‘THE 10:49’

BRADENTON — For now, it’s simply called, “the 10:49,” which sounds like the name of a steam locomotive from the old days of rail travel.

Some might call First Baptist Church’s “10:49” a contemporary or modern service. But that just doesn’t seem quite right, says senior Pastor Rick Lineberger, who has been at the church at 1306 Manatee Ave. W. for six years.

After all, Lineberger reasons, why should the faithful who attend the more traditional 8 and 10:50 a.m. Sunday services in the main sanctuary feel they are any less modern or contemporary?

“We pastors have always wrestled with what to call these services,” Lineberger said. “But what really matters is that we are trying to reach out to everyone.”

Maybe the train image is a good one.

The 10:49, with its band and energetic new leader in Pastor John Gregory, has attracted an enthusiastic following. Like a locomotive, it chugs into the old memorial chapel on the First Baptist campus every Sunday precisely at 10:49 a.m. with a freight of joyful noise, says member Bonnie Oyler.

“It is very personal,” Oyler said. “You have 100 to 150 people there. You can easily make a new friend. It’s a relaxed environment. The leaders are very personal. And I love the music.”

Lisa Fulghum attends the 10:49 and loves the memorial chapel where it’s held.

“It’s a glorious place on a Sunday morning,” Fulghum said. “You’ve got all that stained glass, and when the light pours through those windows it’s wonderful.”

The 10:49 began on the first Sunday in January when worship leader Matt Johnson put together a praise band comprised of several members who played guitar, drums and piano.

Lineberger explains the need for the service in simple terms:

“Our world is changing quickly and we have an unchanging message,” Lineberger said. “So, our methods have to change.”

The 10:49 offers contemporary Christian music and the dress is casual.

“We sensed the need for a service that would appeal to a younger audience and that would have more freedom in worship,” Lineberger said. “We wanted a service where people could invite their friends and no one would be dressed up. People sometimes think of a traditional Baptist church as being formal.

“That first Sunday was exciting,” Lineberger added.

Attendance numbers have steadily grown.

Gregory, who was born in Tennessee and raised in Alabama, came on board six weeks ago. He was ordained in 2003 after a long career as a music educator in schools.

“I’m a preacher’s kid,” Gregory said. “I grew up in church from the first Sunday in my life. It’s in my blood. I feel called.”

Gregory gets excited when he sees his flock stand and wave their hands in the air. They sing enthusiastically with the music.

“John is just remarkable in including everyone and encouraging participation,” Oyler said.

“He is sensitive to the fact that there are all ages out there, including young people from 12 to 18. He will crack a joke and say, ‘Are you out there?’”

Gregory leads the first half of the service, the rousing praise and worship half, and then those in the memorial chapel get a live feed via TV screen of Lineberger’s message from the main sanctuary.

“People say, ‘Isn’t that impersonal?’ but you are so focused on what Pastor Lineberger is saying that you forget he’s on a TV screen,” said Oyler.

Gregory says he has been given creative freedom to take the first half of the service wherever he thinks it should go.

He incorporates live interviews with people so they can share their personal testimony.

“I can do human dramas or show videos,” Gregory said.

For the May 30 service, he plans a live interview with a Vietnam veteran and an interview with a local woman whose husband is in Iraq. They will be hooked up via Skype.

Lineberger is excited about what Gregory is doing.

“We are touching people who are hurting,” Lineberger said.

“We are ministering to them in a setting that offers real freedom to be touched by the Lord.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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