BANGOR, Maine — The church that’s being forced out of the former YMCA building has found a new home: the Bangor Mall.
When CityReach Church of Bangor’s pastor, Bobby Bledsoe, got a call from the struggling mall’s management, inviting the church to check out space available there, he was skeptical.
His initial reaction, he told his congregation to chuckles on Easter Sunday, was, “We can’t be the Church of the Mall.”
But as it turns out, the space works for the church. So this Sunday worshipers will attend the first service in the mall location formerly occupied by New York and Company, a women’s clothing chain that abandoned the mall in early 2016.
CityReach and Young’s MMA, a martial arts studio, had both been leasing space in the former YMCA building located on Hammond Street across Court Street from the Penobscot County Jail. Both lost their homes when the Penobscot County Commissioners on April 4 signed a contract to buy the property for $825,000 to ease jail overcrowding.
The city, meanwhile, was poised to condemn the building this week because it lacks a working sprinkler system and needs other safety upgrades, including the installation of a fire alarm.
Malls housing churches is not a new phenomenon, but rather a sign of the times, according to an article in Christian Post, which pointed out that malls have been hard hit by online shopping and are looking to fill empty spaces.
Bledsoe teased the news on the church’s Facebook page in the days leading up to the announcement, telling worshipers that those who attended the Easter service would be among the first to learn where the church was heading.
“It’s the last service here today and, literally, we have scoured high and low and really, I’ve had a few pity parties with God. I am tired of moving,” he said.
The church considered other spaces, but most places church leaders considered “couldn’t fit us and accommodate our crowd,” he said.
Bledsoe said he wound up signing a lease for two locations — the former women’s clothing store for the church and a smaller empty space for the church’s Sunday morning supervised children’s drop-off program.
“You will probably kick us out,” he warned mall management, noting that services might be considered “too loud, too noisy. … We’re a rowdy bunch.”
The closure of New York and Company was among several to hit the mall in recent years. The most recent to go was Macy’s, which shut its doors earlier this year. Ruby Tuesday closed its mall location last summer, and New York & Company clothing store closed in January 2016. In December 2015, the Hallmark Store and Gap also shuttered stores at the mall.
Bangor Mall General Manager James Gerety said Monday that he sees the church’s move to the mall as a “win-win” that he expects will bring customers. He declined to disclose the terms of the lease.
Bledsoe said Monday that the church’s Thursday evening outreach activities, which include free dinners and clothing for the needy, will take place at Bangor Waterfront.
With its new location settled, the church will continue its search for a permanent location with a new building or one that can be overhauled to meet its long term needs, Bledsoe said.
Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.