For Utah resident Carol Jordana, the Seventh-day Adventist Church wasn't always a place she felt she could invite friends to attend.
Carol (pictured left) grew up in a 1950’s Adventist household in Ferndale, Washington. She worried that her sins would keep her out of Heaven and that she had to pray for forgiveness constantly to be sure of her salvation. She was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church at nine-years-old, but as a young adult she left the faith entirely.
Some years later, Carol met Jonn Jordana and before long, they began to date. Jonn moved into Carol’s house to live with her and her young daughter, Stephanie. Carol began to worry when she found that Stephanie had begun to struggle in school. Carol and Jonn wondered if they should move her to a different school. There was a Seventh-day Adventist school nearby, and even though they didn’t attend church, they decided to try it out.
The school proved to be the change Stephanie needed, and Carol and Jonn loved the teachers. One in particular, Esther Littrell, was especially kind. When she visited with Carol and Jonn at their home she never passed judgment on their marital situation or made them feel uncomfortable. One afternoon Littrell stopped by the house and told them she was having a Revelation seminar and asked if they would like to attend.
“We didn’t really like the idea,” said Carol. “But because it was her, we said we would go.”
Jonn was fascinated by the meetings. He had grown up Catholic and most of what was discussed he had never heard before. Carol, on-the-other-hand, had grown up Adventist, and was quite familiar with it.
After the seminars ended, Carol began to feel the desire to turn back to God. So when Littrell approached Carol and Jonn and told them a man named Joe Cruz was in town having seminars of his own, and that he was the author of the Bible studies they had just completed, they agreed to attend the meetings. Cruz had traveled all over the world studying different religions and Jonn had a lot of questions that he hoped Cruz could answer.
They attended the first meeting, and then the next, and then next. Each night they got ready separately for the meetings without speaking to each other or planning it. Then they would look at each other and say, “Are you ready to go?”
“We were pretty impressed after the first night, and after that, we didn’t want to miss a meeting,” said Carol.
Near the end of the seminars Cruz made an altar call.
“We were sitting in the back of the church and Jonn literally ran down the aisle,” Carol said. “I had to run to keep up with him! We both wanted to give our lives to Christ.”
A few days later Cruz came over to visit Jonn and Carol’s house to check up on them, and was pleased with what he saw.
“Jonn, you’ve stopped smoking, and you’ve stopped drinking…” he looked at the pair. Then Cruz began to pace the floor, not knowing what to say.
Carol looked at Jonn, “He wants us to get married!”
The two had been discussing a summer wedding, but suddenly they didn’t want to wait. Four days later, on Saturday April 19, 1986 the two got baptized. A couple of hours later they were married.
When the Jordanas moved to Utah in 2002 they began trying out different churches with the intent of finding an Adventist church home. Eventually they settled on the Ogden Seventh-day Adventist Church. Carol and Jonn attended the church for many years and became friends with many God-fearing individuals, but it felt like something was missing.
“It’s not the kind of place where you could say ‘Come to church with me!’ to your neighbors. There are a lot of good people there, but it’s pretty conservative. If I brought someone tatted up or wearing a lot of jewelry they would probably not feel comfortable," Carol said. "And that’s where the idea for a new church came from.”
Based on the principle that all are welcome, Carol and Jonn began organizing a group named The Community Vineyard that met the Ogden Adventist Church in the afternoons. They focused on the gospel commission found in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” The Jordanas hoped they could demonstrate God’s love to those who attended, and that in time, the knowledge of God's love would help transform lives.
“When somebody falls in love with Jesus, they don’t have to know ‘well you can’t do that’ or ‘you have to quit that!’” said Carol. “It’s not our place to tell somebody when they have to quit doing anything. That’s between them and God.”
Musicians lead worship during a Christmastime service at The Community Vineyard.
Carol and Jonn try to remember their "First Love" experience with Jesus, and attempt to create a learning environment where others can also feel comfortable loving God.
“I think we would be overwhelmed if when we first came to God, He pointed out all the things we shouldn’t do. God does point these things out, but when He knows we can handle it,” Carol said. “If we are truly serving God, we will be willing to give up what He asks of us, but in His time, not ours.”
Starting a church came with its own sets of challenges. After a year in the Ogden Adventist Church, the group moved to find its own location, as the church was too big for their needs. They also realized many recruits were intimidated coming into an official church building. The Community Vineyard then moved to a small building that they had to set up and tear down each week before and after the service. It was not long before they outgrew that space.
The church is organized by a core group of seven individuals that take it upon themselves to plan services, fund events, and continue community outreach. It costs approximately $3000 each month to fund the active, little church.
The Community Vineyard meets for a one-hour service each Saturday that includes welcoming guests, praying, singing, reading Scripture, listening to a sermon, and a special feature each week. They often do not ask for an offering because they don’t want guests to feel uncomfortable if they do not have money to give. Instead, there is a box set up in the back where people can give as they feel impressed to contribute–and they often do.
Carol noted that isn’t unusual to see people come to services in their jeans and t-shirts, and sometimes these ensembles are the best clothes attendees have.
“We try to treat everybody the same, no matter how they look,” said Carol. “We try to treat everybody like Jesus would.”
The Community Vineyard baptisms take place in a nearby body of water.
Community Vineyard members try not to use Adventist jargon in their services that might confuse visitors, like “Happy Sabbath” or “The pen of inspiration.”
The biggest challenge The Community Vineyard faces is finding the time to complete everything the group wants to accomplish. The church provides a local food pantry, hosts potlucks after church, and plans holiday parties for church and community members.
“We invite everybody we can to our holiday meals and we get a number of homeless people,” said Carol. “We don’t just want to feed people physically, but spiritually too. When they come to our meals we then invite them to attend our church services.”
In 2011, The Community Vineyard reached out to the Nevada-Utah Conference to find out if they could become an official entity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After filling out a lot of paperwork and hosting a representative from the conference office, The Community Vineyard was granted money to help them grow and expand. However, the little church is responsible for continuing to pay for their maintenance, which comes out of the core groups’ pockets. Their pastor Matthew Hallam, who has a theology degree from Southern Adventist University and a Master's of Divinity degree from Andrews University, is also paid by the group.
The Community Vineyard differs from many Adventist churches in that if focuses exclusivelyon on Christ and the Bible instead of placing an additional emphasis on Ellen White’s writings.
Each year The Community Vineyard organizes and executes a mission trip abroad. They’ve gone to India, Thailand, Costa Rica, Albania and the Philippines where they build churches, host Vacation Bible Schools, and offer medical care. In November a group of twenty-two went to the Philippines where they provided nearly twenty site-saving and facial reconstructive surgeries to locals for free.
They are planning to be in Brazil for their next mission trip later this year.
Currently The Community Vineyard has around 35 members and is always working toward expanding further into their community.
“We got our name The Community Vineyard from the idea that Christ is the vine and we are the branches. We try to connect people to Him, and that’s what we’re doing!” said Carol. “Working to connect people to Christ.”
Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6742