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I’m going to Disney church!

A Florida ministry serves vacationing Christians with a Sunday assembly at an Orlando-area hotel.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — At a hotel a mile west of Walt Disney World’s main gate on U.S. Highway 192, aspiring princesses and little boys with Mickey Mouse ears fill up on scrambled eggs and cereal on a Sunday morning.
In a banquet room next to the breakfast buffet, children and parents in shorts and tennis shoes gather to worship God before spending the day at Epcot, Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld or Universal Studios.
A sign in the lobby of the Baymont Inn & Suites lets guests know that the weekly service of the Maingate Church of Christ starts at 9 a.m.
“It’s nondenominational,” one of the handful of permanent members tells a tourist from Scotland who inquires about the assembly. “Come on in.”
A 7-year-old ministry of the Concord Street Church of Christ in nearby Orlando, the Maingate church offers vacationing Christians a convenient place to sing and pray.
“We love it,” said repeat visitor Norma Pitts, a member of the Fairhope Church of Christ in Alabama, who was staying at Disney’s BoardWalk Villas with her husband Martin and children Colin and Cori. “The message is usually real inspiring. The singing is good.”

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.”

  • Feedback
    My wife and I will be on vacation there Oct 28. I would like to attend this church. I like to visit new churches when I am on vacation to see the way others worship. Its just good to experiences…
    RevMark Gillette
    Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church
    Jacksonville, NC
    October, 2 2012

Filed under: National

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