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It is truly an A+ transformation

A comic shop Saturday, a church by Sunday

Pointe Church Pastor Tony Cecil delivers his sermon on Nov. 24, 2013, at the A+ Comic shop which transforms into a church and back into a store each Sunday.  (Mark Ashley/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
Pointe Church Pastor Tony Cecil delivers his sermon on Nov. 24, 2013, at the A+ Comic shop which transforms into a church and back into a store each Sunday. (Mark Ashley/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

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," owner Russ Battaglia said.

 

How 'Thor' met theology

How this transformation came to be is a story in the 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, who had become disappointed not so much with church but some church people, was not interested. He smiled and said thanks but didn't go.

Later, that same customer decided to get baptized and invited the couple to help him celebrate.

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

Then 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."

He also liked that the sermons were centered on the gospel and even the worship music was designed "to glorify God, not sound like a doo-wop song."

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

 

Holy coincidence, Batman!

Battaglia invited Cecil to do a prayer over the new location of his comic books store when he moved there in May 2012. A+ Comics & Collectibles had operated just down the street but needed a bigger space.

Following that prayer, Cecil and Battaglia shared the same idea. The Point needed a new space, too. Could that be the comic book store?

A few modifications were made to the store with church in mind. An open space in the back of the store was divided into several rooms to allow for child care during services. All of the displays were put on rollers or slides so they could be moved easily.

In a world where some of the faithful shy away from "Harry Potter" because of what they perceive as Satanic images, did any churchgoers have a problem with a store that was 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.

But, he said, "that's OK, and I don't say this to be mean, but there are plenty of churches that they can go to."

"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.

 

The comic shop flock

On a recent Sunday, about 50 people filled the comic-store-turned-house-of-worship.

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 bandleader 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 of God.

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, the dark knight, and the store is back in business.

MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE
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