By Stan Friedman
PHOENIX, AZ (November 30, 2011) – The teenager didn’t get the memo, says Pat Stark, pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. When the guest speaker at the church entered the building, the young man exclaimed, “You’re Alice Cooper!”
The legendary rock star was at Genesis that day to talk about the new ministry partnership between his Solid Rock Foundation and the church. The congregation recently purchased a strip mall and is renovating the main section that will be used by the church and Solid Rock. Cooper’s ministry will be a long-term tenant.
Stark says he knows some people would be shocked that the church is partnering with an organization started by the platinum-selling artist known for songs such “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “Sick Things,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” which included the lyrics, “I went to church incognito/When everybody rose, the Reverend Smith/He recognized me and punched me in the nose/He said, ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy/no more Mr. Clean/no more Mr. Nice Guy/He said, ‘You’re sick, you’re obscene.’ ”
Genesis’ pastor would take issue with that characterization. Cooper stopped drinking 30 years ago and became a Christian. “He loves Jesus,” Stark says. “He has had an incredible ministry.”
The Paradise Valley resident co-founded Solid Rock in 1995, and it has contributed funds to other programs working with teens as well as developing its own outreaches. The foundation’s work has included a heavy dose of music and dance-related opportunities. Cooper’s wife, Sheryl, is a long-time dancer and dance instructor.
Solid Rock wants to minister to all teens, but especially targets at-risk youth. In the new facility, Solid Rock will offer arts education, including music lessons that will be given in soundproof rooms. Cooper noted in a previous interview that few students at schools in low-income neighborhoods have access to music lessons because of budget cuts that have eliminated many programs. Genesis will use the same rooms for Sunday school classes.
The foundation and church will share 25,000 square feet of the 66,000-square-foot mall, says Stark. Solid Rock will use it during the week, and Genesis will worship there on Sunday. The church also hopes to provide services such as job counseling and training to adults during the week.
In addition to the mall, the purchase included a restaurant that has since moved. The church will use the space for youth ministry in the near future. Space also is being leased to Alcoholics Anonymous in a separate office building on the site. A community policing station will occupy part of the mall, which is nearly filled with new tenants.
Genesis has met in temporary locations since it was planted eight years ago with a group of people from Paradise Valley Community Church. It has grown to about 220 in worship.
“When we planted the church in 2003, we told the core group that if you’re looking for a beautiful building, don’t come,” says Stark. If the church ever bought space, they wanted it to be used for multiple purposes, he adds. “We are finally realizing our dream.”
Renovations to the building that was “purchased with a loan from our good friends at National Covenant Properties (NCP)” are expected to be completed by spring, Stark says. Volunteers are doing much of the work.
The partnership with Solid Rock began to develop in 2009, after both groups had previous property deals fall through. Bob Porter, who serves on the boards of the foundation and Genesis, thought the two should consider becoming allies.
Although Stark had participated in negotiations, the final agreement actually was signed while he was on sabbatical. “He’s raised up great leaders,” says Rollie Persson, NCP vice president of real estate services, who notes that both groups have worked extremely well together.
Stark, who had purchased several Cooper albums over the years, was as surprised as anyone about the partnership. “Who would have guessed that,” he says, laughing.
The involvement with the foundation has benefited the church. When Cooper and Sheryl spoke at Genesis, “It was like Christmas or Easter as far as attendance,” Stark says.
Cooper’s humility has impressed the congregation. “He signed every single request for an autograph and was one of the last to leave,” Stark says.
Stark had met Cooper briefly during the negotiations and was surprised when Jeff Moore, the artist’s director of business development, called and asked what the pastor was doing the next day.
The shock rocker wanted to know if Stark wanted to play golf. Cooper had taken up the game after he got out of rehab for his alcohol addiction in 1984 and plays with a handicap that has been as low as two. His close friend and fellow golfer, former teen idol Pat Boone, has described Cooper is being “this close” to being able to turn pro.
The pastor had not used his clubs for eight years, but immediately said yes. “I got out there and he schooled me,” Stark says, adding that Cooper did give him tips. Afterwards, Cooper quipped, “You’re not the worst pastor I’ve seen on the golf course.”
Asked if he expected to get more lessons from Cooper, Stark says it is unlikely. In other words, “School’s out.”