Spirit church offers Ironton new alternative

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 14, 2004

"I feel almost like I've just come out of the wilderness and I'm just free in the Lord."

For Pastor Frank Conley of Ironton, the Spirit of Christ Church has offered he and fellow Pastor Todd Lovins of Boyd County a welcome change.

The two men, along with about 30 people from various backgrounds and walks of life, have come together to form the non-denominational church in Ironton. For the last three weeks, they have congregated at the state-of-the-art Ohio University Southern Campus and Community Building at 1508 S. 9th St.

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The Bible-based church removes traditional restraints that come with formal worship and allows people to praise God in a casual setting, Conley said. For example, parishioners are encouraged to wear whatever they wish, including blue jeans. They are also free to drink coffee during the service.

Such a relaxed atmosphere is important to this man of God who grew up attending more conventional services. (Conley has been preaching for 28 years and has been a Christian for 33.)

"To start off with, it has meant freedom," Conley said. "I suppose it might be hard for some people to understand that. When you've been in a church that is controlled by a denomination, it's like there are all kinds of restrictions that you just don't feel free."

Without those restrictions, the gospel can reach more people, Conley said.

"I'm free to teach, free to preach and free to invite people to come and worship with us knowing that they're going to feel free as well," he said.

A major part of that worship is the Praise Team. Terry Hapney of Ironton serves as its director and keyboardist. Hapney said he has been a Christian for 25 years and for the past 17, he has worked in Christian radio as host of "Gospel Jubilation," which airs Sunday mornings on 103.3 WTCR.

Like Conley, Hapney said he grew up attending established denominational churches, but felt the formality wasn't the best way to minister to the needs of people in the Tri-State.

Everything about Spirit of Christ Church is designed to make people feel more at ease, from the dynamic and modern praise music to the relaxed seating arrangement at tables set up around the room.

"It's not as traditional as people might think a church should be, but I think that's an appeal that reaches people who might be intimidated by tradition. … This church is different in that it welcomes any type of worship that is of the Christian faith and it allows people to worship freely and allow the Holy Spirit to move in their lives as He sees fit."

For Hapney, the inspiration for this ministry came from a still small voice speaking to him as he drove home from the University of Dayton (where he is working on his doctorate).

"I've had the Lord speak to me in the past, but never to this extent," Hapney said. "We all pray and speak to the Lord and ask for His direction in our lives, but I've never had the Lord speak to me in such a powerful way. He laid it upon my heart to start this ministry."

Hapney said at that moment, he called his father-in-law on a cellular phone to discuss the possibility of starting a new church. Considering his father-in-law had been a part of the same congregation for 38 years, Hapney thought his father-in-law would at least have to think about it.

"He didn't hesitate," Hapney said. "So, I started calling around and there was an amazing outpouring of blessing. The Lord sent Todd Lovins our way and provided Frank Conley. The Lord has just been sending the right people for the right roles. It's come about quite quickly, but everything is falling into place."

While at the moment the congregation is renting the OUS community building, both Conley and Hapney said they would love to see a church constructed soon.

"We're looking forward to building a church and having a church that is filled with several hundred people," Conley said. "ŠWe're just looking forward to great things happening and seeing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and worshiping God and putting our faith in Him."

But more important than any physical building is the building up of faith in the lives of people from this area.

"Our charge is to share the word of God with others, win the unsaved to Jesus Christ, provide spiritual food to the saved and help those in our community who need help," Hapney said.

Sunday worship service begins at 10 a.m. with coffee served at 9:30 a.m. Bible study is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursdays. Plans are in the works to include a Sunday School and special youth ministry soon.