About the Mission
In the community of religious devotees that expect divine affirmation on occasion, it is not surprising to hear someone say, “It’s a sign.” In the case of two churches sharing space at 3536 NW 8th avenue next to Littlewood Elementary School, however, the “sign” really is … well a sign.
The sign in front of the property, which up until a few months ago read Vineyard Christian Fellowship, has been replaced. The new sign is in the Old Mission Style, complete with a bell at the top of the sign above the words – “The Mission”. Underneath this banner is a list of the co-inhabitants of the property – The Vineyard, Servants of Christ Anglican, Young Life and Cornerstone Academy.
Of course, sharing a property isn’t unique, what is unique is that the ownership of the property has not changed. Vineyard still owns the property. The leaders of Vineyard, and pastor Arty Hart, have just had a change in the view of what that really means.
“I had been praying about God’s purpose for the building and I saw a ‘picture’ of the front of our building, but the Vineyard sign was gone,” Hart said. “In its place stood a stone sign that said ‘The Mission’.
“I then found myself on the other side of the building, near the front doors of the sanctuary. There I saw about a thousand people, some members of our congregation, some Anglican, some students of Cornerstone Academy and some Young Life leaders and youth. Again I asked, ‘God, what is this all about?’ Then I heard, ‘I gave you this building because you will share it. But it’s not about the Vineyard. It is about my mission.’”
The Vineyard of Gainesville celebrated its 20th anniversary in the fall of last year. The church began leasing the property next to Littlewood when Trinity United Methodist Church moved to a larger facility nine years ago. The Vineyard purchased the property almost seven years ago.
Hart was reluctant to share his vision for the property at first. He started by telling his wife and some of the Vineyard leaders before branching out and telling Alex Farmer, the priest of Servants of Christ, which also meets on the Vineyard property. Farmer also believed that God had led his congregation to Vineyard for more than a temporary shared space.
Servants of Christ came into existence when Farmer and most of the congregation split from the Episcopal Church in 2005. He feels his congregation has come full circle from that time of tumultuous inter-church relations to this current partnership with Vineyard.
“This is a unique relationship,” Farmer said. “We were welcomed in two years ago, not as a tenant but as a ministry to bless. Vineyard folks have cheered on our growth and success since our inception.
“To think that a church would allow another congregation to share their space, but also allow them to meet for corporate worship at almost the exact time is a beautiful example of what Christian virtue should look like. It’s enough to renew your confidence in the Church.”
On the surface, the highly contemporary Vineyard and the more traditional Servants of Christ would not have much in common. The churches’ leaders believe, though, that it is not the style of worship that is important, but who the churches are worshiping.
Hart and Farmer have been very intentional about fostering this partnership so that it will flourish. In addition to the pastors getting together to share visions and ministry ideas, the staff of both churches get together to pray for both ministries, as well as for Young Life and Cornerstone.
In a time when many outsiders see the Christian church as fractured across denominational lines, Hart and Farmer have a mission to turn that image around.
“The Mission is more than churches and ministries sharing a facility. It is a partnership,” Hart said. “Each of the ministries on our property has a distinct purpose and personality. But each serves a greater ‘Kingdom of God’ purpose.
“We envision not only our congregations and ministries, but additional ministries that will partner with us. We also see events and functions that serve our community, and demonstrate the Christian unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17, ‘…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’”