Chattanooga Times |
The Areopagus restaurant
on McCallie Avenue is open to customers 24 hours a day, six days a week. But
on the seventh day, the doors close, and the restaurant becomes the site of
the Vine Christian Community Sunday service known to its members as "critical
The Areopagus is a warm
and comfortable place, built with unfinished wood and mountain stone, and filled
with live trees and hanging plants. The stranger who wanders in on a Sunday
afternoon is greeted by smiles and feels at once accepted by the group. A member
of the community stays with him at all times, talking about the community, its
atmosphere of love and its religious beliefs.
Everyone is dressed informally -- blue jeans, T-shirts, long loose skirts --
and the women wear simple scarves upon their heads. At 5:30, a meal is served,
with the few guests taking the first place in the food line. After the meal,
members draw into a semi circle around the room, where one of the bearded young
men leads the group in song. The songs are, for the most part, simple folk tunes
with evangelical lyrics, and on this particular evening all are sung a cappella.
On certain songs, the group is divided into sections and sings a round. On others,
the women come forward and dance what seem to be east European Jewish folk dances.
The music is not planned but comes at the suggestion of various brothers and
sisters of the congregation. Occasionally there is a solo, or the introduction
of a new song. A highlight this evening is a song performed by a quartet of
young children, which diminishes to a trio when one of the performers fle
Between songs, members of the community take the opportunity to confess or "share
something" with their brothers and sisters or to "encourage them."
One young girl says she wants to encourage everyone to "turn all their
cares to Jesus Christ." A young man implores the others to remember that
the Lord is "omnipotent, wonderful, good and all powerful." Statements
often begin with a biblical quotation and end with a chorus of "Hallelujah,"
"Amen" or "praise the Lord." No plan is evident in the mass,
but attention eventually finds its way to Eddie Wiseman. An "elder"
of the church, who sits among the others and shows no sign of having authority,
except by the length and vigor of his speech. He delivers what must be considered
the sermon of the service, on the topic of frustration and anxiety. "Anyone
who thinks he can be spiritual without the church is deceived," he says
at one point. And later, along the same lines: "you cannot obey Go
He refers to Gene Spriggs, who is not present, as a "gift from God,"
and says it is "upon him that the church is built." He comments on
the way that church members completely submit themselves to Gene and the elders
and even suggests that this might be somewhat stifling to the creative growth
of the church.
Communion follows Wiseman's sermon, and then a lengthy prayer during which everyone
joins hands. They pray, among other things, for the Lord to provide them the
barn wood, electrical supplies and other goods they need for their new restaurant
on Market Street. They pray for other churches in the area, referring to one
"system of evil" and asking that people be delivered from it. They
pray for Bryan College, and Wiseman says he believes the judgment of God is
on the college and asks God to lead students and teachers away from it. They
pray for Covenant College and Temple College and pray for the souls of various
members of the Vine Church who have gone astray and ask God to lead them back
to his church. The service concludes at 10:30 p.m. more than four hours after
its beginning, and everyone is exhausted but apparently exhilarated. "That's
the best critical mass we've had in a long time, " says one smiling brother.