The Mall of America, already an extravaganza of commerce, took on an additional dimension this week when a group of churches agreed to rent space, provide counseling for workers and shoppers and hold at least one Sunday morning worship service.
The ecumenical group is planning a service for Sept. 6 in the megamall's rotunda and hopes eventually to have one weekly. The service will be at 10 a.m., one hour before the mall's shops open.
The service and counseling are being provided by the Mall Area Religious Council, made up of 19 congregations in Bloomington, Richfield, Eagan and Edina, Minn.
The Mall of America is built on the 78-acre site of Bloomington, Minn.'s former claim to fame -- the old Metropolitan Stadium. And its 4.2 million square feet of space puts it ahead of what, until now, had been the nation's biggest mall, the sprawling 3 million-square-foot Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, Calif.
Between 350 and 400 stores, about 30 eateries, 14 movie screens, 10 nightclubs, 12 sets of restrooms and a two-level, 18-hole miniature golf course are planned. If that's not enough to make shoppers dizzy, think about how they'll feel hunting for their cars among 13,000 parking spaces.
The Rev. John Chell, 59, senior pastor at House of Prayer Lutheran Church and one of the group's founding members, said the ministry will reach out daily to all workers and visitors. "A large number of workers and shoppers means that human situations will arise that have spiritual implications," Mr. Chell said.
"For instance, people who become seriously ill, workers who face family and personal trouble, young people who may be making decisions about drug usage or visitors from other states or countries who face unexpected problems."
The council will also provide information about other religions, including the locations of Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques.
Maureen Hooley, manager of public relations at the Mall of America, said the unique ministry was a welcome addition and would add a new dimension to the center.
Mr. Chell said the most innovative part of the council's ministry will be the worship service.
"I personally think there will be weekly worship eventually," Mr. Chell said. "There is a possibility of a wide variety of forms of worship at the mall."
The first service will feature a brass choir, electronic keyboard and a singing group, Mr. Chell said.
He said he doesn't think worshiping inside a shopping mall is sacrilegious or in poor taste.
"You can look at it another way and say that Jesus was always out where there were crowds, always in the marketplace," Mr. Chell said.