Since 1996, the LORD had been calling me to live in Christian community, sort of a co-ed Protestant monastery. In 1997, my wife, Margaret died. But it wasn’t until 1999 that I had the courage to explore the possibilities of my calling.
Victory Outreach in Mt. Auburn
For six months in ’99, I lived with Victory Outreach in Cincinnati’s Mt. Auburn community. Victory Outreach was a church, a residential treatment program, and Christian boot camp for redeemed alcoholics and addicts. The Victory Outreach branches are among the best urban seminaries in the nation. This church had a passion for bringing people to Jesus and to recovery.
Because I was their property manager, they waived the regular requirement of being a street person and admitted me to the program for six months on re-entry status. That is, I slept at the house, took part in the programs, was under discipline, and was regular in prayer and worship. However, because of re-entry status, I kept my wallet, could leave the house alone, and went to work daily at Sign of the Cross Housing.
We trained to go to the roughest places in town, find lost street people, and give them a message of hope in Jesus. Our Pastor, Ronnie Lott, and his wife, Patricia, went with us. And none of us were as gutsy in confronting pushers, addicts and prostitutes as Sister Pat.
We were passionate about salvation. We wanted to bring our brothers and sisters to Jesus before they died or before Jesus returned. We assumed that their deaths or Jesus’ return could happen today or tomorrow.
Here’s an example. I was with our home director, Brother Ralph. We were on Linn Street in the West End on a warm summer evening. We spotted a wet alcoholic clinging to a parking meter. Ralph said, “Brother, a year ago, I was in worse shape than you. If you want to get off the sauce, take Jesus as your Savior right now and come live with us.”
We talked with the man for a while. He chose to cling to the sauce and the parking meter. But Brother Ralph had made a difference in his life. Before our conversation, the man had no hope. Now, he had hope. And we met others who accepted our invitation.
Here's a question for you to consider: Is your congregation equipped to take people off the street and give them food, clothing, shelter, and immersion in the Word of God for their healing from addition? If not, it's a local measure of how far we are from fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.
Two quotes from Sister Pat are worth knowing: One morning during Bible teaching, she challenged us—"Why are you here? Is it because you decided come here? Naw. Every one of you had someone praying for you—mother, father, wife, sister, girlfriend. You didn't choose to come here. You were drafted!"
"Drafted?" I thought, "Well, that's the best explanation I ever heard for predestination."
Sister Pat also said, "You think you're here because you're a junkie or a drunk. Naw. You're here because you're a sinner. And that gives you an advantage over all those affluent, successful people who rush around every day. They're just as degenerate a bunch of sinners as we are—but they don't know it."
Vineyard Central in Norwood
Then, for the next six months, I lived with Vineyard Central in Norwood , a city of 40,000 surrounded by Cincinnati. At that time the Norwood Vineyard was the only Vineyard congregation in the U.S. with communal living. The Vineyard USA is a Charismatic fellowship that stresses both God’s relevance to us and our relevance to the world around us. The Norwood Vineyard was a mellow place, with lots of opportunity to explore the LORD’s love and power.
And the Norwood Vineyard moved into communal living by accident. They had acquired a vacant Roman Catholic complex in northwest Norwood, with a basilica church, a school, a priests' home, and a convent. The new Vineyard Central congregation has use for everything but the convent. So, they recruited summer interns and used the convent for their dormatory. At the end of the summer, some interns didn't want to leave. Thus, instant Christian community. And ever since the Vineyard Christian community has discovered its purpose, its calling, and its lifestyle.
Here's an example of the effect of communal living at the Norwood Vineyard: My home church was Prince of Peace Lutheran in Over-the-Rhine, the historic district just north of Cincinnati's central business district. Over the years, we developed a lay-led New Year's Eve liturgy. We sat in a circle or an arc—so we could see each other. The liturgy was:
Opening hymn -- Scripture reading -- First sharing: "What did the LORD do in your life this past year?" (Each person can share or pass.) – Hymn -- Scripture reading -- Second sharing: "What's your best hope in the LORD for the year ahead?" (Share or pass) -- Hymn -- Scripture Reading -- Consecration and distribution of the bread and wine in the LORD's Supper. (We passed the bread and the cup, with each person communing the next.) – Hymn -- Benediction (Hebrews 13:20-21)
At Prince of Peace on December 31, 2000, our New Year's Eve service was an intimate sharing among fourteen friends. Each sharing began with, "This year, the best thing the LORD did for me was. . ." and "My best hope for the year ahead is. . ."
After the 7 p.m. service at Prince of Peace, I went to the Norwood Vineyard and joined the people with whom I'd lived for the past six months. A few of us had a prayer vigil in the sanctuary from 11 p.m. til midnight. During that hour I told Kevin Rains, our pastor, about the good worship we had earlier at Prince of Peace.
Kevin liked the liturgy. So, the next morning, the Vineyard fellowship met for prayer at 10:30, and we did the same liturgy. But it wasn't the same. Each sharing began, "This year, the best thing the LORD did for us was. . ." and "Our best hope is. . ."
I was astonished and said, "You're amazing. You've been liberated from the selfish individualism of American churches, where we say, "Me. Me. Me." You say, "Us. Us. Us."
