When it comes to worship, there is something for everybody in northwest Ohio. For college-aged students in particular, there is Ember Toledo.
Ember is a nondenominational Christian service led by Joe Liggett, who began the weekly meetings a little over five years ago.
He had been studying the Bible intensely, he said, and felt a calling to start something different for Toledo-area Christians.
Ember is not a church, but a community of people from numerous churches who gather together each Tuesday night to pray, sing worship songs, and listen to a Bible-based sermon. While the service has a strong appeal to college-age Christians, people of all ages attend the weekly West Toledo meetings.
Travis Beaufait, 21, of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Daniel Baum, 22, of Swanton were among those who participated in a recent service.
“Being around kids my own age is part of the experience,” Beaufait said.
The name Ember was created by a friend of Liggett, the Rev. Pat Schwenk, a pastor at NorthPoint Church in Toledo.
Liggett said he is seeking to build unity among all believers in the Toledo area.
“This is a community, a fellowship,” he said. “I’m not comfortable calling it a ministry.”
The service is “a gathering in the presence of God,” Liggett said, usually lasting about two hours but free to go longer. Liggett, who preaches at most of the services, said he strives to provide “a picture of the kingdom of heaven” at Ember services.
“I have seen many miracles, healings, and salvation,” he said. “Many of those instances were results of overcoming drug addictions.”
He wants to strengthen the local church and to see Toledo blessed, citing Proverbs 11:11: “Through the blessings of the upright, a city is exalted, but through the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.”
Music and worship are led by Ryan Valdiviez, worship pastor at Washington Church and one of Toledo’s most well-known Christian musicians. With Valdiviez’s guitar and vocals leading the high-energy band, worship included electrified versions of praise songs such as “Spirit of the Living God,” “Give Me Jesus,” “The Enemy’s Been Defeated,” and “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, There is Freedom.”
“I hope you’re ready because the Lord’s here and he’s gonna blow your mind!” Valdiviez shouted between songs. “Lord, we just want more of you!”
Liggett, with religious tattoos on his arms, wearing a Mud Hens hat, raised his hands and prayed intensely during the worship music. He took the microphone briefly to say, “Let’s not focus on the song, let’s focus on the Holy Spirit!”
Many in the crowd of about 100 people lifted their hands toward heaven and tilted their heads back, eyes closed, during worship. A few strode around the back of the church, fervent in prayer. Some knelt in the corners of the room, heads bowed.
While the band played, a few college-age students prayed for Tom Carr, 59, who was on crutches after injuring his knee at work.
Liggett, a native of Rockford, Ill., lived in Tennessee for a few years before moving to Sylvania, where he graduated from Northview High School in 1995. He played drums with several touring Christian rock groups before returning to Toledo and starting Ember.
At a recent Ember service, Liggett preached on the sovereignty of God, freely quoting Bible verses from memory.
“A lot of people say, ‘God is in control,’” Liggett said. “I don’t know if I’d say that.”
If God was in control he would be a “puppet master,” he said. Rather, God gives people free will, Liggett said, the freedom to make decisions. “I don’t think God is in control, but God is in charge.”
He talked about the difference between God’s punishment and discipline. God disciplines those he loves, Liggett said. “You can’t be a disciple if you don’t have discipline.”
He warned against “the dreaded ‘C’ word – complacency,” and said Christians should look at their troubles and struggles as “an invitation to wake up.”
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Liggett said, but Christians should not be afraid of worldly things or of the devil. “If Satan had the power to kill people, we’d all be dead,” he said.
Liggett told the crowd to “embrace the refining fire” of God’s love. He added that Ember is not about one person, but about the body of Christ. He urged everyone to use “the gifts that God has given you.”
Ember services are held every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at NorthPoint, 3709 W. Laskey Rd., Toledo, Ohio, 43613.