Holy Batman, Robin! Sunday morning, a Winnipeg evangelical church will re-enact Christ's resurrection. A costumed superhero will depict the Son of God. Call it irreverent (and many will) but the pastor of Church Of The Rock predicts thousands of people will be drawn to his church's annual Easter pageant.
"If people want a traditional Easter service, they shouldn't come here," understates Mark Hughes. "You can find that on any corner in Winnipeg. We're trying to reach the people who wouldn't normally come to church."
Here's what goes on in the Linden Woods parish on the average Easter Sunday:
"We have taken the amazing story of the resurrection and have presented it in modern parable form that can only be described as 'Hollywood does Easter,' " Hughes writes on his blog.
"Donning sets, costumes and a homegrown script written by yours truly, we have had some of Hollywood's finest masquerading as the Christ. In The Wrath of Khan, it was Capt. Kirk who died and rose again. The next year, it was Capt. Jack Saviour (Sparrow) in The Pirates of the Galilean. I appeared as the villain Capt. Barabbas (Barbossa)."
This year, Batman plays Christ. I forgot to ask Hughes if Catwoman is Mary Magdalene.
Now, I'm an Anglican. For the most part, we are a quiet people. Our Good Friday service is a solemn reflection of the crucifixion, our Easter service a chorus of alleluias for His rebirth. To the best of my knowledge, our Christ has never been mistaken for William Shatner.
But I'm a cradle-to-grave churchgoer. As Hughes freely admits, his 1,900-seat church is filled with people who want a non-traditional religious experience. Church Of The Rock has a conventional Good Friday service but, come Sunday, all bets are off.
"We do the story of Easter using these cultural touchstones," Hughes says. "We did Robin of the Hood one year. It was all Michael Jackson music. We always pick music that every generation knows."
The church's website offers a picture of the pastor in all his tight-panted Jackson glory.
The Star Trek Easter celebration was a real hit. The church advertises its pageant service and tries to appeal to the widest possible audience. That explains the Trekkies who came to the church in full costume.
"It wasn't just one or two people," laughs Hughes. "There were several."
But does the gimmick work? Can Hughes get the butts in the pews?
In a word, yes. Last Easter weekend, more than 4,000 people crowded into the church for its three services. By 11:25 a.m., says Hughes, "it was standing-room only."
The church seats 1,900. They draw between 2,000 and 2,500 people over the course of the average weekend.
That's one service Saturday evening and two on Sunday.
"Some of our churches are trapped in the past," says the irrepressible Hughes. "We live in a secular society. We're unapologetic about what we do here."
The performances demand an outlay of time and money. Everything from costumes to sets to set-building is done by volunteers. The cast is made up of church members. Hughes estimates the production costs somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000.
Does that money come back in the collection plate?
"I would suspect it would," says Hughes. "The piggyback for me is getting people into the church."
So there you have it. A mega-church has found a way to appeal to the masses, one guy in tights at a time.
So on Easter morning, I ask believers to bow their heads, say a prayer of thanksgiving and be open to the possibility that when their Saviour comes, He might be driving the Batmobile.