UPDATE: Pastor Hopes to Move Growing Church to a New Home

The Rev. Tony Lee, center, leads Community of Hope church services at The Legend Restaurant and Night Club in Prince George's County.
The Rev. Tony Lee, center, leads Community of Hope church services at The Legend Restaurant and Night Club in Prince George's County. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Rev. Anthony Lee stood on the dance floor of The Legend Restaurant and Night Club in Temple Hills on Easter Sunday and welcomed about 50 people to a new style of worship -- one that was started to attract young adults and teenagers turned off by the traditional church experience.

Three months after starting Community of Hope church, Lee is looking to move the church. The congregation has grown to nearly 200 members, and another 200 routinely show up to worship at the 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. services each Sunday.

"The church has really grown," said Lee after Wednesday night's Bible study, where almost 100 people came out to Overlook Elementary School in Temple Hills. (During the week, The Legend still operates as a nightclub.) "God has blessed us with a lot of hard-working people who come and share their gifts and talents."

Lee said the congregation is diverse -- different ages, different walks of life. But the most exciting part of his ministry, he said, is that 80 of the church's members were not members of any congregation before they came to Community of Hope.

"I haven't been to church in 13 years, and all of a sudden I jumped up and joined a church," said Carlton Moxley, a pianist from Southeast Washington. He learned about the church from a newspaper article.

Ron and Akiva Kirkland came from their home in Fairfax County to attend Bible study in Overlook's auditorium and cafeteria. They first heard about the church from Lee, who married the couple two weeks ago. (A family friend recommended the minister to the couple for premarital counseling.)

"We were looking for someone who we could relate to," said Akiva Kirkland, 27. Ron Kirkland, 26, said he was drawn to the church because Lee "does an excellent job with the youth." From encouraging casual dress to organizing programs for young men who don't have fathers, Lee said the focus of his ministry is to communicate to young people that they have a church home.

On Wednesday, his Bible study lesson was taken from an Old Testament story about a man who was the servant of a king and a man who was a leper locked outside of the city. "There are certain parts of our life where we feel like we are in the city and there are parts of our life where we feel like we are outside the city," said Lee, dragging a big brown box in front of him to represent a gate. "It is not about all your connections. We spend all of our time trying to get connections in the city instead of trying to get connected to God."

As Lee spoke, stood on tables and leapt from the stage, Brian Glenn, 11, and his 10-year-old brother, Brandon Glenn, listened intently. The boys' father, Brian Glenn, 46, of Suitland, said this is the reason why he joined the church. "I love it. He breaks it down in a way where you can understand it."

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