Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Fruits of the Vine, the Fruits of the Spirit

Though I may cross a barren desert of distractions the pilgrimage goes on!

Speaking of pilgrimage, interesting etymology, that word. A pilgrim is at the very root a foreigner, someone travelling abroad, outside her own land. So a pilgrimage is not only a religious mission towards a holy site--the way most of us have come to understand it. In it's fullest sense--the one I adopt here--it's a departure from the familiar to relms unknown. In our present day and age this conjurs up images of xenophobia and nationalist hostilities. Part of my journey is to see whether there are still places where spiritual foreigners are welcome.

The Vineyard is one such religious space. Oh, the Vineyard! What is religion without wine? Bring out the cup, that's what I say, Catholic at the roots. The Catholics are the only ones who actually drink wine, of course, but the concept holds true. A cup shared all around.

I found myself at a Vineyard service by way of one of my spiritual barometers, a friend named Chris. This is the man who put Franny and Zooey in my hands, through which I learned of the Jesus Prayer and that "the only religious thing you can do, is act." This guy made me coffee and eggs early in the morning out of the kindness of his heart. This guy ministers in a prison because that's what he's called to do. He invited me to accompany him to a Bible study with homeless youth. I agreed.

"God-talk", it was called. For the most part, however, they did the talking. Frustrated, yearning, often passionate talking. Words about violence, words about vengeance, words about change. These are the people who I stand next to at the bus stop, listen to as they talk about drugs, brush past without recognition. On that day I ate tacos, exchanged stories, laughed heartily with them. Chris had brought me into a room with these vagabonds, and now I heard them taking shots at God and each other. Chris was calm, and in one of the most inspiring--"spirit-filling"--series of moments I've been witness to for some time, he shared with them their own closeness to Christ. He likened them to the band of disciples that Christ gathered to follow him--those rejected by society: the sick, the sinful, the rebellious. He offered them the tools of love, the power that Christ was gifting to those he selected. The ability to heal all ailments, the means to cast out evil. Chris made it clear that these are things attainable in this world, through love. I believed him.

He was drawing on many things--his own studies, his experiences as the jail up in Skagit, but particularly the energy of the church where we found ourselves. These participants in "God-talk" were members of the congregation, along with college students, immigrants and middle-class families. It was obvious when I entered the chapel that this people thrives on the immediate, overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. Some were on their knees. Others were raising their hands. Many eyes were closed. This was a visceral, full-bodied song that was clamoring up from their hearts. The service was dominated by this outspoken, musical worship. This was their experience of God. And that focus on spirit seemed to define the Seattle Vineyard.

The whole Vineyard church movement is relatively new. It developed in the late seventies out of evangelical movements in southern California, specifically the Calvary Chapel fellowship of churches. It has many characteristics of other non-denominational branches: focus on and complete trust in scripture, a call to accepting Christ specifically and outwardly, a strong emphasis on consistent spreading of the Gospel. What sets it apart, it appears to me, is the fact that not only do the Vineyard Churches recognize the legitimacy of the gifts of the spirit bestowed at Pentecost (speaking in tongues, healing of the sick, driving out demons) but they actively seek them in their daily and worship experiences. They believe the spirit must be present and these gifts must be functioning for a church to be vital:

We believe in the filling or empowering of the Holy Spirit, often a conscious
experience, for ministry today. We believe in the present ministry of the Spirit and in the exercise of all of the biblical gifts of the Spirit. We practice the laying on of hands for the empowering of the Spirit, for healing, and for recognition and empowering of those whom God has ordained to lead and serve the Church.

Part of this stems from an effort to actualize the Kingdom of God in the present day. Much of Vineyard theology is wrapped around this notion of Kingdom, and bringing it about is one of the prime objectives of the church. All Christian churches, of course, refer to the Kingdom of God, but the Vineyard folk seem--like laborers in one of the parables--to be actively preparing for the immenent return of their master.

These are all sweeping assessments of the much larger instution. Seattle Vineyard is just a part.

The Vineyard makes clear that every church is different--there is no desire to fuse all practice across the globe. But the core values are what must stay in tact. This seems to be achieved--if I can extrapolate from what I encountered--through community. There were no divisions in that room when I joined. All sang out. Most took bread and juice. People shook hands and greeted one another. There was a definite feeling of haphazardness; people scattered, some standing, some kneeling, some casual, some more serious. People entered constantly, but few exited. And yet they all seemed to know each other. So when the sermon was given by a departing member of the congregation--a sermon of about friendship and friendlisness, about the power for change within all present--the attention was unflinching and then the applause was continuous.

These are definitely the first people I have run into on my pilgrimage who are drunk with the spirit. They were lapping it up, and thirsty for more. Maybe it's the music, maybe the healing that is so eagerly offered. Whatever the case, it's worth a taste.


Blogger ryanbd said...

Hey Nicholas - I met you in God Talk on this Sunday (Chris sent me your post). It was really great to hear your experience visiting our church. As a pastor and one who works there week in and week out, it's really impossible to have this perspective. I love your comments about the mix of folks and the communion (I facilitated it that day) - and we do offer wine as an option! The "inner circle" of our funny little plastic cups is wine! I always forget to mention that...Many blessings to you on your journey. You're certainly welcome at our table any Sunday.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Ed Cook said...

It was great to read your thoughts. My wife and I started the Seattle Vineyard 19 years ago. I am overjoyed that all these years later someone can visit and the impression that leave with is consistent with the vision we started with. Perhaps our informal motto describes us best. "We are The Church of the Least, the Last, and the Lost." Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

12:18 PM  

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