I Went to Toronto’s Hipster Church and Found Cool Jesus

toronto's hipster church

Pastor Sam Picken and a church-goer (Image: C3 Church)

Say goodbye to old-school church services and hello to the new age of Christianity, where your Pastor is hot and the music is festival worthy. Vv Magazine’s Sarah Brown gives us the rundown on Toronto’s hipster church.  

It’s Sunday morning and there’s a flock of cool kids in ripped jeans on the stoop of Central Tech on Harbord Street. It’s hard to see what all the commotion is about, but there’s an intoxicating buzz in the air that feels like a not-so-secret speakeasy in Kensington. Shuffling towards the auditorium, a stylish woman in a fedora announces, “The service is about to start, y’all!” Surrounded by a mob of fashionable young people, I take a seat in the front row, as a band the size of Arcade Fire sings uplifting rock anthems about Jesus on a stage with a smoke machine and blue neon lights. That’s when I suddenly feel His presence.

Toronto's hipster church

Image: Instagram/@C3Toronto

But His presence isn’t Jesus, per say. It’s a hunky Aussie that’s the senior pastor at Toronto’s all-inclusive church, Christian City Church (C3). On stage, 31-year-old Sam Picken is greeted with the enthusiasm of a celebrity TIFF sighting at the LCBO. A grown man in a Wu-Tang t-shirt squeals, jumping up-and-down like the base is about to drop at The Hoxton. I loosen my choker and wipe my eyes to double-check it isn’t God’s almighty son standing in front of me. No, it can’t be. But yet, it is. He’s handsome, tattooed, with the eyes of GQ cover model. Is Jesus wearing Topman? My eyes start to tear up and I’m buzzing with renewed holy spirit I can feel in my entire body. I think I’m going to spritz.

If you haven’t heard about C3 Church, it’s a global church movement with a reputation for super attractive, Jesus-loving humans. Like Hillsong (the NYC church blessed by holy boy, Justin Bieber), Toronto has its very own church with a pastor that’s sexier than Jesus and Justin combined. Unlike old-school church services, C3 has rebranded Christianity with Drake-themed advertising, targeting a multi-cultural crowd of entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, photographers and marketing professionals that are (re)discovering spirituality with the guarantee of dancing, artisanal coffee and fast friendship. Think SXSW meets Christianity; tech-forward and interactive with a new age kumbaya vibe. It’s kind-of, sort-of… cool?

toronto's hipster church

Image: Instagram/@C3Toronto

Amongst the young, lost and fashion forward, it’s safe to say that most people at C3 grew up with religion. Like adults who rediscovered Disney after the live action release of The Jungle Book, C3 is like a new-and-improved version of Christianity that’s reviving dormant spirituality. This time, Jesus is branded with a badass rock star look; a place where old faithful’s can return to the promise land with vague recollections of the holy spirit, biblical rhetoric and feel like they never left church to begin with. Re-awakened by blue neon lights, C3 is a refuge for anybody who wants to get down with JC, an all-inclusive party for transitioning and returning Christians who want to Uber pool to heaven with the help of a really, really, good-looking Aussie pastor.

In the auditorium, a bright light appears and he’s suddenly standing in front of me. “It’s toasty warm in here,” announces Sam Picken, “Must be because your worshipping is so hot right now!” The crowd howls, “Amen!” On stage, Picken’s swimmer body is emphasized by his white button-up shirt. Trays of appetizers with mini crackers and fruit juice float through the crowd, like the body of Christ is a pre-meal snack on a 1-hour Air Canada flight to the kingdom of Heaven. His service is sweet, with humbling interludes that sound like Facebook Story or Be Yourself on Frank Ocean’s new album. Today’s service is about Mark 4:38, when Jesus takes a snooze on a sinking ship. Sam explains everything so it’s easy to follow along whether you’re a first-time church-goer or retired veteran of Kindergarten Christianity.

Toronto's hipster church

Image: Instagram/@C3Toronto

People creeping, I blend in with a trendy crowd that’s pierced, tattooed with balayage, mullets, chokers, and Peace Collective t-shirts. Fedoras and Blue Jay’s hats are worn inside (obviously); rebellious self-expression is encouraged here along with texting and note taking. Amongst the church aisles of twentysomethings, I spark up conversation with two women who heard about C3 through friends-of-friends. “Yes, it’s undeniably a church, but at the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of creative kids using their gifts to serve God alongside their full-time jobs,” explains Melissa Chai, a 27-year-old PR Manager. “There’s no judgment or negative energy,” adds Mary Young, a 25-year-old lingerie designer. Everyone here is young, successful, and alarmingly optimistic. It’s contagious.

During the service, Pastor Sam sprinkles pop culture references to connect with his worshippers: namedropping Spotify, referencing Jay-Z, with a grand finale that gives hope to hipsters in the storms of relationship woes. It’s a remix of all the feely feels. The crowd is transfixed, like the fruit juice was spiked and we’re all at Coachella watching Macklemore headline. I snap out of it, returning to IRL as the band returns on stage to perform the hit song in their new upcoming album, ABOVE ALL (dropping later this month). My spirit begins to sizzle as Pastor Sam says his final farewell. An artisanal craft maker wearing 10-pounds of jewelry screams, “Encore!”

toronto's hipster church

Image: Instagram/@C3Toronto

Like an all-inclusive vacation for the lost, weird and good-looking in Toronto, C3 boasts a prosperity theology that’s inclusive to LGBTQ, and anybody who wants to soak in the sweetness of Jesus. “It’s not my job to create barriers for people. I want to help others take the next step towards faith in Jesus,” says Picken. Regardless of religious interest or politics, the attraction to Pastor Sam is universal; he’s an ethereal stud with the eyelashes of a dreamboat Saviour. Leaving the church, I can’t say I’m any more religious than I was before, but with the help of Pastor Sam and my tribe of Drake-loving Christians, I think I’m seeing the light.

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Will you visit Christian City Church? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown is a 12-year-old boy trapped in a woman's body. When she’s not reading Tom Robbins, painting rappers or daydreaming about sneakers, she’s writing about women, art, the Internet and Drake. Since moving from the West Coast in 2009, her bicycle has been stolen three times and her heart has been broken twice. She also likes: the state of Arizona, almond milk, climbing fences, People’s Eatery and Joan Didion.