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Pastor: No requirements to follow Jesus

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Kay Fate

No perfect people allowed.

If critics of religion have an argument to make, it's usually about the hypocrisy they see from people professing to be religious. That acknowledgement of imperfection — of how we all fall short — at the top of the website for Bear Creek Christian Church is what intrigued me as I searched for the inaugural subject of this column, a new, occasional column about the many church and faith communities in Southeast Minnesota. I chose Bear Creek for no other reason than the fact that it's nondenominational , and I was familiar with its work within the community.

Founded in 2009, the community initially met at the Heintz Center at Rochester Community and Technical College . Two years ago, the church leaders decided that instead of building a church, they'd meet at The Place, which during the week houses the Rochester Boys and Girls Club , Head Start , Child Resource and Referral, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council/Migrant and Seasonal Head Start and Bolder Options , a mentoring program.

The rental fee the church pays allows it to support those programs, said Aaron Wager, lead pastor at Bear Creek, which they believe is more valuable than putting up a a new building somewhere else in town.

It's Wager's dedication to the southeast part of Rochester that's been the driving force behind the church's vision of "a thriving church helping our community thrive in the name of Jesus." He specifically hopes to fill a need for the area that he says "gets a bad rap."

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Wager and his wife, Kerry, wanted "a safe place for (people) to come know about Jesus. You don't have to have it all together to be here," he said.

The room they filled on a recent Sunday morning was decidedly chilly — "they haven't turned the furnace on yet," Wager told the group, but it warmed up quickly. More than 100 people sat in folding chairs, some still holding coffee and pastries available before the service.

There was hugging — quite a lot of it. At least four people approached me, clearly noting I was a new face. They introduced themselves, welcomed me, then left me alone. Though I'm fairly outgoing, I imagine that would be just about perfect for someone who may be shy or uncomfortable.

"Jesus was extremely comfortable hanging out with people who were on the edge of culture," Wager said during the service, and that doesn't happen "when we get caught up in the ritual of religion. He just needs to know your heart's in the right place. Jesus says, 'Come and hang out with me, and I'll show you what life is about. You don't have to be perfect.'"

There was a little lesson with the service, though I may have been the only one who actually wrote it down. Anyone is welcome to follow Jesus, Wager said, and "anyone means everyone. Addicts, inmates, divorced, gay. Anyone.

"Alcoholic? Anyone. Hothead? Anyone. Hypocrite? Anyone."

There are no requirements to follow Jesus, Wager said, and he addressed something that's often repeated by those who don't regularly attend church or go at all.

"You've all heard it: 'Oh, I can't go to church; if I walk in, lightning will strike.'

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"No. 1, we don't have a church building to strike, so you're welcome," Wager said with a smile. "And nuNo. 2, it doesn't work like that. God wants you here."

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