LEWISTON — There was no question Friday night where the biggest party was in Lewiston — The Jesus Party was, as the children say, going off.

By 6 p.m., the party on Bates Street was going full blast. Two dozen children were jumping up and down, waving their hands and singing at the top of their lungs. In another corner, two dozen adults were slightly more sedate. They sang, as well, and swayed back and forth to the beat of the music.

In the middle of it all were Doug and Sonya Taylor who have been leading the Jesus Party, a faith-based Christian ministry for children, for 20 years.

“Did you come here tonight to praise the Lord?” asked Brother Doug.

The response was thunderous from both sides of the room.

“I’m going to challenge the adults to keep up with the kids,” he said, moving around the room with microphone in hand. “When the kids get to worshiping Jesus, it gets pretty loud.”

He was right. A second later, the walls began to shake with the sheer volume of their enthusiasm — kids and adults alike.

“Let’s jump up and down for Jesus,” Brother Doug said.

The floor began to tremble as the group began to jump, clap and shout.

For two decades, they’ve been holding this event, and in spite of the occasional controversy, it’s hard to argue with the success of the Jesus Party. The children in the room seemed almost delirious with glee. Their parents beamed and talked about what wonderful transformation the Taylors have inspired in the children.

Of course, you can also get these testimonials from the children themselves.

“I used to be bad,” declared 9-year-old Haze Emerson. “I stole things. I took my mother’s jewelry.”

Haze is a small girl with dark hair and a particular intensity about her. Her wicked ways ended, she said, when she started coming to the Jesus Party every week.

“I’m here every time,” Emerson said. “We learn about Jesus and we learn not to do stuff that’s bad.”

Emerson thought about this a moment, frowning slightly as though trying to find a way to explain her transformation in the clearest way possible. She leaned in and repeated herself, yelling to be heard over the roar of the others.

“I stopped being bad,” she said, and nodded with satisfaction.

Nearby, a 12-year-old named Trista was watching as a few latecomers squeezed into the jam-packed room on the first floor of the Taylors’ Bates Street home.

“Every single Friday,” Trista said, “I’m here to praise the Lord.”

When Brother Doug walked by, Trista glanced up at him and smiled brightly. She is very clear about her devotion to the Lord and her feelings toward Brother Doug are likewise unalloyed.

“He’s very awesome,” Trista said. “He teaches us a lot of stuff that we didn’t know before.”

If it had been just an ordinary Friday night, that teaching would have been underway. But this was the 20th anniversary of the party, and it was nearly Valentine’s Day to boot.

Doug and Sonya Taylor went all in. Party lights of all colors flashed and blinked all over the room. Nearly a dozen disco balls gleamed and streamers hung above an elbow-to-elbow crowd.

“It’s because we have the grown-ups here tonight, too,” Sonya said. “Normally it’s just the kids in here and there’s more room.”

Not that space inhibited anybody. Once the party started, with music, song and some good old-fashioned preaching, it never seemed to slow.

“If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet,” Brother Doug commanded and the stomping began.

Then the music began, and every mouth was singing and all hands were engaged in clapping.

They sang “Freedom,” “Our God is an Awesome God” and “Open the Eyes of my Heart, Lord.” When the group launched into “For the Joy of the Lord,” Sonya grabbed a microphone and joined in with a remarkably strong voice, while a young girl grabbed a tambourine and kept time with the music.

“Clap your hands for Jesus,” Brother Doug advised, and furious clapping commenced.

They would pause for food and drink eventually — but for nearly a solid hour, it was a celebration that could be heard up and down Bates Street.

The Taylors started their ministry in the basement of their Brault Street home in 1994. In February 1995, they sold that home and moved to the corner of Birch and Bartlett streets. This was the birth of a full-fledged, faith-based Christian ministry for children that would soon become the talk of the town.

The Taylors were hurled into the square of public opinion as the couple took strong stands on controversial issues that affect the lives of children. When “Harry Potter” took the world by storm, the Taylors were quick to condemn the books and movies, gathering at least once in Kennedy Party to protest.

The ministry has also found itself at odds with New Beginnings and the Trinity Episcopal Church over the distribution of contraceptives that led to protests in 2000. The children’s ministry has also clashed with the hate group, The World Church of the Creator, in protest of their racist rally in 2003.

The ministry’s board of directors also protested at the Lewiston Maine Public Broadcasting Network offices in 2005 over an episode in the children’s television series “Postcards From Buster.” At issue was a part of the show that promoted same-sex marriage.

With all of the exposure by the media, the Taylors decided to incorporate the ministry as a domestic nonprofit organization and sought to obtain ministerial credentials to better serve the children of their ministry and bring a sense of legitimacy to their causes.

There was no hint of controversy at the Jesus Party headquarters Friday night. When the adults spoke of the Taylors – in quick breaths between songs – they used words of soaring praise — words like “heroes,” “wonderful people” and “a blessing to us all.”

Then there were new songs to sing and more “hallelujahs” to be shouted. The tireless Taylors continued to work the room and the party continued into the night.

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The Jesus Party 20th Anniversary Video


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