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Finding God in a Vineyard

01 March 2018 Written by  By Scott Purkey
Published in March 2018 Articles

I am the senior pastor of Byron’s Freedom House, which is the only Christian congregation I know of, and perhaps the only one in the country, that meets in a winery. 

Ric and Michelle’s main purpose in their Campos Family Vineyards is to use the facility as a family-friendly resource for bringing members of the community together. The heavy schedule of events at the winery provides a welcome channel for Freedom House members to become acquainted with local residents and to serve them in whatever ways we can. During large events at the winery we offer snacks and non-alcoholic beverages to children, young people, and anyone who would prefer a Dr. Pepper or Sprite to a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Last winter we conducted a coat drive for needy residents and sponsored a beverage tent serving cider and hot chocolate. 

Sports provide another way for Freedom House to get into the community. I play second base on the Freedom House softball team, which is a member of the Brentwood City league. We began last spring and were horrible; last fall we were much improved and are looking forward to opening day this spring. 

Freedom House is following the New Testament admonition to not be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit. On any Sunday morning visitors recognize that the congregation is alive and jumping with love for God and for each other. Feelings of depression, guilt, and hostility are falling away. Lives are being changed; families are being drawn together; people who have felt “lost,” sometimes for decades, are being “found.” Chains that bound people’s spirits are broken, hatred and resentment that have filled their hearts are replaced by love, and sickness and disease are being replaced by health. 

Miracles are happening on a regular basis. A woman recently came forward for prayer during her second visit. She said she was suffering with swollen and bleeding gums, plus some cavities, and was scheduled for oral surgery. Her dentist had told her if she didn’t have the surgery she would lose all the teeth in her mouth. She called the next week to report that when she came for the surgery, they examined her and found nothing. Her gums were not swollen, they were no longer bleeding, and even the cavities were filled. She said her dentist wanted to visit Freedom House and “see that place.” 

BACK STORY 

I was born August 15, 1965, and raised in the little community of Claremore, Oklahoma, which was 30 miles NE of Tulsa. Claremore was a small community and hasn’t grown much since I left. A visit to Claremore is like a voyage back through time. 

I had a wonderful childhood and was raised by a phenomenal family. My folks were strong in their faith. Mom was raised Lutheran by her Norwegian parents, so we attended morning worship at Redeemer Lutheran Church, which was a faith community with people who loved and served God with their whole hearts. My dad’s family was Pentecostal so we sometimes attended Evangel Temple. My grandmother, whom I called mams, was a devout follower of Jesus. She would teach me stories about the Bible, introduce me to Bible storybooks, and have conversations with me about her life and her faith. 

I was a good kid, but just “played the game” with religion. I had a mild rebellious streak and on some Sunday mornings while they were upstairs serving communion, I would sneak into the church kitchen and take a swig or two from the bottle of communion wine. When it came to playing games, athletics were much more important to me. I had some talent and in high school played all the sports I could including football, basketball, softball, and baseball. I played some soccer but especially loved tennis. 

Everything changed for good and forever in 1981. I was a sophomore in high 

 

 

 school and following our homecoming basketball game, two of my buddies and I crammed ourselves into the front seat of a Toyota Celica and headed for a church retreat. We had brought along a couple six-packs and were getting pretty buzzed when we failed to negotiate a turn. The front tire went into a ditch and rotated the car 90 degrees. We began sliding sideways around the curve, struck a boulder, and flipped over five or six times.

A strange thing occurred during the brief time during which the accident was taking place and I was being tossed violently up and down. Time slowed to a crawl and I watched in horror as a flame seemed to come through the floorboard, grasp hold of my right ankle, and begin to pull me towards the floor of the car that seemed to be opening to a hot place.

I was the only one injured. We should have been killed in such an accident or critically injured, at least. However, I was still alive and fully conscious. As I lay upside down in the wrecked vehicle, they got out and, rather than being grateful for their amazing deliverance, they were angry that the car had been destroyed and began kicking the door on the other side in their frustration. As I reached out of the car to try to grasp something and pull myself through the narrow gap between the crushed window frame and the ground, I felt someone firmly grab my arm and, with great strength, pull me bodily out of the car. I found myself standing alone and saw my shoe being spotted by blood dripping from my arm.

