Tim Reid is unapologetic.
His downtown church that once was labeled a "danger to the community at large" by Chattanooga's mayor has largely managed to avoid public scrutiny since settling into its new home on Mississippi Avenue in North Chattanooga.
But Mosaic church's mission to reach urban youth and gang members using methods some critics have called "extreme" has not wavered.
"We're doing what we've always done. We've never really changed what we've done, it just seems like the violence surrounding us escalated at certain times," said Reid, who pastors the church.
While Mosaic doesn't hold its controversial Club Fathom music events at the North Chattanooga church location, Reid said the church still rents out downtown clubs on a monthly basis to host performers — secular and Christian — and invite young people to the shows.
Some of the secular performers have "bad music," Reid assents, but he said that's part of the risk that comes with trying to be honest and relevant enough to reach "the worst of the worst" and engage in "messy and hard" relationships with at-risk youth and gang members.
But city leaders have stressed that side-effects of the church's philosophy of ministry have proved troubling in the past.
After a Christmas Eve concert last year, nine people were sprayed with bullets in what police said was gang-related violence. Mosaic's landlords evicted the church from its 412 Market St. location in January after city codes officers found a lengthy list of code violations and a judge banned any more church-related night events for the rest of the holiday season.
The church went underground at that point, and struggled for a time to find a new place to worship.
But it did not shrink. In fact, Reid said, all the attention strengthened the church's numbers — and their resolve.
"We've grown quite a bit. With all the media coverage we made people aware of our mission and our vision," Reid said, citing about 20 percent growth in the now-200 member congregation.
"We found some other people who were like-minded about our desire to help at-risk kids."
SCAPEGOAT OR ENABLER?
One is Mitchell Reaves, pastor of Northside Community Church on Mississippi Avenue.
When he heard about the shooting outside the Mosaic event, he at first found the news "very troubling." But he said he was bothered later when he found out the church was losing its building.
"I thought then that I wish we could help them, but we care a lot about our neighbors and their welfare, and I did not want to do anything that would put our church or our neighbors at risk," Reaves said.
But after an unplanned meeting with Reid, Reaves said he was struck by the pastor's "humility and brokenness" and was later moved by hearing that the church held a meeting under a bridge in early February.
Reaves called the deacons at his church and arranged for Mosaic to meet temporarily in Northside's fellowship hall. The church has since hammered out an agreement that will allow Mosaic to stay at least a year at no cost. Under the agreement, Mosaic cannot host or engage in any activities related to Club Fathom "or any of Club Fathom's previous or similar endeavors or outreaches" at Northside.
Mosaic members now teach the church's dance and art classes through North Chattanooga Recreation Center and host concerts at a revolving list of clubs. So far, Reaves said, the relationship has been "one of the best arrangements" his church has ever had with another church.
"I did feel from reading about Mosaic in the paper and from personally getting to know the church that they had been unfairly made a scapegoat for the city's larger problems," Reaves said.
Neighbors surrounding Northside Church on Mississippi Avenue say they haven't noticed a change on Sunday nights.
"There have always been good people at that church," said Debra Kelley, who lives across the street. "That's still the case, from what I can see."
But city leaders maintained that Mosaic was not a victim but an enabler of the violent events in December. After the shootings, city leaders pointed to more than 20 previous assault calls since 2006 at Mosaic's former address, listing the calls as a key reason the church was declared a public nuisance.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd called it a "nightclub disguised as a church," playing music with explicit references to sex, drugs, violence and profanity, and dodging regulation by the city's Beer and Wrecker Board.
JESUS AND NIGHT CLUBS
Reid argues that some of the church's biggest transformation stories come from relationships started from the club ministry.
"I always think that if Jesus were here today he'd be at the nightclubs. He'd be walking the streets. He wouldn't be safe at home, sleeping in his warm bed," he said.
Reid wouldn't name the clubs the church now rents, saying that he fears retaliation from the city. But the format of the shows hasn't much changed, he said: usually rap and hip-hop. Between 200 and 500 young people come for the shows, he said, and the flexibility has given the church greater reach.
"I think [influence] is greater there," he said. "And I think we are able to go further into the heart of the beast."
There frequently is a cover charge for such events, and the venues do serve alcohol to those over 21 at most events, Reid said.
Reid said donations and cover charges pay for events. To rent a club and ask it not to sell alcohol is much more expensive, and the church can't afford it, he said.
And the shows are no longer advertised as Mosaic or Club Fathom events.
"A lot of our mission now is in building relationships there," he said. "We're not shouting from the rooftops. We don't want the mayor or other politicians to come after us."
Mayor Ron Littlefield's spokesman Richard Beeland said the city has given no special attention to the church since it left the downtown location.
"And as long as there's not the same kind of violence that's breaking out where they are and as long as they're going through the proper protocol with these clubs, I see no reason why we would need to keep an eye on them," Beeland said.
Reid said that, in the first few months in the North Chattanooga location, police cars regularly parked or patrolled outside during services. He also claimed that he identified undercover officers at services, but the department denies giving the church any such scrutiny.
"We haven't singled them out, and we never did single them out when all that was going on downtown. We were just trying to deal with the issues at hand," Chattanooga Police spokesman Officer Nathan Hartwig said.
"If we're having a lot of incidents reported at a certain location, we will step up to see what's going on there," Hartwig added.