Here’s a second example. Cater-corner from the church and our residences was Hap’s Place—a busy bar, with plenty of noise and street fighting on weekend evenings. The police drove past regularly. The resulting silence lasted at least three minutes, but afterward the noise would return, keeping us awake.
We schemed about how to get control of the situation. (1) Harass the Xavier University professor who owned the building by getting the Norwood Building Department and Board of Health on his case. (2) Buy the building and evict the bar. Or (3) manage the property for the professor and evict the bar.
In prayer together, the LORD gave us a different leading. Be present. Be in prayer. We realized that we could do that. We owned two of the four corners, and we certainly had the right to sit on our sidewalks.
Later that day, we had worship. During worship, the pastors didn't mention the results of our prayer meeting. The LORD nudged me, and I realized that the LORD's leading was going to evaporate unless I took action. I took out his notebook and wrote a sign-up sheet. At the end of worship, I made an announcement about the LORD's leading for us and said I'd have the sign-up sheet next to the exit. People could sign up in pairs for two hours of prayer on Friday and Saturday nights between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.
That hand-written sign-up sheet was the link that made the LORD’s love and power take effect in dealing with Hap's Place. We sat. We strolled. We prayed. We talked with neighbors and each other. It was pleasant and fun. The noise and fighting mostly stopped. After the summer was over, we ended our vigils. And here was the miracle—the noise and fighting did not recur.
It was great to discover that, as Christians, we can take authority over evil and win. Six years later, Hap’s place became entirely quiet, as a Norwood Police substation.
Implications: + When the LORD leads, he gets results. + Don't be afraid to do or say the obvious.
Messiah House in Over-the-Rhine
After a year back at my own home, I did another one-year stint with a Vineyard mission home in Cincinnati’s Northside community. But, the vision the LORD had given me was for a communal Christian home in Over-the-Rhine. No problem. I had a 2,200 square foot home at 213 Orchard. I’d use my home and call it Messiah House.
From experience, I know that Christian community is my natural, sensible lifestyle. St. Paul accurately tells us that, apart from Jesus, we are slaves to sin. We are all addicts. The difference between suburban sin/slavery and slum sin/slavery is that suburbanites tend to have respectable addictions. We all need protection from the world, the flesh and the devil. We can stand almost anything but freedom.
For two years, I tried to recruit others to live in community at Messiah House, including several from our congregation. There were no takers. I continued ask Jesus for brothers, occasionally. In the fall of 2004, my prayers were answered. Brother Eddie, who had been one of my home directors at Victory Outreach, came to me for help. I invited him to move in.
A couple of weeks later, Brother Brandon showed up, a young man who had grown up at Prince of Peace Lutheran. We welcomed him. Brother Tom joined us a couple of times a week for dinner. He was staying at the Mt. Airy Shelter and was miserable. He asked whether he could move in. We prayed about his request and the LORD encouraged us. We welcomed Brother Tom.
Tom was engaged to a woman named Carolyn. On December 19, 2004, they were married, and we encouraged them to live at Messiah House. They did the shopping and cooking. We did the cleaning and maintenance. Brandon and Eddie called Carolyn “mom," but I told her she’s really Wendy with the four lost boys from Peter Pan. We each put in half our earnings to cover household expenses.
We gathered from 8 to 9 a.m. weekday mornings for Bible study and prayer. It was easy and natural for us to have several conversations a day about Scripture or Jesus. We gave each other a lot of prayer and encouragement, time, concern, and love. For example, I worked with Eddie on the internet as he prepared for and passed the exam as a forklift driver. As a result, he got a promotion.
We became an intentional family. As such, we didn’t think in terms of “leadership.” When the LORD nudged me, I knew that I should bring a matter up with the group. But that wasn’t my special prerogative. Each of us could and did bring up matters. We discussed them, prayed about them, and decided together.
Consider what we didn’t need: Slogans, fund raisers, grant proposals, mailings, staff, budget, mortgage loans, denominational reports, endless meetings, organization charts, job descriptions, etc. etc. etc. Life together in Christ doesn’t have to be such a hassle.
For months we had fairly easy sailing. Our big challenges lay ahead. Should we grow? Should we renovate the basement as a dorm for men? Should we take in men who have just come out of prison? Should we take in other couples? If we would really grow, should we move to a big location, with big capital costs and large monthly expenses? We sought the LORD’s will.
I had rewound my guts to finance and renovate the basement as a living area for four to six men. But, in prayer Brother Eddie received a word from the LORD about the issue. “Rent apartments in the area.” Do cluster housing. If all residents in apartments have jobs, then the apartments will finance themselves.
With cluster housing, we could gather each morning for prayer and Bible study. We could eat together several times a week. We could do ministry together evenings and weekends. It was the LORD’s beautiful solution. No mortgage, no loan payments, but lots of praise and joy.
That was a good vision, but it didn’t happen. Brother Eddie left. Tom had a heart attack and died. Brandon left. Carolyn and I were left in Messiah House. She lived on the third floor. I was on the second. We discussed the fact that the optics of the situation was not good—even though nothing improper was happening. Carolyn then moved to Norwood. A year and a half later, I moved to Seattle to be part of my grandchildren’s growing up.
You can scroll down the column on the right to "Christian Community" and read two articles about my experience with the Bruderhof.
Purpose of this blog is to compile several books for my grandchildren to read in 20 years.
Copyright © 2017 by Jack Towe
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