I moved to NW Arkansas in 2015 from very conservative NW Iowa. I was looking for a church that embraced full inclusion of women because my daughter was a pastor. Other than that I didn’t know what I wanted. Then I read an op-ed in the newspaper regarding an upcoming Fayetteville ballot issue on discrimination of the LGBTQ community. It was beautifully and compassionately written, awakening something in me that was contrary to my conservative past - that these are the basic civil rights of real people. Then I saw it was written by a local pastor and I knew I had to check out his church.
I was not yet aware of the depth of my longing for freedom and for love until I discovered Vintage Fellowship. There I found a diverse group of warm, authentic, free-thinking people who genuinely care about each other and about injustice in their community and the world. They sing songs with the words, “you belong here” and “no one should be left out” and they mean it. It is truly an intergenerational church where young and old alike learn, grow, love, and serve together. The friendships I now enjoy are deeply caring and accepting. I’ve been able to drop my mask and experience grace in action.
Vintage Fellowship is a safe place to doubt, to question, to wonder within the framework of universal core beliefs. No one will be surprised, shocked or disappointed. I began to reorder my theology and my faith in my 50’s after discovering there were other voices, other viewpoints, and other worldviews than those I had so tightly held. I felt the freedom to explore. There was no coercion, only love and support.
We are emergent in that we are constantly learning, growing and challenging restrictive belief systems in favor of greater love and inclusivity. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) At Vintage Fellowship I am free to be myself.
The 9/11 attacks brought about an economic recession that eventually ended my career in microchip manufacturing. After many months of fruitless job hunting in my native Texas, my uncle let me come stay and work with him until I found a long-term job and my own apartment.
After moving to Northwest Arkansas, I attended and later joined the Southern Baptist megachurch that my uncle and his family attended. I genuinely enjoyed and fully participated in their amazing choral and orchestral performances each Sunday. This was quite a change from my little church back in small-town Texas.
I made a concerted effort to join their “Single Adult” Sunday School Class. It did not take long to realize that the still-single late 20-somethings / early 30-somethings in the group didn’t fit in well with the rest of the church. We should have already been married and having children by now! That would have been SO much easier to reconcile and fit in with their scriptural narrative and even church ministry structure. I made a few lasting friendships there, but it was not long before I became disillusioned. I eventually stopped attending.
My co-worker and close friend Aaron Marshall asked me if I would help his friend’s family with a move to the area. I fondly remember helping to unload the Ryerse’s belongings into a storage unit in Springdale. The Ryerse kids were so small then! Aaron told me about their vision of a better church - a more authentic, New Testament-based church. I was intrigued!
When Vintage first started, they hosted their services in a movie theater at the NWA Mall. That meant setting up and tearing down all the lighting and sound equipment, sometimes with only minutes to spare before the Sunday matinees started. I had years of experience with sound equipment, so I was glad to help until they got on their feet.
I had attended church services and Sunday School weekly my entire life, so I found myself surprised at how much I got out of their messages. Robb and Aaron brought fresh insight and perspective to the stories I assumed I already knew. The teachings were “smart”. There was no forced emotion or coercive badgering, just wisdom from the Bible that for the first time really connected with me. I was also hooked by Vintage’s focus and intentional outreach. We were not trying to recruit families from other local churches – drawing from a finite supply of people already committed to attending and supporting another group. We did fun things like pumping gas for people and paying for their gas. We mowed lawns for families in an underserved area in our community, and we handed out candy bars to
drivers waiting at a busy intersection. We were reaching out to the community at large.
Vintage Fellowship quickly became a safe place for people and families who were struggling – people who could not keep wearing their masks and pretending that everything was alright. “Authenticity” was a goal. People had permission to share their hurts and express their doubts. I do not think that I was personally looking for a place like that at the beginning, but over the years, I have found comfort and support during my own messy seasons.
