We left the story of my journey in the Faith with my word of warning to charismatic churches and also my comments to those who would stifle the Spirit. I had just left my Lutheran church for the Assemblies of God (now THAT’S a big change, right?)
The AoG was for me in that it allowed me to “see how the other half lives.” This is not to say that the AoG fulfilled me, but I did learn a lot and grew in my time there. But as the church was located fairly far from my home, I felt I was missing the community around me. So after a few good years at the AoG, I uprooted and went to College Hill Presbyterian Church, a thriving church with a national presence.
But camping ministry still called me. I had continued to work in youth ministry at a ministry to my old high school and also within College Hill. After becoming a member at College Hill, I then had an opportunity to get back into camping at a camp in Wisconsin. So I left and pursued that option.
While working at this Evangelical Free camp in 1988, I started to notice that large numbers of people were not finding what they were looking for in their walk with Christ and the churches were not addressing this need. Reading more and more about the early Church, I quickly realized that in many ways we had moved away from the pure heart and mission of those first Christians. I even experienced this lack firsthand at the camp as I watched it burn out its staff people by not putting back into the spiritual lives of staff what it was taking out. I eventually left, too, utterly frustrated and burned out, but still thinking about what I had been learning on my own.
I got a call to take an interim management position at Wesley Woods Conference Center, a Methodist camp in WI, and I jumped at the chance. It was a fulfilling job and reminded me that when camping is good, it is very good for people. But that job was only temporary and I moved back to Cincinnati at the end of 1989. When I got back to College Hill, though, all the people who led the church had left. I sat in church not knowing who the leaders were or where everyone I had known had gone to. I did not want to leave, but the heart of the church was gone. All the people I admired and fellowshipped with were nowhere to be seen.
Then came the Vineyard.
I had first heard of the Vineyard through their worship music. Back in 1988 the movement was still in its infancy, but its worship music was starting to be played on Christian radio. As a musician, I was caught up in it right away. I started reading about the Vineyard while at the camp, so when it was painfully obvious that the College Hill I knew and loved was no longer, I checked out the Vineyard.
Truth is, I had actually attended a Vineyard service all the way back in 1986 and I can say with all honesty that it was terrible. But something had changed in that time and when I came there again, everything was more polished and honed with vision. And so I stayed.
After a year there, I realized I needed to finish college, Even though I missed the deadline, I was accepted to Wheaton College in their Christian Education department (now, in keeping with trends, called “Spiritual Formation.”) I excelled academically at Wheaton, but spiritually the college was draining, too. Not enough people there were open to new ideas and the student body was loathe to investigate anything outside of the tried and true. Worst of all, just saying that I was part of a Vineyard church brought hoots of derision and even outright persecution. (The local Vineyard church would routinely have its posters ripped down in the student union.) Even for years afterward, when the college would do its annual fundraiser, they refused to list “Association of Vineyard Churches” as one of their denominational options. I was glad to get out of Wheaton in one piece, degree in hand.
But while I had been away at college, a fundamental shift had occurred in my major, one that would forever change my career path. Churches started to abandon their paid Christian Ed positions in favor of volunteers. Willow Creek’s ministry model was started to gain traction and churches saw the future. I had gone to Willow Creek for part of my time at Wheaton as part of a project I did for my major and I had been left uneasy by what I had experienced at the church. Little did I know how this would impact me while I was still taking classes.
Ultimately, though, it was the first whiffs of corruption in the Catholic Church that made my journey back to camping difficult. Stories were coming out of priests doing unspeakable things to young teens in their charge and this made for a truly hostile environment for anyone who worked with children. Since a role with a camp would be working with children, most camps just went into a hiring hibernation and waited till the bad press blew over. After two years of beating my head against the wall, I had to make a living somehow, so I fell back on my computer skills.
And so I write the last chapter of the saga. Hopefully, I’ll wrap it all up in Part 4.