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Spreading the word: Pastor Dan Rushing leads a Sunday service.

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Now Showing: Jesus

Before the popcorn pops, New Beginnings Fellowship takes over Albany’s Madison Theatre for a hipped-up Sunday service

By Nicole Klaas

Remnants 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. Welcome. How’s everyone doing today?” says Pastor Dan Rushing. “God is good,” he proclaims to the audience.

“All the time,” responds the congregation, a smaller-than-usual crowd of around 10.

“God is good,” he repeats.

“All the time.”

“God is good.”

“All the time.”

Welcome 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 young adults.

“One 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.”

By 10 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.

Inside, 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.

Rushing 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.

It’s 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.

“Thank 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.

NBF is 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.

“God 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.”

When 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.”

“I love 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.”

Rushing’s 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, yes,” she says in agreement, as she dries her eyes with a tissue.

One more 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 moviegoers.

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