From school spirit to the Holy Spirit: UCF Athletics' emcee launches a new churc

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Offline Shahriar Mohammad Kamal

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Sure, the UCF football team lost, somehow, to Furman on Saturday night.

But the next morning, parishioners gathered in the Doubletree hotel just up the road – emblazoned everywhere with UCF and Knights banners – and heard the UCF Athletics emcee proclaim that Sunday was "Day One."

"I welcome you guys and ladies to Renovation Church," said John Evans to the packed congregation. "Seven years ago, God laid on my heart this exact expression."
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Evans, the self-proclaimed "guy with the mic" at sporting events and campus director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was kicking off a new project – overseeing the first official worship services for the his new church, after years of planning and months of preparation.

"I did not sleep at all last night," Evans joked before the service began, as an army of volunteers – many of them UCF students – scurried around in preparation. "I have the most honestly bloodshot eyes anyone's ever possessed."

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He said had "a very clear stirring in my heart" to use the platform he has at UCF for something greater, and the name "Renovation Church" came from how he believed himself to be "a renovation project – not perfect, but in a process."

While the church was his dream for years, as a minister to college kids he never had the resources.

But one day, he decided to make a go of it – "and people jumped on board," he said. Soon, he had about 60 volunteers.
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"What really excites me is the energy and push of 20-year-olds," Evans said. "They have the passion, strength and chance to change the world. If you take twenty 20-year-olds and you can change the world. I really believe that."

His volunteers returned that praise right back.

"I love his passion for the Lord," said volunteer Karen Copeland, a UCF grad from Oviedo. "It's something way out of the comfort zone from when we were growing up. But it's been a blessing, I tell you, just getting to work with the students. … It's a lot of work, but we're kind of learning as we go."

Jade Hays of Orlando volunteers with Renovation Kids, a children's group, while Laura Hood of Navarre ran the merchandise table.

    How exciting to see college students living their faith! God bless them deeply and bountifully. My own path involved growing up attending church regularly but never having made a personal decision to make my faith real. One afternoon a collegiate missionary with Cru: Campus Crusade for Christ...
    at 9:37 PM September 20, 2015

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Over at the audio table, Matt Oberlin of Orlando programmed the lyrics for the band's songs into the projector, while UCF senior Shelby Foyer said that volleyball prevented her from volunteering even more.

"I've known John for two years now," Foyer said. "When he told me he was starting a church, I was so excited to be a part of that. … The opportunity we have here is incredible."

As the 10:10 a.m. service approached, the seats began to fill up to almost standing-room-only capacity. Many of the parishioners said they had personal connections to Evans – they knew him through the Fellowship, like Eric Flyng and Damion Thompson, or when he was a youth pastor in Oviedo, as Tina Shearon came to know him.

"I think it's exciting," said Shearon. "I think it was a long time coming. He reinvests in the lives of everyone around him, and it's going to be fabulous what he does here."

After singer Travis Pate and a full band kicked off services – they would perform five songs overall, including "Not Ashamed" and "My Heart is Yours" – Evans spoke to the packed crowd of how he was always asked, "'How many people will show up?'"

"'I don't have a clue,'" he would say. "'I know I'll be there, and my wife will be there, and we have five kids, so…'"

At times, the congregation would erupt in conversation as they turned to greet each other, including at one point answering Evans' question about their favorite toy growing up.

"I love you," Evans said. "and I care for you."

As for the future – and where the church might end up – Evans was circumspect.

"We will be here as long as this fits," Evans said of the hotel. "We'll respond to and rightfully steward (congregants) while we reside here. And if we find a permanent location, in East Orlando, or maybe Oviedo? So be it."