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Seeking Grace, Students Flock to New Church

West coast evangelical attracts Square, student audience

Two years ago, Russell J. Schlecht felt a sudden urge to move to Boston and start a church.

“One day I was in one of my buddy’s offices, talking about Boston. I had never been past Texas,” he says. “I just felt it in my heart; I’m supposed to go to Boston.”

The result is Grace Street Church, next door to The Inn at Harvard, which every Sunday evening at 7:15 p.m. is bursting with new-age worship music and students raising their arms in praise of God.

Started by Schlecht and a group of evangelical Christians from California and Washington, Grace Street has been providing a small but growing number of Harvard students a place to worship for the past two years.

In the past, evangelical Christians, who often prefer a more emotional and freewheeling worship style than more traditional churches offer, haven’t had many options for worship at Harvard. Many rode the “T” into Boston every Sunday morning to attend Park Street Church, and others went to a small church near Boston University. But now, Harvard’s evangelical students—a loosely defined group with a total membership of about a few hundred—are finding a new home within easy walking distance from their dorms.

“One nice thing about thing about Grace Street is that it’s really convenient,” said Hannah E. Kenser ’04.

Grace Street is part of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a denomination concentrated primarily on the west coast.

The church’s numbers are sizable considering that almost none of its congregants are of the denomination by upbringing—a fact which highlights Foursquare’s goal.

According to James C. Scott, the local District Supervisor for Foursquare at the time Grace Street was founded, Foursquare’s mission is to create a place where people from all backgrounds feel comfortable.

“We are an inter-denominational ministry,” he says. “We intentionally want to bridge.”

After making the decision to move to Boston, Schlecht divulged his plan to friends within the Foursquare church, and some decided to go with him.

None had any ties to Boston.

Upon his arrival in New England, Schlecht said he and his crew searched for a location for their church.

“We just prayed and shopped around,” Schlecht said.

After telling people about his vision and spreading word via e-mail lists and word of mouth, checks started to trickle in by mail from across the country.

After a few months, Russ and company settled into the old Cambridge Baptist Church.

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