With a membership approaching 7,000, the evangelical, Mattapan-based Jubilee Christian Church is expanding to the suburbs through the $3 million purchase of a Catholic church in Stoughton closed by the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Jubilee Church's founder and pastor, Bishop Gilbert A. Thompson, expects 2,000 of its members who now travel to Mattapan from Stoughton, Avon, and Brockton to attend the new church, which will be called Jubilee South and is expected to open in the fall.
The expansion suggests that the worldwide megachurch movement is having an impact in the Boston area, where the Roman Catholic Church has long dominated the religious landscape. Megachurches, those that draw an average 2,000 or more worshippers to Sunday services, are found throughout the country, though they have been less common in New England. Typified by the Rev. T.D. Jakes's The Potter's House congregation in Dallas, the churches tend to encourage active member participation, and provide services beyond religious ones, such as activities for children and ministries for a range of groups.
''It's not rocket science," said Thompson, 59, who also leads Boston's Black Ministerial Alliance. ''If 2,000 are driving out of their own towns into Boston, gee . . . we need to plan another church. It's one of the innovative things that modern pastors are doing."
Thompson's church is already one of the largest in Boston.
The structure that housed Our Lady of the Rosary, built in 1958, will not be torn down, but Thompson said the music system will be upgraded and the pews will be replaced with chairs, to accommodate more people.
The purchase is in addition to other expansion moves Thompson said are underway. The church is opening an office building in Dudley Square, he said. Building a new campus is also a possible future move on 25 acres of land in Roslindale.
''Instead of just criticizing or complaining, we have taken the Lord's money and poured it where he wants it to be poured, into the community," Thompson said. ''It's part of the vision of a church without walls. It's a vision we have for creating spiritual strength, economic empowerment, social responsibility, and cultural awarness in the community."
While the announcement was a positive development for Jubilee church members, it was met with a mixture of sadness and relief from former Our Lady parishioners. Yesterday, some said they still resented the church's closing, but expressed relief that the building would remain a house of worship.
''I'm really glad it's not condos going in there," said Jane McCormick, 43, of Stoughton, a parishioner for at least 40 years at Our Lady. McCormick said she made her first communion at Our Lady, was married there, and held her father's funeral at the church.
''It still bothers me," she said of the closing. ''But I'm happy someone is going to be able to enjoy the building, because I think it's a wonderful church. I'm sad that it couldn't have been us."
Jubilee, though it has a majority black membership, also attracts white, Asian, and Latino members, and has the gospel musical traditions of a black church with some charismatic additions.
Thompson said his church is affiliated with the Church of God of Anderson, Ind.
A typical Sunday at Jubilee features three services, with special services held for children in offsite mobile trailers, to provide more seats for the adults in the main sanctuary. The services feature full choirs, rousing sermons, and Thompson's call for his members to evangelize.
A recent church survey found that several thousand members resided in Boston's southern suburbs. When the archdiocese decided to sell, Thompson jumped.
Thompson, who established Jubilee in 1982 after graduating from Chicago's Moody Bible Institute and attending a theological seminary at Northwestern University, said that Jubilee South will have two Sunday services and that he'll preach at both churches.
That plan is nothing new for megachurch ministers. The popular Creflo Dollar, who has a megachurch in Atlanta, flies in his private jet every Sunday to New York City, where he recently opened a new congregation. Thompson even joked that he might get a helicopter to make each of the five services on time.
There are 1,210 megachurches around the country, said Scott Thumma, a professor at Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
''This [move] doesn't surprise me at all," Thumma said. ''Twenty years ago, there were hardly any evangelical Christians in the Northeast . . . It's very clear that the phenomenon is getting more evident in the Northeast, . . . In fact there's a very strong push over the last 10-20 years to really break into the stronghold, in some sense, of the Congregationalists and Catholics here."
Beverly Angelos, 66, who was the organist and musical director at Our Lady, said she will not begrudge the newcomers.
''I mean, there was no chance at all that a Catholic church was going to go in there, so it's kind of like you're settling for the next best thing," she said.
Adrienne P. Samuels can be reached at email@example.com.