Rhema Christian Church
There’s a secret Reno. It’s mysterious, hidden in plain sight. It’s the spiritual community. I’m not just talking about the church community, but the network of all spiritualities that exist intertwined but separate, a machine in which all the parts operate individually but with a fraction of the power they could achieve if the parts were summed.
I was reminded of this fact when I attended the Rhema Christian Church, 120 W. Taylor St. Who would have known that there’s an international, primarily black congregation right in the middle of Old Southwest Reno?
My girlfriend, Joy, and I showed up a few moments early for the 10:30 a.m. worship service. They were utterly welcoming, ushering us into the sanctuary as the 9:30 Sunday school came to a close.
The sanctuary is small, with about 60 burgundy, padded chairs. It’s simple, the only adornments single-word computer printouts: joy, advance, peace. On the chancel was the accoutrement of a rockin’ choir: several microphones, keyboard, electric drum set. The “stage” was completed with poinsettias, electronic screen, Christmas tree, nativity set, lectern. In fact, there was nothing unusual about the look or design of the church—except the people.
The first thing I noticed when we entered was everyone spoke to me in accents I couldn’t quite place. After the service, Pastor Femi Gbenjo told me that the church is truly international, with members from Ghana, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Cuba, Chile and the United States. I’ll bet there are more. The pastor also presented me with a small book, Recognizing your Messengers of Destiny, which was written by Bishop Taiwo Akinola, founder of the Rhema Christian Church & Towers, Ota, Nigeria. One key principle of this church is the idea that church should also work to improve people’s lives on Earth.
The music was robust. There were nine members of the regular chorus, and there were several tambourines in the congregation. The service proceeded like most evangelical services: Opening prayer, offering, announcements, testimonies, reading, sermon and benediction. (Pastor Femi offered the second installment in “Keys to Prosperity,” which relates 12 steps from the Bible on how to improve financially and spiritually.) The two exceptions were the singing of the congregational hymn and the song ministration by the Rhema Voices International, a separate singing group from the church.
All in all, Rhema Christian Church felt like a Bible-based Christian church. But there were things that felt odd, not unpleasant but different. The music had extra beats and a slightly different tone than I’m accustomed to. In the songs and occasionally the words spoken, there were foreign phrases and words I’ve never heard, like “patapata.” At the times group prayer was called for, people would emphatically pray aloud—sometimes the same words—but not in unison. And yet, I felt comfortable, like I’d been invited into someone’s home.
It occurred to me that many of these people are immigrants, with a shared experience different than mine. Many of them came to this country without their parents, brothers or sisters, and this service—with its shared labor, communion, and common-sense sermon about how to live—is truly a family function and a function of family.
I have no idea how much this congregation has integrated into the Reno spiritual community, but this is a group that could be incorporated into the community to everyone’s benefit. I do know that people who want to understand more of the secret Reno will be welcomed with open arms into the Rhema Christian Church.MUSIC