Heavy ministry 

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Chuck Paycheck, Jordan Robbins, and Jesse Garcia stand in front of the prayer wall at Catacombs. (Photo by Gilbert Garcia)

Catacombs is SA's reigning haven for underground Christian rock

Jesse Garcia found his calling nine years ago. At the time, he was pushing 40, enjoying a successful career as a radio advertising salesman, and supporting his wife and two children. But when Garcia felt the tug of the Holy Spirit, he abruptly decided to quit his job and launch a Christian ministry.

Garcia's ministry did not include a pulpit, pews, stained-glass windows, or Sunday services. It was based around the concept of providing a local forum - via television, radio, and a concert venue - for uncompromisingly high-decibel Christian rock music. He quickly realized that San Antonio church leaders wanted no part of his vision.

"I had so much trouble getting support for what we did," the 48-year-old Garcia recalls. "The Christian community wasn't really my friend on this. The person who wanted to help me tended to be the single mom with a 15-year-old going haywire on her without any guidance. If she didn't know what to do, she could bring him here."

"Here" is Catacombs, San Antonio's reigning haven for Christian punk and hard-rock, located in the youth center of My Friend's House Christian Fellowship, at the site of an old Lackland Plaza shopping center. Three Saturdays a week, Catacombs hosts local and regional bands with a message, and the portly, mustachioed Garcia - a product of the South Side and a self-described child of '70s heavy-metal - inevitably sits behind the club's PA mixing board and soaks in the love.

Catacombs opened six years ago, hot on the heels of a music-video show ("Catacomb TV") which Garcia brought to both Christian and cable-access television, and a two-hour radio show he hosted on KSLR, a local Christian AM station.

"I really felt there was a need to put together a venue that had more of an atmosphere for kids who don't drink and aren't into certain things. Here it's a safe haven for them to come and enjoy rock."

Initially, Garcia paid a stiff price for his dogged commitment to Christian rock. He says he found so little support for his various broadcasting and concert ventures that he found himself funding everything out of his own pocket. "It eventually led to me losing the house and us having to move into a motel for a little bit," he recalls. "But I promised God I would serve him, whether it was from a four-bedroom, three-bath house, or a motel room. Because of it, I feel God has blessed me."

These days, Garcia is back on his financial feet, handling small-business loans for Citibank, and his musical ventures are also benefiting from enhanced support in the Christian community. He credits Albert Belton, My Friend's House pastor, with being attuned to the needs of teenagers, and opening his church's youth center for Garcia.

"He saw the vision I had to do this, and he backed it up. The truth of the matter is, if we had to rent our own building and run it like a regular business, we wouldn't be open. We don't charge much, and if somebody can't pay, we let them in. We're not in it for the money."


7511 W. Hwy. 90
Everyone volunteers their time at Catacombs. That includes soundman Chuck Paycheck, who brings his own audio gear to the club and tirelessly works the board, and Jordan Robins, who handles everything from collecting the cover charge at the door to setting up microphones on stage.

The crowd at Catacombs looks much like what you'd find at any all-ages, indie-rock, if a bit less boisterous. No alcohol is served, only water and soft drinks. The wall behind the stage features a mural of a heart surrounded by flames meant to symbolize the power of the Holy Spirit.

To the right of the mixing board, there's a "prayer wall," on which audience members make a kind of sanctioned Christian graffiti, dashing off the deepest requests from their secret heart. They are generally prayers for loved ones: "to quit smoking and stop cheating on his girlfriend"; "to stop doing drugs and to make peace with people at school"; "to get home safe from Iraq."

The doors open at 7 p.m., and about half-an-hour later, Garcia opens the proceedings by taking the mic and offering a brief prayer.

"The kids are seeing these rock musicians who look kind of the same as others, but their message is different and their attitude is different," he says. "For example, if a kid is really having trouble with his dad or mom, to the point where it might even bring up violence, they approach one of these guys in a band and they're surprised to hear them talk about how you should respect your father, whether you like it or not. These are biblical principles, but when they hear it from them, it's more acceptable."

Unlike some dedicated Christians, however, Garcia doesn't disapprove of secular music per se, and admits that he listens to much of it. He also welcomes the fact that Christian rock has gained so much acceptance that many bands who play at his venue now play at secular rock clubs such as Sam's Burger Joint. But welcoming is not the same as promoting: He does not allow Christian bands to post fliers at Catacombs for their gigs at secular venues, because he doesn't want to send kids to clubs where alcohol is readily available.

If Catacombs is no longer San Antonio's only option for Christian bands, it remains the one where they can truly be in their element. It's also the only place where the club owner is likely to sit them down for a lesson in humility.

"I'm not a musician and I'm a lot older than most of the people of the people who come and play here, so I'm almost like a dad model to them," Garcia says. "I believe all music is created by God and their talent should be given back to God. So when they come and play here, they're not to promote their egos and themselves. The fans will promote them on their own, they don't need to promote or glorify themselves.

Garcia adds: "The problem with a lot of musicians is that you deal with a lot of ego. They start to think its all them, and I put them in their place real quick. They have a responsibility to the fans. I don't care what they look like. I don't care if they've got a million piercings and a million tattoos. It's the heart I look at."

By Gilbert Garcia



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