Other than my bloody arm, the three of us were miraculously uninjured and flagged down a passing automobile that gave us a ride to the retreat. When we arrived, a member of the staff gave me a lift to the local hospital where they extracted the shards of glass one piece at a time, put more than a dozen stitches into my elbow, and sent me back to the retreat. I passed the whole period of time in a shocked state, still not comprehending what I was doing.

The next day I returned home and began to spend all my free time in my room, praying desperately, and writing down scriptures that came into my mind. After five nights of seeking the face of God something happened; a sense of joy suddenly came over me, filled my heart to overflowing, and I knew I had become a different person.

Before long, everyone knew it. I became the chaplain of my high school, responsible for public prayers for school activities. I also took over as president of the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Thirty-two people attended the first meeting; 28 of them made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. By the end of the year our number had grown to more than 300, and we were given the center page in the school’s yearbook. I was also honored in the yearbook as Best All Around Person.

I worked in my father’s business. He was VP of Gould Electric with plants all over the world. There were a number of deaf employees in the warehouse who were talked down to and abused; I reached out to them and they taught me sign language. I graduated from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, in the class of 1986 with a degree in Bible and a minor in sign language.

Lynnette Miller, who was a freshman during my junior year, was also interested in sign language. She was beautiful, an incredible dresser, spiritually minded, and turned out to be a lot of fun. She was the whole package. We were married ten months after we met. That was 31 years ago. We had four kids in three years. It just kept getting better.

Following graduation, we took a ministry position as youth pastors in Springfield, Illinois. I felt that God called me to plant centers for Kingdom activities. Since then I’ve worked in a number of ministries and at a variety of locations.

Six years ago, a local minister, Bill Irwin, contacted me to come teach people in the Brentwood/Discovery Bay area about the Bible. Before long the study group had grown to a small congregation and we began holding services in Bill’s Brentwood residence. I had already started another work in Concord, and for a time was conducting Sunday morning services in Concord and evening services in Brentwood.

The next year the two churches merged as Freedom House. Our first gatherings were at Heavenly Cheesecake, which is where Chianti’s is now. We continued growing and during the next few years, kept moving to larger venues until September 25, 2016, when Freedom House conducted its first 10:00 a.m. service in the large event center at the Campos Family Vineyard.

The coming together of vineyard and congregation was no accident but rather the result of prayers and of circumstances moving together to make something beautiful happen. The vineyard owners, Ric & Michelle Campos are people of great faith. They attended the first meetings at Bill’s house. They knew we were looking for a larger location. Ric came to have a vision for the location to complement my vision for the ministry.

Ric and Michelle ended up purchasing the vineyard because, when it was still Leer Vineyards, Ric had a powerful vision while looking at an aerial photograph of the site. He suddenly saw a church in the midst of the property. The image was so clear that he immediately called Stefan Leer, who had been encouraging him to purchase the property, and said that they should pick me up and the three of us should meet with county officials and see what might be possible. It turned out that no church or any other structure of its kind could be built in the ag zone, but that it would be perfectly all right for the congregation to hold Sunday meetings in the winery’s event center.

Before they owned the place, Ric and Michelle felt a sense of godly peace whenever they drove onto the vineyard property. Michelle wrote, “The Bible says that one of God’s gifts is ‘wine to gladden the hearts of men.’ The site seemed to have a nearly sacred quality about it. We imagined that our hearts were ‘gladdened’ and that we felt the peace and the presence of God in that place.”

On the other hand, some conservative people regard wine consumption with disfavor, and certainly don’t think that drinking alcohol has any proper association with a Christian worship service. And I completely agree with them. We have some recovering alcoholics in our congregation so we don’t even use wine for communion.

I’ve been working with many start-up congregations for decades, but Freedom House is unique in my experience. Members are remarkably generous; they are serious about their faith and about serving God and the people around them. I am continually delighted with how genuine they are. They are not trying to fit into some model of how a religious person should look and act. They are not trying to be like me. As far as I know, none of them are wearing a WWJD lanyard; they are just doing what Jesus would have done. Sometimes on Sunday morning I feel that I’m among some of the greatest people on the planet.

On March 29, 7:00 p.m. local churches will gather for a special Good Friday service at the Campos winery. Come join us and find God in this vineyard with us. 

Read 858 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 March 2018 22:05
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