The official student news site of Athens Drive High School


The official student news site of Athens Drive High School


The official student news site of Athens Drive High School


Redefining worship in a school environment

Photos by Clare Roth
In December of 2023, students of the Athens Drive Theatre department helped Ekklesia run a Christmas event where students dressed as Dr. Seuss characters and handed out hot chocolate. Ekklesia had previously helped the department fund some of their costumes for the production of Seussical the Musical.

In 1978, Athens Drive High School opened to the public as an innovative education facility. However,  Athens Drive was built to be much more than a school. For example, it had state-of-the-art athletic and arts facilities that were open to the public. Athens Drive was built to be a space for the community, not just students. Today, the student capacity is much higher than anticipated back in 1978. Because of this, there are fewer community-oriented events and interactions. However, for the past 14 years, Athens Drive has hosted Ekklesia church services every Sunday in the school auditorium. Ekklesia has been known in the past to initiate mission projects, some even collaborating with student organizations. This interaction has been important for keeping Athens Drive connected with the community, all with the help of the hardworking devoted people at Ekklesia.

“Ekklesia is the Greek word we translate in English as ‘church.’ But Ekklesia means something a little different than we think of when we hear ‘church’,” said Ekklesia Co-Pastor CJ Stephens. “An ekklesia in the context of ancient Greek democracy was just a gathering of people. Ek meant ‘out of’ and klesis meant ‘a call.’ It was a group of people ‘called out’ of their homes to come together in public and work together as a community.”

At Ekklesia’s Christmas event, student Lily Moore held a storytime session with children’s books from the library. Moore was also at the event to sing with the Athens Drive Chorus.

Ekklesia has taken their name’s meaning to heart and has been focusing on gathering people together to serve their community. Athens Drive, being part of this community, has partnered with the church in many ways, aiding each other with different events and projects.

“We provide pre-game meals for the football teams. In December, we put on a big Christmas movie event in the Auditorium, and the Chorus, Theater, Art, and Drumline students all come and perform and do activities with the kids. For several years I even helped [coach] football at Athens (I was a college Quarterback many years ago) as a way to build relationships with coaches and students at the school,” said Stephens.

The Church has also made sure to support the Athens Drive staff in various ways. Finding ways to support the school has been crucial for the relationship between the church and the school. 

“They continue to bless the teachers here at Athens through providing lunches and other things for teachers on teacher workdays or during teacher appreciation week,” said Joseph Flory, Athens Drive teacher and Ekklesia member.

Stephens founded Ekklesia in 2010 with his friend and Co-Pastor Curtis Mulder, with the hope of creating a church community with less traditional ideals. With the permission of former Principal William Crockett, they started to host their services in the Athens Drive school building to have more outreach and connections without the financial burden of their own building.

“We wanted to use our resources to serve the community around us. This is in part why we meet in a school. Because being in a school connects us with both the gifts and needs of the community around us,” said Stephens. “It gives us opportunities to support programs, teachers, students, and families at the school. We help with the Backpack Buddies program, provide food for tutoring programs, sponsor several scholarships for graduating seniors, help families around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and put on a big Teacher Appreciation Week every year to love on the teachers. Plus, I’ve actually had the opportunity to officiate several weddings for teachers.”

This new perspective on faith has made a clear impact on the Athens Drive community. Ekklesia’s followers have taken notice of their huge commitment to impacting the lives of community members.

“That’s one of the things that I love about Ekklesia is that they are intentional about being a part of the community, being part of Athens,” said Flory. “They continue to look for ways to serve, I think it’s about a third of all money that comes into Ekklesia they set aside to put towards the community, and so they’re always looking for ways to bless the community.”

Ekklesia has taken on more than just providing church sermons to the public, they find problems in the community and offer to make change. While they have refrained from setting a strict mission statement, they have found that racial awareness and diversity is a place where the community as a whole could use improvement.

“A pastor in Charlotte named Derwin Gray says that the Bible is the most anti-racist book ever written. Because of some of the ways churches lost their way throughout American history, we forget this, but the early church was a multi-racial, multi-ethnic entity . . . So we believe that confronting our nation’s (and world’s) past and working toward a better future as it relates to racial equality is part of our calling as followers of Jesus,” said Stephens.

To support their goal of bringing back diversity in the church, Ekklesia has started initiatives to increase education on racial justice. They also support other local missions that contribute to equality.

“In 2015, we started dedicating “5th Sundays” (whenever there is a 5th Sunday in a month – 4 times a year) to the topic of Racial Justice. We bring in guest speakers or have joint worship services with predominantly African-American churches in the city. We also partner with organizations like OneWake, The Encouraging Place, and other local churches to put on events like the recent MLK Dreamfest in Cary,” said Stephens. 

Ekklesia, a unique perspective on faith. The group is looking to bring out the best of old traditions while revisiting the roots of religion. With community at the heart, Ekklesia is set to grow and flourish as a part of the next generation of divinity.

“Our name is weird, and we’ve thought about changing it 100 times. But that in a sense is what we’re trying to do by being part of the ADHS community. We’re trying to be a gathering of people that make a difference in the community beyond ourselves,” said Stephens.

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