Across the Nation: Big devo in Alabama, new home for ‘Disney Church’ and more quick takes
Across the Nation is our monthly rundown of news briefs,…
On any given Sunday, the permanent members have no idea how many churchgoers might show up. Typically, attendance ranges between 50 and 150.
“Usually, you go to a church of 140 people, and you’ve got five visitors,” said Brian Staron, a Maingate member and full-time comedian and magician who performs at Disney. “Here, we’ve got a church of five people, and we’ve got 100 visitors.”
Even the preacher is a visitor.
Each week, the Maingate church invites a different minister to deliver the sermon and teach a 10:15 a.m. Bible class. In exchange, the minister and his family receive a free week’s stay in the hotel.
“That savings in itself is worth the trip,” said Horace Stroud, assistant minister for the Highland Heights Church of Christ in Houston, the guest preacher on this Sunday.
Matthew Morine, pulpit minister for the Castle Rock Church of Christ in Colorado, twice has taken advantage of the Maingate opportunity.
Both times, his family — including wife Charity and children Gabrielle and Noah — enjoyed a Disney vacation at a much-reduced price.
“You are going to worship anyway while on vacation. You might as well preach,” Morine said. “There is not much pressure on the minister — just do not go long. These families are heading to the park, so be respectful.”
Like Morine, Chris Gallagher, minister for the Mount Pleasant Church of Christ in South Carolina, said he enjoyed meeting church members from all over the nation and world.
Al Meakes, involvement and outreach minister for the Plymouth Church of Christ in Michigan, has trekked south to Maingate five years in a row.
“I think it is great that families … are offered this excellent option of a well-timed and brief service before enjoying the rest of the day at a theme park,” Meakes said. “It allows people to attend to ‘first priorities first’ while not tying up half of the day or more.”
Ralph “Kirk” Kirkland, a Church of Christ member and former owner of the hotel, arranged to provide the free lodging and make the meeting room available.
Concord Street’s six elders take turns attending the Maingate assembly, joined each Sunday by a different deacon and song leader.
“We just make sure that everything is right,” said elder Chuck Lipford, who recruits visitors to lead prayers and encourages guests to tell their home ministers about Maingate.
The opportunity is open to currently employed preachers and part-time and retired ministers. Potential guest preachers must complete an online questionnaire that covers doctrinal issues.
James Harold Vaughn and his wife, Carolyn, members of the Arnold Church of Christ in Missouri, spend two months a year in central Florida.
While enjoying time at their condo, the Vaughns — both retired teachers — said they feel perfectly at home at the Maingate church.
“The bond that ties fellow Christians is a wonderful thing,” Vaughn said. “We generally see some folks more than one week, mostly retired Christians, and we all go out for a late breakfast or early lunch after services.”
Inevitably, most visitors run into somebody they know — or at least somebody who knows somebody they know.
The service itself has a familiar feel as the church sings a cappella from “Songs of Faith & Praise” hymnals, partakes of the Lord’s Supper and hears a sermon by a gospel preacher.
For the permanent members, each Sunday affords the chance to make new connections and renew old ties with fellow Christian servants.
“We never know who we’re going to see,” Staron said. “But everybody that’s here obviously has a true love for the Lord because they’re taking time out of their vacation to be here.”
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