Student ministry takes root in Iowa City


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Welcome to church in a bar. It's dark, crowded and echoing with voices. But these voices are singing songs of praise.

Wednesday night, bartenders and servers peeked their heads into the Blue Moose Tap House stage room and saw an unfamiliar crowd.

The group is standing, even though the room is filled with chairs. Some members raise their arms. Everyone sings.

The student ministry outreach group the Salt Company welcomed roughly 150 people to its second meeting in Iowa City at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave.

The Salt Company originated in Ames, where the ministry targets Iowa State University students through Cornerstone Church, which serves a regular congregation of 2,500 members.

ISU senior Brenton Grimm, who plays drums in the Salt Company's contemporary worship band, says the ministry is a hit among his peers. Approximately 600 ISU students commute every week to the group's location, which is around 10 miles off campus.

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That success compelled roughly 60 church members, including 30 students, to uproot this summer to plant a new church in Iowa City: Veritas Church. Some relocated entire families, while others transferred universities.

While the group doesn't yet reside at a permanent location, the ministry hopes to appeal to the University of Iowa community through a variety of events, including Wednesday nights at Blue Moose Tap House, said original group member Jenny Calsyn, who graduated from ISU last spring and moved to Iowa City. On Saturday, the Salt Company will host a freshman tailgate party at 9 a.m. in City Park. Additionally, every Sunday, it will hold "Church in the Park" and other weekly events such as morning prayers, community-service projects, group retreats, and an English Club to reach out to international students.

"Church in the Park" is Veritas' Sunday worship service in City Park. Beginning Sept. 12, the group will move to a rented space inside hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn St. But for now, larger get-togethers will occur across campus.

"I'm excited about seeing how God is going to use us," Calsyn said.

Grimm said it is crucial for the Salt Company to minister to college-age people.

"This is a very important time for college kids," he said. "They're out on their own for the first time."

Nearly one-fourth of 18- to 29-year-olds identify their religion as "none," according to a February 2009 report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That's twice as many as in the 1970s and '80s. But those 18- to 29-year-olds who do affiliate with a religion prefer evangelical churches — such as Veritas Church — to other congregations.

Veritas Church focuses on college students because they can change the future, said one of the Salt Company's pastors, Mark Arant.

"My desire would be for this group to love one another and be a community that accurately portrays Jesus Christ," Arant said.

UI graduate student Kelsey Hake said the church's move to Iowa City was a "godsend."

"The Friday I got accepted to the physical-therapy program, they announced they were moving," she said.

Charlie Schaller, a leader of student Christian organization Crusade for Christ, said he welcomes groups such as the Salt Company to campus.

"I wish the best to anybody who really loves Jesus and wants to help others know him," he said.

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