Reinventing Church in Ottertail, the teaser

Driving East through the swamps and past the cornfields that line Minnesota Highway 52, the few signs of modern humanity, a farmhouse or set of train tracks, hardly makes a dent on your concioussness. Entering Ottertail City, population a few hundred, you anticipate nothing more than a half mile of reduced speeds. Suddenly, inconcruent and shining on the edge of a large, neatly plowed field, rises a monument, a metal, stone and wooden edifice that you know does not belong there.

But the building, and the religious movement that gathers within, have become a fixture in the small community – to the pleasure of some and the angst of others.

The Firestarters are a worship group, they are a band, they are a record label. But they are more; when describing the group, leaders say that before anything else, the Firestarters is a community, even a way of life. In a world where life is so often without meaning, they say, the group is seeking to return to a form of religion that is based on relationships, on expression, on the true word of God, and on community.

Each summer, the small city of Ottertail engages in a staple of small town Minnesota – the quirky weekend town celebration. They call theirs Otterfest, complete with a street dance, fireworks, and lots of hotdog grilling. The Firestarters take the opportunity to erect a large tent in front of the impossible to miss building, across the street from the fair grounds. The building, less than a decade old, is the home of the minister and his family, office of the registered not for profit non-denominational church, recording studio, perfomance and banquet hall, and the center of a growing artists’ colony. They open the doors of the tent to the public, inviting anyone and everyone to join them for their annual “summer revival.” One Ottertail resident said she didn’t know much about the Firestarters or their teachings; however, she says that after attending the revival this past summer she was “drunk on the Holy Spirit.” She went on, “I was afraid to drive home – I really felt drunk, but I hadn’t had a drop. They told me ‘God got you here, He’ll get you back.'”

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