A church Comic-Con first
As the seasons changed from summer to fall, Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson, NC also saw a major change in the seasons of outreach as it hosted its first mini Comic-Con self-evidently entitled: Free Comic Book Weekend. The event was the result of a friendship and conjoined ministry that can only be attributed to God’s Spirit at work.
A little over a year prior, at an event supporting the local Veterans Residential Services, Ascension’s Pastor Zach Harris was introduced to one of the Veteran volunteers, Louis Small Jr., who happens to be a comic book artist. Church members excitedly made introductions explaining to Louis that he had to see the pastor’s office affectionately called, “The Batcave,” due to the amount of comic and geek-related memorabilia—especially those related to Batman.
The common interests of helping local vets and comic books quickly led to a friendship that led to time together in the gym and collaborations at church and in the community. Lou’s artwork accompanied Pastor Zach’s articles in the local paper to promote the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as well as several teaching moments during educational events where the theological reflections and art melded to reinforce the Gospel message. From this partnership and friendship between artist, pastor, and congregation came what seemed the obvious next step: “Let’s host a Comic-Con together!”
So in late September, Ascension hosted booths with artists and toys; there was food, and of course there were comic books—but most importantly there were conversations. In fact, over the weekend, over 200 people, most of whom had never been to a church before, came into the church…and stayed! They were greeted by congregational members who operated a welcome table as well as a snack bar. They were treated to free comic books (over 800 were given away) contributed by a local comic book shop. They were invited to dress up as their favorite characters. And they even had the chance to meet Darth Vader, brought to life by the comic book shop owner himself who uses his alter ego for community service events all around.
Overwhelmingly, a common observation was made as evidenced in one specific example. After the first few hours of the event, one of the shy young student artists was overheard saying to her mother that not only did people like her art, but she had learned to talk to people. The initial insight that leadership realized was that the event was actually helping the community! The event had at least touched one young life that first night. However, by the end of the weekend, a far greater realization came to light.
By the time the event was over, everyone clearly declared it a success. The artists who were present were so excited to be at the church that they requested to be a part of the church’s Oktoberfest which was scheduled the following month, and have since requested a Christmas event to able to gather together again! Across the event, people, especially younger ones, who were normally quiet and introverted, were engaged and conversive! Though a formal panel discussion never actually materialized, over 40 smaller discussions of God and Geek culture ensued, many during mini-tours of the “Batcave” down the hallway. And the Geek-themed Sunday morning worship experience laced with the language of that culture (opening exchange: The Force be with you: And also with you) had about 10% of the event in attendance!
Two discernments came from the event. The first was self-evident: Ascension will do this again, sometime in the spring at the start of Comic-Con season. The second is more pastoral and theological in nature. The Geek culture of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, movies, TV, and gaming has had a certain stigma associated with it, lessened a bit by such mainstream forms as the Marvel movies and the TV show, “The Big Bang Theory.” However, for the most part, it has been the people who have been disenfranchised by the “norms” of society who have found their niche in the Geek culture. They have felt disenfranchised, left out, and less-than the rest of society. The great take away from the success of this endeavor as well as using modern metaphors from Geek culture as parables in preaching and teaching is that perhaps that is what the church is being called to be about at this place and time.
Some attendees who had been involved in a church before had been belittled and even vilified as evil or Satanic for reading Harry Potter or rooting for superheroes rather than using those very stories to support and illustrate the true Story of ultimate Good versus Evil. So perhaps the lesson to be learned is that to tell someone about the love of Jesus, they must be engaged in conversation. Do you really think that Jesus cares if that conversation begins talking about a mustard seed or an Infinity Stone? The future of the church may just depend on your answer.
Article submitted by Pastor Zach Harris