When I was a young pentecostal evangelist I fell under the delusion that the Vineyard was a cult, cult in the bad way. Other than the music, which for some reason I was ok with, I wanted nothing to do with us. In fact when Wimber came to Ottawa I was warning my pastor friends to stay away. Yeah, I was a pretty intense young man. So when I found myself thrown out of ministry in my church, in a strange city where almost all my friends were in the church that I wasn't feeling the best about, I was surprised at how many people told me I should check out a Vineyard kinship. Tucking my tail between my legs I made a call to the Airport church and just happened to get a lady who had a kinship not far from me (I was in Clarkson, Mississauga). I told her I couldn't come Sundays because technically I was on staff at another church - but I didn't share the details. Her response was, "most of our people don't go to our church." How could that be?
My story of coming to the Vineyard captures many of the things that endear me to our family to this day. I want to share a few of those things with you and I'd love to hear your stories and why you love our family.
1) The Vineyard is a Place of Welcome
I was welcomed into that kinship without any question of who I was, where I came from, how messed up I was, nothing. I was welcomed not just into a safe building, but into someones livingroom. I love that our sending church has the slogan: come as you are, you will be loved. That is exactly what I experienced, and it is exactly what I hope others experience when they come to Freedom. I've been in inner city ministries for long enough to know how big a risk it is to open your home up. In fact I've even been host to at least one con artist because of this. But I'm convinced there is no other way. I'm not naive enough to think that we are immune to being taken advantage of - but the welcome is about demonstrating something that flies in the face of the possible dangers. It reflects the risk that God took on us when God welcomed us into the family.
2) The Vineyard Blesses the Whole Church
I learned much more of this as I studied some of our history, but my immediate experience was that denominational affiliation wasn't the criteria for the Vineyard to minister to me. It was more than likely that my new kinship home would heal me up so that I could go back to the pentecostal church and be a blessing there. The reality was that as they prayed into me, strengthened me, encouraged me, I felt God call me back to Ottawa where there was no Vineyard at the time. There I took the blessings my kinship poured into me and poured it into serving an inner city Baptist church in Vanier. This is a form of ecumenism that I value deeply - blessing those who will let you bless them. It is not the kind of ecumenism that denies who we are, but draws on each movements strengths to make something better - we are better together. It was also the love for the whole Church that I was becoming awakened to as God broke my heart over how I had become so critical of other churches (one of the chief reasons I was thrown out of ministry actually). When we bless the whole church, without being obsessed with building our own churches, then we reflect Christ's love for his Bride.
3) The Vineyard is not Afraid to be Prophetic
In my first kinship experience I sat sheepishly for most of the time, but then during our ministry time a few of them gathered around me and responded to a prompting to sing Father's heart songs over me. I think that was the first time I had cried in ages. This led to words being spoken over me. Humble, unpretentious words or encouragement and expressions of God's longing for me. I was used to a kind of controlled prophetic experience - it is hard to express but the context where I was serving had this sense of the prophetic being about laying ahold of some sort of perceived authority. But in that kinship there was a different sense, new to me, of listening to what the Spirit was saying and stumbling forward with full awareness that they might not be getting it right. But the thing was, the words spoken over me that night still echo in my spirit, and when I am in places where people prophecy over me, it is not uncommon for them to actually speak some of those same words and share the same imagery. When we do this we reflect God's desire to speak to us.
4) The Vineyard did not Ask me to be Something I was Not
I'm actually a jeans and t-shirt kinda guy. But even if I wasn't, the Vineyard was willing to take me as is. In the pentecostal church there were a lot of expectations placed on you. You pretended a lot. I remember struggling
with masturbation, but not having anywhere that it would be ok to talk about my struggles. In fact when I did bring it up with the senior pastor he just looked at me like I was an alien or something. What was most brutal to me was that I spent most of my time in and around the church, so most of my time I was maintaining some sort of mask. It is not surprising that I had internalized a lot of anger in those days. Almost immediately in the Vineyard I encountered people who were quite open about their struggles - and surprisingly no one pounced on them (believe me I watched for this). I'm not sure healing is possible when everything is bottled up inside, but even so it took me years to take advantage of this in the Vineyard. When we create safe places for people to be real, we reflect God's desire to bring us to wholeness and healing.
These are just four of the things that drew me to the Vineyard. What drew you in? What have you continued to make a priority in your life and ministry? Let's share our stories as a gift to each other.
Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard