Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Holy pews, Batman, comic store a church

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Walking Dead memorabilia meets you as you enter A+ Comics & Collectibles, leading to a packed showroom filled with Batman, Wonder Woman, Zombie-themed lunch boxes and games of all ilk.

But on Sunday mornings, the comic book store becomes a church.

The racks are pushed to the side and curtains go up in front of most of the merchandise, although the Hulk, Batman and Wonder Woman can be seen atop a display in the back, near the table reserved for Holy Communion.

"It's like a comic book store that becomes a Transformer, too," said owner Russ Battaglia.

How this transformation came to be is a story in the best evangelical tradition. A customer asked Battaglia and his wife, Christie, to come with him to the Point Community Church, which was temporarily sharing another church's space. Russ Battaglia smiled and said thanks but didn't go. Eventually, that same man decided to get baptized and invited the couple to help him celebrate.

"We were going to go, leave and go to dinner," said Battaglia. They sat in the front row, and the baptism was followed by a full church service. So the couple stayed, more out a sense of decorum than devotion.

But, as is sometimes the way of the Lord, the unexpected happened. The service struck something in them.

"It was very much a loving church," Battaglia said. "They believe in community and reaching out."

Plus, he said, he really connected with the pastor, Tony Cecil.

Battaglia invited Cecil to do a prayer over the new location of his comic book store.

Following that prayer, Cecil and Battaglia shared the same idea. Could the church find a home in the store?

"God was just instrumental in how it happened," Battaglia said.

In a world where some folks shy away from Harry Potter because of what they perceive as satanic images, did any churchgoers have a problem with a store filled with images of the undead, mystical beings and allusions to the fantastic?

Battaglia hasn't heard too many complaints and, he said, he believes as a Christian if something is questionable it is best to deal with it in the open.

In the end, he said, "it is not about me or my collection. It is about the community and the blessing God has given us."

For Cecil, "it is just different" to be preaching in a comic store, he said. And, although no one has ever complained, he is sure "some people might not feel comfortable because they have grown up in church" and expect things a certain way.

"Our goal is to reach people who have never, ever been to church or those who for some reason don't want to go back to church," he said.

On a recent Sunday about 50 people filled the comic-store-turned-church. The church has the kind of atmosphere where it is OK to drink your super-size soda in the back row, and jeans and sneakers are generally the outfit of the day. When there is a technical glitch and the band leader jokes they will be taking requests, someone hollers Free Bird!

Cecil stands on a small stage in front of the four-person worship band, pleading with those attending to believe in the power only God can provide.

When the service is over, it takes about 30 minutes for the store to be reset. The curtains come down. The drum kit and stage are hidden in the storage room. The chairs just filled with worshippers are put up and the displays with the various members of the Justice League are back in place.

The window shade in the front display area that proclaim the Point Community Church slowly rises to reveal a full scale replica of Batman, and the store is back in business.


-- Lexington Herald-Leader

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2014 d12

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