Fueled By Heavy Metal, Church Opens Up Music-Inspired Service


December 6, 2007

SCOTTSDALE – Scottsdale’s Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church has a service for just about everyone, from traditional to teen-led worship.

But Pastor Jon Bjorgaard thinks there’s room for yet another: A bi-monthly, Lutheran-based outreach liturgy that’s open to the community.

MEGA Life, a musically weighty service, kicked off in October and takes the church in yet another direction, its most diverse yet.

“MEGA Life is different than what this church has done in the past,” Bjorgaard said.

Its topics span addiction to anger.

Its structure veers from the conventional, to one of a more free-flowing nature.

Its pew-rattling music is flush with electric guitars and amplifiers.

That paradigm, according to Bjorgaard, is to reach more people in the community. “It makes it easier for people to follow who aren’t used to going to church.”

Bjorgaard has culled an impressive cadre of accomplished musicians to donate their time and talent not only creating and performing music, but to also deliver a verbal memoir, some having lived in the rock-and-roll spotlight where success and excess often coexist in a dark symbiosis.

Bjorgaard hopes their stories and music along with his homily serve as a fresh medium to inspire others. “The music appeals to a broader audience,” said parishioner Brad Phillips. “It’s a great way to reach everyone.”

Former White Heart rocker-turned record producer, Billy Smiley helps bridge that gap by adapting hymns to rock. “It makes it more of a contemporary worship.”

For the musicians, it goes beyond giving back to the community. There is a rich simplicity in such altruism – helping others helps them keep a solid foot in a secular world that, for recording artists, can swing from laudatory adoration to unapologetic criticism.

One musician is David Ellefson, a veteran of the venerable thrash metal band, Megadeth.

During Ellefson’s tenure as the band’s bassist, Megadeth garnered seven Grammy nods and sold more than 20 million records.

Sitting in Bjorgaard’s office, Ellefson displays a strong presence and a palpable charisma.

“If you had told me back then that I was going to be playing my guitar in church, I would’ve said no way,” Ellefson laughs. “Church groups used to ban my records. But now it’s like my rock-and-roll tithing.”

Although he drew Kiss logos on church bulletins when he was a kid, Ellefson credits those early years with instilling a moral compass that, once obscured by rock-and-roll excess, never disappeared. (The band’s VH1 Behind the Music episode documents the drug-addled underside of Megadeth’s rock-and-roll ride into the sun.)

“Because of my Lutheran childhood, I always knew what I was doing was wrong,” Ellefson said.

He still makes heavy metal records. He currently is in the studio with his band, F5.

And he just returned from Las Vegas, where he was asked to help host a rock-and-roll fantasy camp alongside a rock star lineup that included Roger Daltrey of The Who and Slash of Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver.

Ellefson tapped award-winning, chart-topping recording artist, Brandon Reid for help.

A soft-spoken Reed says his participation in MEGA Life keeps him real.

“I’ve got a lot of dirty laundry,” Reid said of relaying his rock-and-roll past at one service. “But I hope that helps people.”

For drummer Troy Luccketta of rock band Tesla, playing music on an altar, instead of a stage, takes the rock star focus off.

“The rock-and-roll life is really self-centered, people cater to you all of the time. Here, it’s not about you. It’s about being available to others. Music reaches people,” Luccketta said.

Thornton Wilder once wrote that only the saints and the poets could appreciate an ordinary day, a revelation that reflects the mission of MEGA Life.

“This is a way,” Bjorgaard said of daily struggles, “to help people on that journey.”

Courtesy of www.azcentral.com