hip-hop has what all corporate America wants — 18- to 35-year-old employed adults with growing families. That's why you see Russell Simmons producing clothes, Snoop Dogg hawking Chrysler. Everyone wants us. Why not the church?" says Kyllonen, 32, father of a toddler.

As secular hip-hop became a worldwide force, a small but growing contingent, more interested in blessings than bling, nurtures a Christian thread instead of odes to pimping, prostitution, guns and drugs.

Traditional churches often are suspicious of hip-hop's sinful side, but "I'm not ready to give poetry, creativity and visual expression up to the forces of evil when they can be used for God," says the Rev. Efrem Smith, a senior pastor who holds hip-hop services six Sundays a year at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Other Sundays, it's only for teen outreach.

But every Sunday is hip-hop at Crossover, where Kyllonen grew the congregation from 40 to 400 after stepping up from youth pastor to senior pastor in 2002.

Now people ages 16 to 69-plus cycle through three weekend services in a low-slung cinderblock building with backlit skyscraper photos instead of windows, as if it were a downtown storefront not set amid moss-dripping trees in a working-class corner of Tampa.

Another 100 teens come for Thursday night services led by a new youth minister who tracked down grants to build an elaborate skateboarding park and a new basketball court adjacent to the church.

Kyllonen estimates 90% of Crossover's members are originally from the urban Northeast, chiefly New York, where teasing out race and ethnicity is like deconstructing a stew. Kyllonen defies classification. He has Greek, Spanish and Finnish heritage. His wife, Lucy, the ad

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