In the previous post on my journey through various faith traditions, I mentioned that while I was still leading an Assembly of God Ministry (Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship at Cornell University), I was not attending an AG church*.
Timeline: 1997 to 2012
(*side note: You are actually not supposed to say Assembly of God church as assembly and church both come from the same Greek word ‘Ecclesia’, so the phrase is redundant)
[I’ve gone back and forth on whether I should share this. It is my story, but it does share a difficult situation we went through. At this point was a decade ago, and no names are mentioned…so for now it is here.]
About 3 years before my final year in the AG, I sensed that God was telling me to “check out the Vineyard”. But our friends, our support, everything was in the AG, so I delayed. As things became more uncomfortable with Chi Alpha, I decided to “check out the Vineyard”.
Liz and I drove up to Syracuse on a Saturday night for a worship gathering, and I loved it. We had visited a couple of Vineyards when we travelled, so I had an idea of what to expect but was not prepared for how quickly I felt at home.
We attended for the rest of the summer, then in the fall, we made the 80-minute drive (each way) with two car-loads of Cornell students. I was excited about Sundays for the first time in a really long time.
While some might consider the Vineyard Pentecostal or Charismatic, the phrase coined by C. Peter Wagner that was used most inside the Vineyard was ’Third-wave”. It was a desire to take the good from Pentecostal practice and combine it with Evangelical theology. So, thus began my first step into the Evangelical world.
Things I Learned/Experienced:
1) The first thing I experienced in the Vineyard was how much I still had to learn. I found a higher value placed on learning than on any place I had been before. I got back into reading, and haven’t stopped.
2) John Wimber’s teachings rocked my world over and over. His stuff about being Jesus-centred, valuing the whole church, and just the practical yet Spirit-filled way he approached most topics began a significant shift in my faith. Wimber actually died as I was entering the Vineyard (1997).
3) It was here I was able to begin to value my early years in the Catholic/Methodist church and began to recognise that not everything that happened in my life before I said “the prayer” was of no value.
4) I began to have confidence. Not so much in myself, but that God would use me. The person who took over for Wimber, Todd Hunter, started a young leaders group that I got to be part of. And you may have heard me mention that we planted a church in Ithaca.
This list could go on for quite a while. But those are a few key items., so I’ll stop there and move to…
Why I left.
Well, when we left the States to be in Ireland, we were still part of the Vineyard and imagined that is where we would be for the rest of our lives. But things didn’t go according to our plans. When I was in college we used to jokingly call it receiving the left foot of fellowship.
In the US, when you plant a Vineyard church in a city, you have a grace period of 2 years where no other Vineyard church can be started. After that period, anyone can decide that they want to church plant in that city. In Ireland/UK (as we later learned), a pastor of a church becomes a de facto gatekeeper and is able to decide who can start a church in their city and who cannot. Here they contend that it is more important that all Vineyard leaders in a community get along. So one person can simply decide that they do not want a particular person in ‘their’ city. If that ensures collegiality and unity, great. But when it allows a person to keep people from planting a church in ‘their city’, that is a problem. If we were the only people told to go away, you could argue the former. Sadly we know of others who have experienced this here in Dublin.
Friends (which is one of the other things I loved about the Vineyard) tried to discuss our situation with leaders back in the States and were told to not bring me up again. Writing-on-wall.
Thankfully this wasn’t something that came out of the blue. We had the opportunity to build a support network of Irish pastors, American counsellors and coaches, who walked us through this and ensured that we landed on our feet. About six months before we were told we weren’t welcome, Liz and I sat in our car eating take-away and made a decision. Whichever way this broke, we were committed to Dublin…We love this place, and…we feel at home here.
Now we just needed to find a church home.
Which leads us to…Evangelical.