Megachurches in New England
The first time 27-year-old Mike Mancini set foot in Faith Church, he did so as an atheist. A musician who had transferred from Berklee College of Music in Boston to Western Connecticut State University, he’d been hired by Faith to play bass in the church band.
Mancini seemed an unlikely candidate for the job. His days involved getting up around noon, grabbing something to eat at Taco Bell, and settling in to watch TV or–less often–to study before heading out to a party.
But in the fall of 2004, the New Milford, Connecticut, megachurch needed a player, and Mancini needed work. It was just a gig, he told himself–$100 a week, steady money. Even so, he steeled himself for what he would find. “I thought Christianity was for simple people who couldn’t get through life on their own,” he says. “Basically, I believed Christians were ignorant, close-minded, and conservative.”
His first few months at Faith, Mancini kept to himself. No one proselytized him, which came as a relief. Then, one Sunday as he was playing a worship song, “my eyes welled with tears and I got goose bumps,” Mancini says. “I looked around and saw other people crying, too.”
Afterward, he sought out Faith’s music pastor for an explanation. “That was the Holy Spirit,” the pastor told him matter-of-factly.
Although Mancini comes across as a laidback, bearlike man who laughs easily and often, he also possesses a tenacious intellect, and the pastor’s words left him far from satisfied. “I had to understand what was happening,” he says. “I started looking into things with an attitude of inquiry.”
He read the Bible, from Genesis straight through to the end of Revelations. But Mancini needed more than words. One night, driving, he uttered his first prayer: “God, if you’re real, prove yourself to me in a tangible way.”
Soon after, he was at a convenience store buying gas when he found a pamphlet about Christian salvation curled into the pump handle. Believers and nonbelievers may part ways on the meaning of that moment, but for Mancini it was enough. An hour later, he met with a pastor in the Faith parking lot. What followed was simple yet defining: “I asked for repentance, and I asked Christ to come live in my heart.”
Now a music teacher in a New Haven charter school, and married with a year-and-a-half-old son, Mancini has a full-color tattoo of a tree covering the length of his left arm and shoulder. He got it after baby Isaac was born. The Biblical passage Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God forms the base; the trunk is surrounded by sunflowers, his wife’s favorite. Mancini still has moments of doubt, he says, “but that’s not unhealthy. Doubt forces you to examine your faith and strengthens it.”