Ohio Trip 3: Vineyard Central, a Liturgical House Church


Sunday morning I (along with my hosts Scott and Angela) visited a unique community of house churches who call themselves Vineyard Central. Apparently they originated as a church plant from “The” Vineyard, but that hardly seems to characterize them at this point. This group of believers, like the one which I am a part of, chose to buy houses close together–in the same neighborhood. They are a “neighborhood church” as a friend once called it, like my group. This church, however, chose to inhabit a poor, urban section in the heart of their city. They did this because they felt a calling to establish a presence in that community, and they appear to be doing just that. Amazingly, there are around 80 of them in the neighborhood, with some still moving in!

It’s pretty raw, authentic, incarnational living. I could tell from their interactions with their neighbors that they are at work doing what they set out to do: building relationships with those in their neighborhood, maintaining community gardens, helping out people in need, and (formerly) operating a cool coffeehouse as a point of entry for people in the community (sadly, economic times being what they are, the coffeehouse may have gone the way of the do-do). It’s messy work, fraught with the costs of giving your lives over for the sake of needy people. But they struck me as a very hospitable, giving, accepting group of people. Their house churches meet weekly while the whole group only assembles together about once a month.

Another unique thing about this group is that they are liturgical. They are “low church” in the sense that they are a clergyless, decentralized and informal assembly who show up in t-shirts and jeans, meeting primarily in their homes. But they read from “the lectionary,” pray the creeds, and pray “the hours.” After someone reads a portion of the Bible, he or she says “the word of the Lord” and everybody responds in unison with “thanks be to God.” Haven’t done that since my teen years when I used to visit an Episcopalian youth group.

It’s unfortunate for us that we didn’t get to be a part of their bigger monthly gathering. On those days, typically coinciding with festivals from the traditional Christian calendar, they all come together in an old catholic church building called Saint Elizabeth’s which they purchased and renovated over a decade ago. This morning’s meeting, however, happened upstairs in the house across the street. We were greeted warmly, we sang songs recently compiled by one of them on a songsheet, and we read aloud and discussed verses from the lectionary, a standardized grouping of Bible passages used in liturgical churches (Anglican, Catholic, etc). Next someone brought out a plate with a multi-grain bagel and a bowl of wine on it. They passed it around, tearing off a piece of bagel and dipping it in the wine before eating it. Each person passing the communion repeated something like “the body of Christ which was broken for you and blood of Christ shed for your sins” (I couldn’t remember the right words so I just passed it on and shrugged). When we finished with that we had a time of prayer, then we ate and chatted with folks for a while.

They were warm, caring people who obviously carry the burden of ministering to their neighborhood in a very incarnational way. The fatigue of some of it showed, as did the resolution to keep giving, keep serving, and to keep meeting and praying for those around them. In the end I found the liturgical worship too foreign to easily enter into. I find it hard to internalize standardized phrases and prayers, no matter how time-tested they may be. But I also think that these folks don’t experience those things in the same way I do. For them, it seems living and somehow vibrant. In the end it’s all about what’s going on inside, isn’t it?

For me, reciting rituals easily lends itself to mechanical repetition, disconnected from the heart. But I’m not sure it has to be that way. I suspect some can take those pre-formed prayers and creeds, connecting their hearts to the messages preserved therein, and it becomes living words for them. I bet that works better for first-generation folks than for second or third ones, though. That’s my guess, anyway.

Coming out of that meeting I bumped into a completely separate group of people gathered on the front steps of St. Elizabeth’s. They were from neighboring cities and were using the neighborhood facilities as a centralized point at which they could all gather for prayer and fellowship. Although they were not really connected with VC, their example seems to have encouraged this group to pursue community in their own way as well. Pretty cool how groups seem to inspire one another along the way. Folks thinking about building deeper community among believers seem to get so much from just seeing other people doing something similar. It’s great to steal ideas, too, while you’re at it!

When I got done talking with that group, I looked up and saw something growing out of the building above us. Kinda crazy, isn’t it? Seemed somehow metaphorical to me of some of the things I’ve been discovering lately. I’ll let you figure it out yourself 🙂

Well, that just covers Sunday morning. In my next post, I’ll share about the third group that I met that day.

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