“Calling ourselves “empowered evangelicals,” the Vineyard seeks to blend the best of the Evangelical traditions with their focus on Christ-like character and regard for the Scriptures, with the best of the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions of welcoming the empowering of the Holy Spirit for life, ministry, and acts of service.”

December 1, 2019, 10 AM

Somehow I have been totally unfamiliar with the Vineyard Church Movement until now. They emerged in the mid 1970’s and really took off when John Wimber assumed leadership in 1982. They became known for their music which drastically departed from the old hymns; and their informality in worship, encouraging people to wear whatever felt comfortable. While jeans, t-shirts and athleisure wear may be common place in many churches today, it was seen as a radical move back then. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Vineyard Movement has endorsed women in all roles of leadership. You can read more about them at vineyardusa.org.

I arrived at the this Vineyard church a few minutes before the start of worship. The building looks like it might have once been a house. It sits on the corner of two streets in a neighborhood area. It has been expanded and obviously remodeled for their purposes. I entered the front door and walked into a common area where people were mingling and getting coffee and snacks. On my way to the restroom, the pastor walked passed me with a cup of coffee in his hand. He smiled and said “good morning.” I recognized him from the website.

I entered the worship space and took a seat toward the back, but not in the very back. The service began when the a three-piece group (guitar, drum and keyboard) started playing songs. The male guitarist and lead signer encouraged us to stand and sing, but it felt more like a concert because only a few were actually participating. He prayed a short prayer between a couple of the four opening songs. Then, he announced that while the kids are leaving, everyone else could get coffee and be back in five. I wasn’t sure what happened. Was this intermission?

I stayed in my seat until everyone seemed to settle back in for the remainder of the service. Several announcements were given, two of which were short videos by staff members. Then the pastor came to the front, with his coffee cup and notes to deliver the message.

His sermon focused on the theme of HOPE and he shared various ways in which it is used in the Bible. Jumping around to different scriptures, he explained that hope can be an expectation, a preference, a false hope, hopelessness or something you do. It felt a little widespread and disjointed at times but he was engaging and relatable. He had an informal manner and said several things stuck in my mind. One example was this comment, “Jesus is smuggling heaven into the world.” His talk was both uplifting and positive, which I appreciated. It’s always nice to be reminded that God is our constant and abiding hope, regardless of present circumstances.

At the start of his sermon, he mentioned the basket making its way around. Then the folks in front of me handed me a basket, but nothing had been mentioned about an offering. I turned to the woman a few seats away and whispered, “is this for the offering?” She said yes. I placed some money inside it and handed it to a woman who had been waiting behind me. She took the basket and left the room. It made me wonder if they feel embarrassed to ask for offerings or if they intentionally downplay the giving aspect of worship.

Since it was the first Sunday of the month, we also received communion. Again, we came forward, received a cup of juice and a piece of cracker. Everyone took the items back to their seats so I followed suit. The pastor then read the passages from the last supper when Jesus broke the bread and took the cup. We followed the pastor’s cue and ate/drank after each reading. While I understand the meaning and purpose of communion, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity when nothing more is explained about the sacrament. It seems to me that if someone knew nothing about this ritual, it might seem silly or at least confusing. What’s the meaning of it? Why do we do it? What is happening?

I wish they would incorporate some liturgy, as reciting sacred words is a little like exercising. When you do it over and over again, you get stronger and the words become imprinted on your heart. I think it’s important to recite certain things again and again, just for muscle memory, which can be very helpful in life. Many times I have called upon Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer or even part of the communion liturgy to comfort me. I learned these words through the recitation in church.

Overall I liked this church and I look forward to visiting another Vineyard church. However, despite the pastor’s “good morning” when I passed him in the hallway, no one else spoke to me. There was neither a passing of the peace nor a greeting time. The general visitor’s welcome announcement is not enough. Therefore, this church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.

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