from the previous night speckle the floor: green and red Skittles;
an M&M here, an M&M there; flattened popcorn kernels.
On the big screen, warp-speed footage from a dashboard cam
streams from the projection booth. It’s a night scene. The
yellow glow from street lights whizzes by, along with blurred
road signs. At the lower left of the image is “new beginnings
fellowship” in superimposed white text.
Welcome. How’s everyone doing today?” says Pastor Dan Rushing.
“God is good,” he proclaims to the audience.
the time,” responds the congregation, a smaller-than-usual
crowd of around 10.
is good,” he repeats.
to Sundays at Albany’s Madison Theatre. Now showing in theater
two is New Beginnings Fellowship, Rushing’s idea for making
church more culturally relevant for college students and other
of the benefits of meeting in a movie theatre is that people
feel comfortable stepping into a theater when they may be
intimidated to step into a church,” Rushing explains in an
e-mail. “Our goal is to present the gospel in an exciting
and relevant way. Many college students are tired of dead
religion and want to connect with a loving God who meets them
where they are at.”
AM, the doors to the Madison are propped wide open. By 10:15,
music from a four-person live band called Driving Skyline
pours out from theater two, into the lobby and, faintly, out
the front door.
the congregation is on its feet. In front of them, on the
big screen, each song’s lyrics are projected over a kaleidoscopic
animation to allow the congregation to sing along. Underneath,
Driving Skyline are spread out in a line.
is in the second row, swaying back and forth to the music.
At seemingly unpredictable moments, he raises his arms and
holds his hands up toward the ceiling as he sings. Behind
him, others follow suit.
not until Driving Skyline have led the group through four
melodies—a mixture of their own material and popular contemporary
Christian songs—that Rushing returns to the front of the theater.
Driving Skyline provide soft harmony in the background while
Rushing leads the group in prayer. “You are not just a God
who says a lot of stuff. You’re a God of action,” he prays.
you God,” a middle-aged woman in one of the back rows calls
out. Intermittently she adds other “Hallelujah, yes God” and
“Yes, Father” responses.
Rushing’s first ministry since he completed his seminary education.
Before securing the Madison Theatre as its place of worship
last October, Rushing led a smaller group in weekly worship
services at an apartment complex clubhouse. Today, he says
the congregation has grown to around 20 members. Armed with
ideas for increasing NBF’s presence in the community, including
the possibility of hosting Sunday night worship at a local
bar, he hopes that number will increase as NBF approaches
its one year anniversary.
doesn’t need a church-like building to meet with us,” Rushing
says, “His worshipers worship in spirit and truth no matter
where they are.”
Rushing approaches the modest lectern positioned just to the
side of the center aisle to deliver his sermon, he carries
a water bottle in one hand and a Bible in the other. While
his garb—jeans and a button-down—and the venue may be nontraditional,
his message is not. It’s a common Christian lesson about breaking
down the obstacles that prevent one from experiencing a close
relationship with God, whom Rushing refers to as “Daddy.”
using the word daddy,” he says, draping his right arm over
one side of the lectern as he stands in the aisle. “For some
reason there’s a personal connection I have with the word
daddy. There’s a personal connection I feel, like Daddy and
I are one. That we’re one in the spirit.”
sermon concludes with a return to prayer. As he prays for
today to be the “a-ha” day for some, when they’ll surrender
the earthly things that hinder their solidarity with God,
the woman in the back again responds aloud.
yes,” she says in agreement, as she dries her eyes with a
song and the service concludes, right around 11 AM. A man
already is at work behind the concession stand as the congregation
files out into the noontime sun. Within an hour or so, the
seats they just vacated will be filled again with popcorn-munching