My assignment - retell life at Vintage Fellowship from my perspective, my experience. Look back, view the path that leads to the place where I now stand, see the people who are gathered around that path as guides, prophets, teachers, visionaries.
We experiment. We experience, not just discuss. We visit the sacred places for Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Orthodox. We clean toilets in spaces that are invisible. We plant trees in the rocky Arkansas crust. We welcome a refugee family to begin a new chapter of their life. We gather as queer, cis, searching. We learn to listen, expand into the uncomfortable, join in the sacred in all. We love because love wins.
We tie macrame nets rather than brick fences. Rollins, Tickle, McLaren, Greer stretch our understanding of the times in which we live. Our own youth tell their stories of journey. Our siblings speak of ministry in the mundane. We hear from the invisible and marginalized. Protest Art, sex reimagined, Job embodied. All because love wins.
We steal a conversation with a couple who have adult children. On a bridge, in a quiet moment. They speak comfort to us as we worry for our young son who will soon be married. They assure us that love wins.
We sit through a series of conversations, of discussions, of teachings about the ever increasing gathering of people into the grace of God. Outside is our perspective, inside is God’s embrace. A dear loved one comes to us expressing her love for another woman, a woman who feels alienated in their body, a man at the core, a man that she will marry. We embrace them both as Love wins.
We mourn in the darkness of loss, as two giants, mirrors of wisdom, givers of self, lovers of letters, one a healer the other a teacher, both, too young to depart this life leaving spouses, children, grandchildren, separately slip away. The funerals pull at every fiber of our soul. Because we are knit together as community, family. Love wins.
We welcome a visitor to service, a chance encounter with one who speaks healing to wounded hearts and emotions. A conversation, an exchange of contact, not forgotten. A day comes when the empty nest feels very empty, and an outside perspective needed. Vintage encourages seeking help for frayed emotions, reconnecting relationships. The visitor deeply knows the Vintage perspective. Therapy exposes depths where light never shined and heights where light blinds. This connection holds me tight. Love wins.
We bring in a trough for watering cattle. A manger of sorts where Christ hovers over the water. Rebirth. A Sunday of celebration. Kids excited to be, and adults re-introduced to a Christ who welcomes, loves all with no condition. All belong. Love wins.
We practice Re-creation. Post-Easter celebrations, Holiday parties (including Santa shorts), kickball challenges with a twist, women coffee, men dine, Razorback b-ball, movie night. Enjoying each other’s presence since love wins.
My husband and I were aware when the -new church with an unusual name- was being planted in our community. We watched from afar as we were already committed to our then current church. I was curious every time I saw them doing something completely unique and out of the box all while not tooting their own horn. By the time our own church community closed its doors we had two young children and we had a relationship with the leaders of Vintage and felt excited about exploring this church we’d been watching, but we also needed some time to just breathe. Vintage gave us space to heal and grow in our bruised and hurting season.
We didn’t know exactly what we wanted, but knew we didn’t want a show and we wanted authenticity from the leaders as much as the rest of the community.
We found a spiritual community who was more interested in a conversational type of Christianity instead of forcing dogma. We found a place that doesn’t shy away from talking about what is happening in our world at any given time. We found a version of Christianity that pushes us to think outside of every box we had been taught to fit in. I found footing in the teaching that Jesus’ wide embrace made and makes people nervous, but it is indeed wide. We found a church where many bond over shared brokenness more than shared beliefs, which is echoed in how they organize their beliefs with concentric circles.
We found freedom to ask questions and a church that could hold space for them and would not offer trite answers. We found Vintage to be a place which explores a wide spectrum of experiences without predetermined conclusions.
Here, my kids are valued for who they are. They have a place where they learn to value every human and get to freely experience authentic acceptance as they live through the pains of growing up. Because of Vintage they have an unbelievably beautiful support system.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This brings new meaning in the environment where we bring our whole selves. We get to bring both our hearts and our minds to the table.