By the time the lights go down, the crowd has mostly filled the floor level of the Wilma Theater. There are bearded men in leather jackets, clean-shaven men with thick-rimmed glasses and pierced ears, and women in form-accentuating jeans with bedazzled patterns encrusted on the butt pockets. There are co-eds and hipsters and ex-bikers and a herd of little kids who chase each other up and down the aisles, more or less dressed for church.
Dim stage lights illuminate a bassist who leans back on his heels and begins playing what sounds like the opening bars of "Sweet Emotion." Then the rest of the band joins in: distorted guitars, driving double kick drum and a whirring synth line. The crowd is moving now. At first heads bob and hops sway and then, in a cascade, people raise their arms toward the ceiling. It's 10 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Lion's Den Ministries was founded in 2008 by Pastor John Meek. A long time Missoula resident, Pastor John, as he's called by members, wanted to provide worshippers with a non-denominational forum to learn the Gospel without the "rules and regulations" of more traditional services. In the beginning, his services were held in rented motel space on West Broadway, but it wasn't long before they needed a bigger venue, he says. The Wilma was reluctant at first, mostly because of the unusual hours. But eventually management agreed, and the Lion's Den moved in this past August. Since then, Pastor John says, the ministry has only grown.
Typical turnouts see about 400 worshippers.
Asked why he picked the Wilma, Pastor John is ready: "Because Jesus was a friend of sinners...He taught about being close to sinners."
On Oct. 2, the Lion's Den staff became aware that not only would they be sharing a space with sinners, they'd also be cleaning up after them. Not more than seven hours before, the Wilma hosted the Insane Clown Posse and the wonderment that goes along with the rap group whose fans, known as Juggalos, were included in the FBI's 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.
"After the show, there were like three inches of standing pop in the pit," explains Dave Meek, Pastor John's son and the aforementioned bass player. "There was a lot of cleaning up that morning."