I spent the last month (and 7 posts) recalling good times and praising Vandelia Church of Lubbock, Texas. Vandelia Church is one of two that I experienced (in a life time of church experiences) that stand out most powerful to me. I love this church. Just read what I have shared here and keep in mind that I could have shared more – much more.
Both churches from my short list, but especially Vandelia, reached out in an ecumenical way to other churches and even more so to the poor. I did not dwell on the ecumenical aspects in the preceding vignettes, but that aspect along with the service to the poor is what attracted me to Vandelia to begin with. And I must say, some of the ecumenical ministries were quite imaginative and powerful. I can’t help but think of the Ambassador Group that visited every church in Lubbock for Sunday worship over the course of some years. And the bond of fellowship Vandelia forged (and still forges) with Oakwood United Methodist Church and Oakwood Baptist along with Emmanuel Worship Center IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is also uncommon and exciting.
But as I reflect here on the vignettes I share on this blog, I am particularly mindful of the way I was allowed and, indirectly (though never officially), encouraged to ever more daring and imaginative ministry. I was being shaped by these experiences, and the word that kept coming to mind amid them was PROPHETIC. I mean stopping a murder with a communion service??? Really??? This is not common church practice, and it would not have happened if we had not answered a very strange call from God to play with the symbols of our faith in imaginative ways – with all due respect of course!
And as I have said, there are perhaps dozens of other tales I could have told that were just as mystifying as the 7 vignettes. Perhaps in time I will divulge more of them. But for now, 7 is a nice holy number to work with. And I believe I have established my heart-felt attitude toward the assembly at Vandelia. There really should be no doubt of my love and affection for that church.
I have had A LOT of church experiences throughout the course of my life. By far, most of them were boring or flat out bad. Years ago, I kept another blog called Messianic Gentile (its gone now, don’t look for it), but far and away the most popular post on that blog – the one that got the most views and response of any I ever published – was one that asked the world if they had ever been “hurt by church.” It featured a photograph of a pack of wolves devouring a prey in all the bloody gore. And in 40 some-odd years of my church experiences the vast majority can be found on the spectrum between boring and painful.
So, when I write about the two churches that stand out in all that experience as being wonderful, you can bet I am saying I love those churches. And with the 7 vignettes below, I want to remind and inform Vandelia of the rich heritage she has and encourage and bless her with it. I am expressing my love by thumbing through a few snapshots I have treasured in my heart. That love is genuine and stands firm.
But based on the vast majority of my church experiences, including a number of them at Vandelia, I have some harsh criticism and tough questions that seem to go unanswered. But I am a “critic from within” – to borrow a phrase from N.T. Wright. I also note that such is the vocation, largely, of the prophets of old vis-à-vis the people of God. When Amos calls out the “cows of Bashan,” he is not being a hater. Neither is Ezekiel when he lays siege to a brick and designates it as Jerusalem. Jesus calls out the power mongers, rebels, and hypocrites – and then drives out the money changers from the temple with a whip! Not that these prophetic ministries win any of these prophets a lot of friends when they really need one, but still they bring the Word of God to the people of God whom God loves.
And so… when you find blunt, harsh words on this blog for the church (including Vandelia among others) – and especially for turning the poor away – note well that I claim this heritage of prophetic ministry as a means of speaking the truth in love.