'Real life' lessons

June 06, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

Before becoming a pastor, Jim Chevalier had owned an audio-visual company, been a rock music DJ, a mechanic and a contractor.

"This was a calling I ran away from for seven years," Chevalier said as he took a break from his work at his current assignment, Real Life Community Church.

Chevalier's 7-year-old congregation recently moved into rented quarters in the former First Brethren Church at the corner of Antietam and Mulberry streets in Hagerstown. They are in the midst of an "Extreme Makeover," as the signs on the large brick edifice indicate.


"We're here until we are ready to build," Chevalier said. The congregation owns a 12-acre site on White Hall Road that soon will be marked with a sign touting that as the future location for the congregation.

The sign, which will match banners inside the church, will say, "That was then, this is now," and shows an old picture of a traditional church and a second picture of a more diverse congregation, smiling and welcoming new people to worship.

"We don't compromise the Bible here," Chevalier said, noting only the methodology is different from some other churches. "There is a conscious effort to put real meaning in people's lives."

That means sinners are welcome at Real Life. But Chevalier said that doesn't mean they won't be told the truth.

"We tell it lovingly and gently, but it's the truth."

Chevalier, 42, grew up in the metropolitan area around Alexandria, Va. He earned a communications degree from Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., and embarked on his diverse secular careers before he accepted the fact that God had other plans for him.

"This is what I'm supposed to do," Chevalier said. "I know I was being prepared to start this church."

Part of that preparation were his many years at Southern Baptist churches serving as a youth pastor and senior pastor until God called him to Hagers-town in 1997. The goal was to reach the large number of unchurched people in this area, Chevalier said in 1998, when he was organizing the new church.

Armed with that mission and a lot of drive, he introduced Real Life to Hagerstown with a free car wash on Dual Highway. The church then started having services, first at The Venice Inn and then at Eastern Elementary School.

Visitors to the new church location will see that changes are afoot inside. The pulpit/baptism area in the front now has risers for the musical instruments that are a big part of the services at Real Life.

Above, where the choir used to sit, there's a huge screen for video presentations. And there are cup holders in the pews.

"Bring your cup of coffee when you worship, that's fine," Chevalier said.

With a core congregation of 100 to 135, Chevalier said most of those who are faithful hadn't given up on God, they had just given up on church.

"We want to lead them to peace and meaning with God here," he said.

When Chevalier came to town, he and his wife, Chris, had one son, Daniel, now 8. Soon after they settled in, Chris gave birth to Josh, 7.

"We're all very happy with Hagerstown," he said.

Despite all the fixing up the building needs, Chevalier said there already is a warm, family atmosphere within the walls.

"We're the friendliest place in town," he said. "When you come through these doors, you are accepted."

"It's neat to see the changes going on in here," Chevalier said. "Don't let the building's outside appearance fool you - we are a radical church in a traditional package."

The Herald-Mail Articles