Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Encounters with tradition (4): from Pentecostal to Vineyard

A guest-post by Frank Emanuel

There is a saying in the Vineyard: you don’t join the Vineyard, you find out you always were Vineyard. This captures the sense of family that I experienced when I finally found my home in the Vineyard movement. The Vineyard began in the 70s in Los Angeles, California. In 1977, John and Carol Wimber, easily the most recognizable names from the Vineyard movement, had left their Quaker church to be part of the Vineyard movement within Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel was the denomination made famous for starting the Jesus People movement of the early 70s – images of thousands being baptized in the Pacific Ocean made the cover of Life magazine.

The Vineyard blends Pentecostal spirituality with conservative evangelical theology. Many of the early Vineyard leaders were associated with Fuller Seminary, a conservative evangelical institution. For me, and many others, the Vineyard represents the best of both worlds, bringing together the passion of the Pentecostals and the assuredness of the evangelicals.

I discovered the Vineyard during the early years of my pastoral career. I was interning at my second Foursquare Gospel church when my whole world was yanked out from under my feet. A number of factors led to this, many of which were my own doing. I was a young Christian, four years into ministry but without a lot of real life experience. I had become cocky and thought I knew how everything should be done. It was also around that time that I began to question some aspects of Pentecostal theology; this did not help my case any. I found myself thrown out of my ministry position, in a strange city far from my family. All but one of my friends went to that church, so I was alienated on that front as well.

I remember calling up the Toronto Airport Vineyard and asking if they had any home groups I could go to. I explained that I was technically on staff at a local church so I was unable to come Sundays, but that friends kept telling me I needed to find what they called a Kinship (home group). I was invited into one not far from my house in Clarkson.

I don’t think I will ever forget my first visit. It was nothing like I expected; the worship was wonderful and intimate (I was the primary worship leader in my own church), and the teaching was simple. What struck me was the prayer time; they asked me to sit on a chair and began to sing songs of the Father’s love over me. I spent a few months healing up at that Kinship until an opportunity came to head back to Ottawa.

I landed in Ottawa with the intention of making my way back to Nova Scotia. There was no Vineyard in Ottawa and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to fit into the Pentecostal church anymore. I was busking a bit to make ends meet when I met up with my friend Mike – through Mike, I ended up in a wonderful little Convention Baptist church. My time in the Convention was restorative. It was also the time to sort out my life a bit more. I went back to school and completed college. I met my wife to be and was made a lay minister in the church. Things were going well, but I was still restless inside. It soon became apparent that this church wanted me to pursue formal ministry, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t a Baptist.

I left the Baptist church with a fiancé, a job as a college teacher, and new hope, since a Vineyard had just started up in Ottawa. It was especially exciting as the couple that pastored this Vineyard came from my hometown; they had pastored the Alliance church around the corner from the house I grew up in! It looked like everything was finally coming together.

That did not last long. The Vineyard I had left in Toronto had been experiencing wonderful renewal. But as a result, folks in Ottawa expected the new church simply to be an extension of the same renewal. Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the Vineyard is the belief that we are hyper-charismatic; the reality is, we don’t focus on these things, but we don’t stop them when they happen either. Our focus is on being Christ to the world. Sometimes God shows up in amazing ways, but John Wimber always exhorted us to stick to the main and the plain of the gospel. All this made planting a new Vineyard really hard, and my fiancé was hurt in the process. So we left the Vineyard, even though this broke my heart.

We were married and three years later we both felt a clear call to go back to the Vineyard. Lots had changed, but coming back for me felt like coming home. We spent two years helping close down what was left of that congregation, and not long after we were released to start a new Vineyard, to build one from the ground up. That’s the church we’ve been planting. It’s very much a part of me; I long to give back some of what was so graciously given to me. This is why I am a Vineyardite.

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