Monday, January 08, 2007

The highway to salvation

By most accounts, Buddy Cremeans knows how to carry a crowd. Faced with thousands of pleading eyes begging for an ounce of salvation, the pastor-nouveau queues the Fender Stratocaster, fires up the pod-cast and belts out a Jesus-toned self-help clinic that would make even Dr. Phil jealous.

In four short years, Cremeans and his independent-faith Northway Fellowship has propagated along I-87 faster than a cases of whooping cough through crowded elementary school bus. Earlier in life, he pursued a career in business. Then, at the age of 32, he decided to bring religion back into his life --and business back into religion --by becoming ordained as a minister.

“I had a bad experience with Christianity, got bitter and blamed God,” he told the Times Union in a 2002 interview. “I let people who were representing Christianity mess me up. God started telling me, ‘Lose the grudge.’”

With the grudge lost, Cremeans migrated to the north in 2000 and went on to attract anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 worshipers to his highway-side parish, most of whom are described in media accounts as predominantly middle-class Caucasians. So what better place to expand a church than at a strip mall in Clifton Park?

Cremeans consecrated the fellowship’s newest sanctuary this weekend at the former location of Gold’s Gym in the Northway Country Commons. It’s even within easy staggering distance for the drunks pouring out of Northern Lights after a good weekend jam session; head bang to some metal all evening, then saunter over for a bit of quick-stop salvation. The new locale give the fellowship an addition 20,000 square feet of space to join the 10,000 square feet already rented in the Shops of Malta shopping center.

But the plans don’t stop there. Cremeans has ambition to purchase a 100 acres of land somewhere in Malta for the purpose of building a sort of amphitheater for his sermons. In November, he whipped out $40,000 to give out among his parishioners, charging them with finding ways to multiply this money to help fund the new building. And indeed they did. One parishioners sold her the family car, raising $5,000 for the cause; another waited on line to purchase a Sony Playstation 3 and then sold it on e-Bay for the fellowship.

Cremeans seems ingenuous with his message; namely he’s trying to reach a segment of the population that stopped attending stogy church services arcane to the modern middle-class mind and harping more about eternal damnation than quick salvation. But in his message, there seems to more of an urgency to grow the parish in size than in devotion. Also, here's also a sort of cheapening of the holey message when it’s delivered at a strip mall.

Instead of raising his own expensive structure by the lulling hum of the Northway's rush-hour traffic, perhaps Cremeans could direct some of his zeal for religion to refurbishing some of the barren religious hulks of yesteryear. After all, the late 20th century atrophy of many Christian sects has left dozens of these historic houses of worship rotting throughout the Capital Region, many too large and too expensive for any private use.

Take for example the The St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Mechanicville, just a few scant miles from Cremeans’ locale in Clifton Park. Built in the late 1890s, building has more than 15,000-square-feet of space and seats about 350 people in its sanctuary, which would be more than enough space for the fellowship to occupy.

When the message is expansion of numbers and not the expansion of faith, it’s a lot easier just to erect a big box church and keep the dollars rolling in. For many, this brand of no-frills religion has served well, especially for those fear mongers who worry there might not be enough time to read the scripture before the next big disaster. The alternative is much easier: buy into the modern credit-based faith, where the new flat screen brand of eternal salvation can be received at once for a 72-month easy-to-fill schedule of payments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, good idea, though I don't reckon you find many churches harping on damnation these days, you godless heathen.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like your writing style. Some of your points in this one were contradictory and didn't make any sense... entertaining though.

1:40 PM  

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