For The Tribune
Addictions to alcohol, drugs and porn defined one man’s slide.
But today, Rick Wilson’s life is thriving in The Alley. It’s a five-year-old, nondenominational church on East Second Street in Seymour where a group of unconventional Christians extend love and support especially to the poor, the addicted and the struggling.
That outreach includes pastor Wilson’s regular nights of performances of mainstream, secular classic rock, pop and country tunes in area nightspots. In his native Seymour, many know of his spiritual leadership.
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But often in Columbus and elsewhere, people seem clueless about this undercover brother who credits Jesus’ grace for turning around his life.
“Listen, we’re all sinners,” said the 59-year-old Wilson, sipping orange juice for breakfast at a Columbus eatery. “And I want people to know I’m one of them. Honestly, many preachers freak people out. Jesus never put himself on a pedestal, apart from people.”
Wilson has been a rock musician since his teen years. He also spent time in Nashville, Tennessee, writing and playing country music.
At his Friday night services at The Alley, he and worship leader Randy Riley sometimes will open the gatherings with a tune from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughn or John Mellencamp. Worship tunes get interspersed.
The idea: Get the attention of people, especially those who have never or seldom attended church, with something familiar.
Those ideas and more are part of Wilson’s just-released, self-published book, “The Alley: A Church For People Who Don’t Like Church.”
The publication includes how The Alley agreed to begin feeding 70 needy people per day — even before the ministry featured a kitchen to prepare food. Shortly afterward, a local store manager donated all the building materials and expertise for the effort.
“You feed a needy kid a meal — especially when it may be the only decent one he’s getting that day — and it’ll change your life forever,” Wilson said.
At the minister/singer’s latest Columbus stop at Ziggie’s recently, he fed a crowd of about 40 people a two-hour diet of The Beatles, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Charlie Daniels, Roger Miller and others.
Columbus’ Irv Rutan is one of about 15 people from The Alley who gather at Ziggie’s about a half hour before Wilson performs. Even the bus the church members travel on to the bar has undergone a conversion from a past life as a school vehicle.
“This is part of our church,” Rutan said. “We’re just here to support him. And I know a lot of these guys here. But they had no idea I was coming tonight.”
Recently, a man seated at the bar in the Bluebird in Vallonia while Wilson played heard from the bartender about The Alley’s outreach to the poor and struggling — and promises to be on hand when the church launches its fifth annual Thousand Ten Project Sept. 12 at Seymour’s Shields Park. Via the effort, people spread into the community to buy the needy groceries, medicine and more — and tell them that Jesus loves them.
“I know there are a lot of people who say he and we shouldn’t be in a bar,” said Columbus’ Matt Fleetwood, another member of The Alley. “But this is where people are. And some of these people in some of the bars are people Rick used to run with back in the day.”
With only a guitar and harmonica, Wilson gets a few people singing the chorus of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” with him. Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” catches the attention of a beer drinker who looks surprised when someone tells him the lounge singer is a pastor. He gives Wilson high marks for a connecting message.
Wilson clearly wants to be able to relate. He figures if Jesus’ grace can dramatically change his life, it can do the same for others.
A visitor offers a question to Wilson’s church members. Is the multifaceted man a better preacher or a better musician?
“Hey,” Fleetwood said. “He definitely can do both.”
Hometown and current residence: Seymour.
Current role: Pastor (though he dislikes the term) and ministry leader at the 100-member, five-year-old The Alley Church, 416 E Second St. in Seymour. Services are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays.
Past role: Leader of the Celebrate Recovery program for five years at Seymour’s The Point church. It helps people overcome addictions, hang-ups and hurts.
Family: Married to wife Teresa for 25 years. Three adult children live on their own. Adopted children at home: Shawn, 9; Katie, 6; and Millie Grace, 3; also a 13-month old foster son.
Last music disc still available: Hot Rod Daddy, primarily a country album.