As a counter-terrorism professional who trains first-responders for the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Collins knows a bit about security.
As the pastor of Mascoutah’s newest church, Mercy’s Door, he walks around with another kind of assurance.
He didn’t always have that confidence in his faith, certainly not a decade ago, when he walked into a Texas church at the height of a marital crisis. But walking out, he and his wife, Rachael, felt like “incredibly thirsty people that had just taken a deep long drink of cold refreshing water,” he said.
It is now their mission to share that drink, and “a love for churches that are not focused on rules or ethics or morality, but are broader than that in terms of God and Jesus,” said Michael.
Mercy’s Door will hold an an open house at 7 p.m. Friday at the church, located in the former Jeff-Co Building at 9 S. Jefferson St. in Mascoutah. It’s former motorcycle dealership, and some vestiges of that remain.
Michael said the church is renting the space, but is hopeful the “Beer” and “Eat” signs stay, laughing that “God has created all things for us.”
A group of 9 to 11 adults “and about 60 kids” has been meeting weekly at the Collinses’ home for a meal, some teaching about the purpose of the church “and really just an opportunity to discuss life,” he said. The intent is to grow slowly.
“If I launch too quickly, nobody knows the mission of the church,” he said. That mission is, at its most basic, pretty straightforward. “The church exists to glorify God.”
Mercy’s Door is supported by a larger church in Plainfield, north of Chicago, called The Source, which Michael and his wife attended before moving to Mascoutah, close to where their families live. It is part of a network of churches that follows Acts 29, a group dedicated to supporting the “planting” of new churches.
“Michael’s obvious love for God and people showed up a hundred different ways, and the same is true for Rachael,” says Robert Livingston, pastor at the Plainfield church. “They both had such a consistent care for the people in their lives.”
Michael attended McKendree University for undergraduate school, then the couple moved to Texas for his graduate work in Public Policy and National Security.
The Collinses have been holding weekly gatherings at their home to help the community learn about the new church, which isn’t set to open officially until the new year. It’s a busy life, with Michael, 32, still working for the Department of Homeland Security, and Rachael, 30, a stay-at-home-mom to their four children: Noah, 8, Henry, 6, Hattie, 4, and Sam, 1.
“We can be incredibly welcoming to anyone that comes in the door,” Michael said. “There’s no pretense that any of us have it together.”
Feeling incredibly welcomed is not something he remembers in many of his church-going experiences, he admits. Growing up in a military family and living on Air Force bases, his early churches were “Catholic and generic Protestant.”
Rachael grew up near Freeburg and attended Catholic grade schools and later a Baptist church.
Michael later attended Methodist and Southern Baptist churches, but during his rebellious teen years filled with “drinking and parties and girls ... church ended up feeling like a crushing weight. It led to a lot of guilt.”
His thoughts at the time: “If God’s going to be disappointed in me anyway ... .”
About then, he met Rachael.
“We got pregnant, got married (in 2007) — and had a really, really rough year,” Michael said. “And that’s what drove us back to the church.”
Michael says the newly married couple, with their first baby, would have fights, both making claims that “I’m done, I’m leaving.”
What they eventually found, then in Texas, was a small church that was only a couple of years old. They met people like them, struggling with faith, with marriage, with children — and made friends.
“I don’t remember specifics of (that first) sermon at all. I just remember how we felt when we walked out that Sunday morning … like incredibly thirsty people that had just taken a deep, long drink of cold refreshing water.”
Then they moved for his job to Kentucky. Their quest for a church home there was not successful. His next posting was to Oswego, (near Plainfield) where they kept looking for a church. But with every try, their oldest child, Noah, then 2, would scream and cry and refuse to go into the nursery.
Michael said he prayed: “God, if you just allow us to get through a single service, we’ll know.” Noah was agreeable. They had found a church in The Source.
It was there that Michael eventually started leading small groups and stepped into a pastoral role. He has no formal seminary training, but says the theology of The Source is comfortable to him and many others.
“Michael and Rachael were the most insistent, steady, effective members that we had,” Robert said. The Source was undergoing some tumult at the time, as expected with a new church.
“In those tough moments, Michael and Rachael were both there through thick and thin. On a human level, we wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for people like them.”
The Acts 29 group evaluated Michael and gave him the highest possible score, which is very rare, Robert said. The group now supports Mercy’s Door by providing guidance growing the new church.
“Michael is an extraordinary communicator and preacher,” Robert said. “Michael’s preaching is some of the best preaching you’ll hear, even in a big city.”
Robert said Michael was one of The Source’s best members, and the qualities that make him such a good follower will also make him a great leader.
“We (at The Source) went through some really tough times. Started off, grew rapidly, then the reality is that church planting in hard. A lot of people leave in the first 16 to 18 months,” Robert said, and that is when the Collins family stepped up. “We wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for people like them.”
The Source and Mercy’s Door are non-denominational and run locally, Michael said. While guidance will come from The Source and Acts 29, members of Mercy’s Door will run the church.
Michael will likely stop working for Homeland Security when the church begins weekly services in January, he said, although he may continue occasionally consulting for the agency.
“Theologically, we take a high view of God’s sovereignty,” Michael said. “God is in control. We were created by a loving creator and his designs are good and right. But we live in a world of sin. We were meant to pursue hope and joy.”
Mercy’s Door Community Church Open House
- When: 7 p.m. Friday
- Where: 9 S. Jefferson St., Mascoutah
- Information: mercysdoor.org or 888-322-561