First service at new Orange church draws large crowd

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, 30, gives the sermon at the first service at his church, Steeple Fellowship, in Orange on Sunday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, 30, gives the sermon at the first service at his church, Steeple Fellowship, in Orange on Sunday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, 30, gives the sermon at the first service at his church, Steeple Fellowship, in Orange on Sunday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, 30, gives the sermon at the first service at his church, Steeple Fellowship, in Orange on Sunday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, 30, gives the sermon at the first service at his church, Steeple Fellowship, in Orange on Sunday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

  • John Hicks Mackenzie, 30, gives the sermon at the first service at his church, Steeple Fellowship, in Orange on Sunday. Staff Photo/David McLellan

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2020 10:50:03 PM
Modified: 1/13/2020 10:49:16 PM

ORANGE — Thirty-year-old John Hicks Mackenzie said that if just a handful of people showed up to his first church service, he would consider it a success.

More than 100 did.

On Sunday, Steeple Fellowship church held its first service on the third floor of the Orange Innovation Center. Hicks Mackenzie, a quadriplegic man who said his faith deepened after he became paralyzed as a result of a car accident in 2006, is behind its founding.

“I always said I would be tickled if we got just three people,” said Hicks Mackenzie, who is also the church’s pastor. “Well, we got more than that. We’ve exceeded expectations.”

Behind him, dozens of people trickled into the service Sunday evening. Many stopped to greet him.

“I am so, so blessed. It’s beyond words. I am really, really blessed,” Hicks Mackenzie said.

Steeple Fellowship is a scripture-based, Protestant, Christian church heavily influenced by churches of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, including the North New Salem Congregational Church, which Hicks Mackenzie previously attended.

Sunday’s service was a mixture of song and sermon, with passages frequently read or cited from the Bible. The service started off with three songs played on guitar, with singing from Hicks Mackenzie’s mother and a few of the teenagers he works with at Revive Youth Ministry, a group that meets every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at 133 South Main St.

Hicks Mackenzie’s mother, Johnna Mackenzie, gave a welcome message to the crowd, who applauded after the service kicked off.

“I’m so overwhelmed everyone came out to support John,” she said.

According to Hicks Mackenzie, Steeple Fellowship will meet every second Sunday of the month at the same place and at the same time. Eventually, the plan is to increase to weekly services, he said.

“It is encouraging to see everyone here tonight, not like it’s expected,” said Aaron Thibeault, Hicks Mackenzie’s friend. “We are Christians.”

Thibeault said Steeple Fellowship was not started with the intent to draw people away from other churches, and he said he and Hicks Mackenzie hope the congregation will have members who regularly attend other churches, as well as people who have no established church to go to and “unbelievers.”

“This fellowship has not been started as to tear down anything God has established here,” Thibeault said, adding he hopes attendees will “love God more” at their own churches after joining Steeple Fellowship.

“There is so much excitement here tonight and so much joy,” he said. “We’re here tonight in Orange with the book open.”

Hicks Mackenzie, who grew up in Orange in a Christian family, said he was particularly spiritually influenced by his mother and grandmother, Tillie Hicks. As a teenager, however, Hicks Mackenzie said he drifted away from God as a teenager and, at age 17, he was in a car accident while street racing another car with his friends. He was a passenger and found himself in the hospital severely injured and without the use of four limbs, a C6 quadriplegic.

According to Hicks Mackenzie, his struggles since 2006 are part of why his faith is so strong. He has spent countless days and nights in hospitals, has had a multitude of surgeries and said he “never felt God’s presence stronger” than when he was in the hospital after having a staph infection after breaking his elbow in 2017.

During his sermon, Hicks Mackenzie talked about personal struggles relative to Christian faith.

“Literally every person in this room has gone through something. Every person has been overwhelmed by the circumstances in their life,” Hicks Mackenzie said. “It’s been through the hardest moments in life that I’ve felt the presence of God.

“The trials and tribulations of life, they can be conquered by belief in Jesus Christ,” he added.

Hicks Mackenzie also spoke to what he sees as the “struggle” of being a Christian in the modern era.

“If we are truly living out authentic, biblical Christianity, it is counter-cultural,” he said. “We are called to live by a different standard, and it often goes against the grain of the world.”

Hicks Mackenzie’s theology, like most of Christianity, includes the “promise” of heaven for believers. He said his wounds, and all earthly things — bodies, sickness, death — will not matter in the afterlife.

But, while the tone was serious, Hicks Mackenzie’s sermon was not without some lighthearted humor.

“We stand — or, in my case, sit — on the resurrection side of the tomb,” he said.

Hicks Mackenzie has been involved in youth ministry for the past decade, running a ministry group that meets at his home and having attended and preached at a number of churches in Massachusetts, including in Orange, New Salem and Greenfield. He has a degree in Christian ministries from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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