Comic-Con International, held in San Diego, is the largest gathering of pop culture in the world.

There are events around movies, television, comics, games and aspects of fandom in those areas.

This was my fourth time attending. It was held July 19-23 this year.

One may ask what does a pastor want to do at an event like Comic-Con?

I want to discover the intersection between faith and spirituality and what is taking place in pop culture.

I also hope to experience people who have passion for pop culture and to hear their stories of how they experience it through the gathering.

Comic-Con International is a multifaceted event. There is the huge exhibit floor where all manner of products are offered and sold. You can buy books, toys, statues, T-shirts, comics and about anything you can imagine.

You also never know who you will see walking the floor. This year I met the director, Oliver Stone.

But the heart of Comic-Con is the panels – hour-long gatherings where some aspect of pop culture is explored.

Panels include large gatherings in Hall H where major movie studios and television outlets trot out their newest offerings to rabid fans.

Fans will line up and wait overnight to be in Hall H when these studios show new trailers to their upcoming movies and the casts of these new movies appear to talk about the experience of making the movies or how much they are a fan of the source material.

The panels I attend are focused on smaller aspects of comics or some other aspect of pop culture.

An example is a panel that dealt with the Harry Potter universe, which was held by people who were wholly focused on the Harry Potter books and their love of the characters.

This panel offered a lesson for local churches. These people were very open to new fans joining in with them.

Their fandom was not closed, but very much open to those who wanted to come and learn about the universe and be a part of what they do in their fellowship.

The church now looks more like a closed group than an open group. We have so many things we require people to adapt to that it seems we want to see them change their look or dress rather than to see the change that the gospel makes.

Panelists made it clear that they welcomed new people to come and discover the universe of Harry Potter. They welcomed the contributions that these new people can make.

There was an openness that declared that anyone could add a line or two to the story.

We tend to think that people need to conform to our ideals before welcoming them to our churches and encouraging them to contribute.

Even then, if their contribution is made without aligning with our understanding of how things are, then it is not welcomed or accepted.

Another aspect of my time at Comic-Con was my conversations with others attending the annual gathering.

When asked about who I was and why I was there, I quickly spoke of being a pastor and of wanting to experience the spiritual aspects of Comic-Con.

Some people affirmed some aspect of faith. Others made it clear that they were not people of faith. Most I talked with had no problems with God.

The problem was with the church. To them the church did not speak to where they were in their lives. The church did not want to meet them where they were.

What I heard there and in many other places was that the church is not connected to the lives they were living. There was no connection between where they were and where the church and its people were.

Going to Comic-Con was a means of being present. I was present to those that I met.

It was not my goal to come and convert or condemn. My goal was to hear the stories. The stories I wanted to hear were about their lives. For it is within the context of life, lives that they led, that God is at work.

I wanted to hear their stories because there was much that they could teach me. It is not me that has the story, the only true story, but rather them. Hearing their stories were of great importance to me.

What I hoped to learn from them was finding the intersection of their story and my story.

And from that intersection to find a way to allow that to bring a deeper relationship where the ministry that Christ called me to be a part of could take place. For it is in relationship that transformation happens.

Transformation does not come from telling someone to “get right or get left.” It comes from learning from each other and discovering that the other person’s story and journey can impact your own. If you let it.

Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.

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