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The mission starts after church

| Monday, August 24, 2020

Located only 3.6 miles from Notre Dame’s campus, the congregation of the After Church meets every Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m. In an auditorium within Bethel College, lead pastor Sweh Velilla stands up to preach. Well, most of the time. 

Last Sunday, Notre Dame senior Daryl Naquin preached a sermon titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” since Pastor Sweh was unavailable due to a family event. Daryl’s sermon taught three main points:

1. Recognize that you cannot save yourself.

2. Strain forward to know more.

3. Fix your mind on eternity.

Veronica Navarro

As the congregation socially distanced themselves within the auditorium, other Notre Dame students could be seen taking notes and listening attentively, alongside many families from the Michiana area. 

Naquin has been attending Baptist Collegiate Ministries since he was a freshman at Notre Dame. Baptist Collegiate Ministries, or BCM for short, is also run by Sweh Velilla. Taking place every Thursday night at 9:15 p.m., BCM is open to all students within the tri-campus community for fellowship opportunities and to grow in their relationship with God. Despite challenges due to new COVID-19 precautions through the University, BCM will continue on in an online format at the same time as normal. 

BCM was Pastor Sweh’s first ministry involvement in South Bend.

I was a youth and college pastor at a church in VA, and I was first contacted by the former BCM director at ND, who got my information from a mutual friend,” Velilla explained, “He was in the process of retiring from campus ministry and wanted to find a suitable replacement. At the recommendation of our mutual friend, he contacted me and asked if I would be interested in leading the BCM at ND and IUSB. I very quickly jumped at the chance to live out my dream of being at Notre Dame.”

After moving to South Bend, Velilla started the After Church. At the very beginning, the After Church was just a Bible study in his apartment.

“We started the church for a number of reasons,” he said. “For one, even if every church in town was filled to the brim, there would still be tens of thousands of people unreached.”

Another reason Velilla started the church was because he had witnessed the church simply being a “destination” for many.

“In other words, it became a place to go and fulfill a religious duty before returning to ‘normal’ life,” Velilla explained. “For many people, church no longer was a place to fuel them toward living their lives for Jesus; church was a place to check off an item on a religious to-do list, and it made no real difference in how they lived Monday to Saturday. And so, as we prayed over what unique difference we wanted our church to make, it became quickly clear: we wanted to start a church that led people into a paradigm shift. We wanted to train people that church isn’t simply a temporary visit where you check in and then leave. We wanted to train people that church is meant to make a real difference in how you live. That your life throughout the week is greatly affected by the relationships, the scriptural truth, and the life-giving experiences you have at church, so that you are a different person after church.” 

This is where the mission of the church was born. The mission that is reflected in its name: “The mission starts after church.” When asked more specifically what the mission of the church is, Velilla added, “Our mission is to encourage and equip people to live out the Gospel every day of their lives. Our prayer is that the Sunday evenings we spend together in the same place will fuel us to fully live for Christ for the rest of the week in every other place we individually inhabit.”

Pastor Sweh encourages and hopes that students will attend the After Church, even virtually due to new University regulations. Sermons can be found at the After Church’s Facebook page.

“Students should attend because every person longs to be loved and for a place to belong. For people to know their name, and care about their story,” Velilla added. “And because everyone is seeking truth, and for direction about how to fulfill their mission in life. Students should also know that our community is a place where they can fully explore all of their doubts, questions and fears without fear of judgment.”

Beyond that, the After Church is like a family.

“There’s no expectation for people to act like perfect little Christians who have it all together,” he said. “People can come and be themselves, flaws and all, and we love each other through each other’s messes.”

For BCM, Pastor Sweh hopes that students will attend and experience the fellowship and deep conversation that occur during the meetings.

“Notre Dame is a place where the brightest young minds gather and, as such, the conversations that come about in our studies are fueled by such incredible intelligence,” he said. “I am constantly challenged forward as I try to keep up with the brilliant young minds who are analyzing the Bible in such a deep way. I get so excited to hear questions about the Bible that are not only raw and honest, but also incredibly deep, and I often leave Bible study shaking my head, in awe of the places our conversations are able to go. I also just love being a part of shaping the lives of young leaders, who I know are about to go across the world and be difference makers wherever they end up.”

Young minds like Naquin’s are exercised and challenged through BCM and the After Church. Naquin, alongside many other Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students work together to make a change in our little corner of Indiana. 

Many students are unaware of the presence of both BCM and the After Church within the Notre Dame community. More information and updates for both can be found on the church’s Instagram page: @The.After.Church, or by finding the church and BCM on Facebook. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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