To the members of Oak Life Church, a small weekly gathering of Oakland spirituals, Graceland isn’t just Elvis’s home in Tennessee; it’s an achievable realm accessible to anyone, including the crowd of nearly 40 churchgoers seated inside The New Parkway Theater last Sunday morning.

According to pastor Chris Scott, what makes Oak Life Church different from traditional churches today is its progressiveness in worship style and theology. Oak Life is focused on being progressive and inclusive of the East Bay community and seeks to welcome every person who comes to its weekly Sunday services, regardless of background, level of spirituality or sexual orientation.

“Nobody is excluded,” Scott said. “Everybody is welcome. This is about knowing that there are people who are exploring spirituality.”

Pastor Chris Scott speaks to the Oak Life churchgoers (Courtesy of Anna Vignet)

Pastor Chris Scott speaks to the Oak Life churchgoers. (Courtesy of Anna Vignet)

Putting down roots and growing branches

Oak Life is structured like a large tree, where the roots and branches represent the church’s two-fold approach to spirituality. The roots mean “going deep with God,” or practicing spiritual introspection through Bible study and attending weekly services. The branches represent an outward approach and “doing God’s work” through community service or other types of volunteering.

Part of this approach also includes incorporating new, innovative ways to express the sentiments they preach. At Oak Life’s Feb 1 meeting, a spoken-word poet performed a piece he wrote about theme for the coming weeks — grace.

“We try to communicate the same message as many ways as we can,” said worship leader Greg Steward. “Grace is loving all people, showing forgiveness and not judging them on the exterior but loving them on the interior instead. We really try to display that through the arts and a creative element like poetry.”

As Oak Life continues their discussions around grace, a series of performers will be showcasing their work and personal stories during weekly gatherings in keeping with the theme.

“Sometimes, art is the best way to supercede logic,” said pastor Chris Scott. “It’s about living into grace and being transformed by it.”

Spirituality for all

When Scott says everybody is welcome, he really means everybody.

The LGBTQ community, for example, is encouraged to get involved with Oak Life Church. Scott is dedicated to dispelling commonly held beliefs among the LGBTQ community that the Christian tradition is against marriage equality — at least, in a space like Oak Life.

“There’s a great sense of remorse and hurt that this community always feels rejected by the church, and that sucks because that’s not God,” Scott said. “I need to seek forgiveness for my community and say sorry because I’m part of the tradition that’s hurt [the LGBTQ] community.”

An unconditionally accepting atmosphere is something Scott believes in wholeheartedly for Oak Life through his own first church experience. As a child, Scott said spirituality “met him where he was at” and that a punk rock show at his local church was what ultimately made him feel comfortable because it accepted something he loved.

“I didn’t feel accepted at church until there was a space that connected with me,” Scott said. “We want to meet the needs of these communities. We’ll mess up, I’m sure, but we’re going to try really hard.”

Churchgoer Sadie McGarvey said she appreciates the diversity of the church’s assembly, and as someone who has been involved with Oak Life from its inception, feels that its moving in the right direction and successfully meeting the needs of the surrounding community.

“It’s all about hanging out with good people and with God,” McGarvey said.

Graceland vs. Law-land

To begin Oak Life’s series on the concept of Graceland, Scott introduced the dichotomy of Law-land versus Graceland. According to Scott, more traditional methods of Christianity focus on sin management, or dictating rights and wrongs to churchgoers in an unmistakably clear fashion.

Check out what he had to say below:

Oak Life Church meets every Sunday at 10 a.m. at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland. For more information about weekly services and other meetings, check out the Gatherings page.

To connect with Oak Life, check out their Facebook page and tweet them @oaklifechurch.

For more LGBTQ-inclusive spiritual spaces, visit gaychurch.org to find a church near you.

Oak Life Church video courtesy of Anna Vignet

About The Author

Natalie Meier is currently writing about issues in public health, tech and small business innovation as a freelance contributor for Oakland Local. Meier is a senior at Mills College studying English and Journalism and is also cross-registered at UC Berkeley. She currently interns for ABC7 News in San Francisco and has written for The Daily Californian, Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), StuVoice, and KALW.

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