J Mann is the pastor of the new Rock Church Hampden location that will hold its grand opening Sunday in the old Hampden Academy library. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Jeremy Mann was just 8 years old when he told his mother he was going to be a preacher when he grew up.

Nearly 30 years later in 2017, Mann, who goes by the initial J, became a full-time pastor at the Rock Church in Bangor ministering to the growing congregation’s volunteers.

Now 42, Mann will mark a new milestone this weekend when the Rock Church celebrates its 17th anniversary, and the fast-growing church celebrates its expansion into Hampden with a grand opening of its new location, part of the former Hampden Academy at 1 Main Road North.

A sign announcing the upcoming opening of the Rock Church.
The grand opening of the new Rock Church location is Sunday. The church is located in the old Hampden Academy. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The open house will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday with burgers, hot dogs and ice cream served. There will be a bounce house in the parking lot and tours of the new facility.

“The open house allows people to walk in the doors and look around without having to go to a church service,” Mann said.

Services will be held at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday. The church usually streams service online from Bangor but will stream from Hampden on Sunday as part of the anniversary celebration. The Rock Church’s founding pastor, Kirk Winters, will preach from Hampden.

Winters founded the Rock Church in Bangor at a time when the church he grew up in and another local evangelical church were experiencing difficulties. The pastor’s roots in the area, his emphasis on modern church music, a relaxed worship style and de-emphasis on liturgy have helped the congregation grow faster than any other in the region in more than 50 years.

A man stands in a cafe for the new Rock Church.
Pastor J Mann walks through the cafe in the new Rock Church that will open this Sunday in part of the old Hampden Academy. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The Bangor church, located on 10½ acres at the corner of Ohio Street and Finson Road, has expanded twice out of necessity, once in 2012 and again in 2020, as 1,000 worshippers regularly attend three Sunday services. The sanctuary now seats 550.

The Rock Church has also had a satellite campus in downtown Old Town since 2019.

The long-term goal is to have other locations east and west of Bangor now that there are churches to the north and south, Mann said.

Rock Church leaders decided to focus on the Hampden location after plans to expand to a property on Route 1A in Holden proved cost-prohibitive. The Maine Department of Transportation said it would have had to widen the busy road to add a left-turn lane in front of the property. The church would have had to assume the cost, adding $500,000 to $750,000 to the price tag, Winters said in May.

At about the same time, the pastor in Hampden left Maine to care for a terminally ill relative. Mann, who was slated to be the pastor in Holden, and his worship team switched gears after praying about the proposed move and went to Hampden.

“At the time, it seemed like a God thing,” Mann said. “It was a very quick change in direction.”

Grand Opening signs for the Rock Church.
The grand opening of the new Rock Church is Sunday. The church is located in the old Hampden Academy library. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The Hampden location, which totals 10,000 square feet, was occupied by the Journey Church until January, when it ceased operations. The Rock Church quietly began holding services there the next month and took over the lease of the former library and adjacent classrooms that are located behind the former Hampden Academy gymnasium. Renovations were completed recently.

When Mann first walked through the space he made three decisions: a lot more signage was needed to guide people into the church, which can’t be seen from the road; the old, ugly and stained carpet had to be removed from the worship space; and the plastic piping and draping used to separate meeting spaces had to go.

The funds that had been designated for the Holden location were used to spruce up the Hampden church with a polished concrete floor, new paint, a new stage and sound booth in the worship space. The classrooms that are used for a nursery, mothers’ room and educational room for elementary-school children were also updated.

A man walks out the door of the new Rock Church
Pastor J Mann exits the new Rock Church in Hampden. The grand opening of the Rock Church Hampden location is Sunday in the old Hampden Academy library. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The church draws worshippers from throughout Greater Bangor and as far south as Belfast, as far east as Dedham and as far north as Prospect Harbor.

Last Sunday, 260 people attended two services in Hampden, Mann said. If the church continues to grow, an 8 a.m. service would be added. Three services are offered each Sunday in Bangor and Old Town.