Minister peddles a product for the soul
By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published July 21, 2006
VALRICO - Pastor Forrest Pollock arrives at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in the predawn dark.
He strides across wet grass. Past the sanctuary, silent and empty. Through the doors of the smaller building that holds offices.
In his study, Pollock kneels at a wooden bench that came with the job. He bows his head.
In two hours he will deliver a sermon before about 1,500 people - a typical Sunday turnout for this megachurch.
A single Sunday service requires a music director, a choir and a band, a cameraman, and a staff of six in a control booth a floor above the sanctuary.
It all will revolve around Pollock, a 42-year-old with a newscaster's square jaw and professional smile.
If you live in Brandon, you probably know his face. He pops up on movie screens at the local AMC theater, advertising his church. At Bell Shoals, he appears on fliers wearing a NASCAR racing suit, announcing a new series of sermons, "Life in the Fast Lane."
Call Pollock a salesman, and he grins.
"I am a salesman," he says. "God is in management, I'm in sales. ... I'm trying to make the case of the greatest deal humankind has ever known. Eternal life, and it's free. What could be a better deal than that?"
By 6:30 a.m., the lights are on in the main sanctuary. The church's technical director is checking the microphones and the four cameras that will broadcast the service onto two giant screens.
Upstairs, a technician is making sure that the lyrics to the day's songs are cued up. The lyrics will be shown on the screens, too. The technician will switch camera angles repeatedly, fading from one view to another, to hold the congregation's attention.
A floor below, church members are filling the pews. The musician are warming up. The sun has risen.
As the choir sings, Pollock claps along from the front row. When it's time, he bounds onto the stage. No pulpit for him; he holds the mike in one hand and gestures with the other.
We all want to quit, he tells the congregation, his voice rising, his body tense, his hands reaching. "But Lord," he thunders, "that's not your way!"
The congregation is on its feet. Palms are raised toward heaven.
Pollock has two more sermons to give this day, at 9:30 and 11 a.m. A videotape of this first sermon will be dropped off at the church's other campus in Bloomingdale, so worshippers there can watch it on a giant screen.
S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.