SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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December 11, 2012

Taking religion to the Next Level

Church moving to Peabody after outgrowing space at mall

PEABODY — Daniel King grew up a Baptist. But he attended a Catholic school — the Jesuit-run Brophy College Preparatory in his native Phoenix.

King hasn’t a bad word to say about either religion these days, except that they are not for him. Instead, he wanted something that focused on the message of Jesus Christ and stressed tolerance and forgiveness over a hierarchical system of rigid rules. And on a family vacation to New England, of all places, he found it.

In New Hampshire four years ago, he and his wife saw an ad for the Next Level Church in Newington. It’s an institution started by a former Canadian league pro-basketball player named Joshua Gagnon.

The Kings decided, “‘Let’s go to church.’ And it turned out to be the second week of the church’s existence. We thought God was telling us to be a part of it,” Daniel King said.

The message he heard that Sunday stuck with King. The Next Level Church seemed focused on the words of Jesus rather than a set of organizational rules.

“We don’t think God intended to formulate rules,” King said.

The experience brought King into the fold. He became what his church regards as a “location minister,” serving a specific church. Meanwhile, he watched the organization begin to expand, to Epping, N.H., to Portland, Maine, and now the North Shore, where King is based.

Here, the church has grown to as many as 75 congregants. For that matter, it’s at the point where it can no longer hold services in one of the Liberty Tree Mall theaters. Instead, the Next Level is moving to Covenant Christian Academy at 83 Pine St. in Peabody.

As befitting a new religion, the Next Level Church has a different idea about what constitutes a worshipful service. The words “fun” and “casual” are prominent.

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