Davis: Vineyard pastor wants chance to earn respect of Fairway neighbors

After reading the story in this paper Wednesday about a meeting at the former Julia R. Ewan Elementary School building between residents of the Fairway neighborhood and the leadership of Vineyard Community Church, I was angry.

Why would some residents in a comfortable neighborhood be so set against a church that serves the uncomfortable?

Vineyard has a contract on the Ewan building and hopes to buy it Sept. 1 and move into the facility by year's end despite the objections of some future neighbors.

Vineyard makes no bones about intentionally helping the poor, the homeless, the marginalized. Some residents made no bones about their desire to keep that demographic out of their community.

That angered me. As a Christian, I shouldn't have allowed that emotion to surface, but I didn't really try to hold it back.

I wondered how the Rev. Kevin Clark, pastor of Vineyard, was feeling after that Tuesday meeting in which discord was not hard to find.

"I'm not angry," said Clark, who has been a minister for 19 years. "I don't know if I can calm you down, but I know for myself that I am not angry at them.

"We're never going to focus on what we are against," he said. "We know what we are for. We are for faith, hope and love. I don't care how much money you have, don't care what color you are, everybody needs faith, everybody needs hope, and everybody needs love."

While the residents' concerns about traffic are legitimate, church officials are working to ensure parking doesn't infringe on the neighborhood, Clark said. And church officials will tweak their service times on Sunday, meeting 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. instead of 10 and 11:30 a.m. to allow traffic to ease.

"We are honored to have been labeled as a growing church and as a church that cares for the poor," Clark said. "What a great label."

Though neighbors may fear he will bring in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, infringing on the safety to that neighborhood, there are no plans for that, Clark said.

He plans to start computer classes to use the former school's computer lab, parenting classes for the growing number of single mothers who live around the area and job placement programs.

First up will be painting the rooms of the building and expanding the lobby to accommodate members who want to sample the free coffee and donuts on Sunday mornings or the grilled hot dogs at Saturday evening services.

"We're not big on people coming to church and then leaving," he said.

Though he insists he isn't angry with those who attended the meeting, Clark is disappointed with what he heard.

"My disappointment stemmed from the lack of respect the church has in this current world," Clark said. "I felt naive. I guess I was living in an Andy Griffith world where the pastor of the church has a voice and there would never be a thought that a church would bring down a neighborhood but that it would only help it."

What he saw was a disrespect for the church caused by fallen pastors and ministers and by churches that are more interested in money and buildings than about saving lost sheep. "We've all dropped the ball," said Clark, whose father was a minister for 45 years.

Vineyard is about equipping disciples, he said.

"All we do on the weekend is like the halftime of the Super Bowl," Clark said, describing the mission of Vineyard. "The game is out there and we're just in the locker room," preparing members for discipleship. "That is what the church is. It is not a building."

If the church's services aren't needed in the Fairway area, they will be needed in the nearby Kenwick community, where the single mother population is greater than the state average, Clark said.

The proposed sale of the school goes before the Board of Adjustment on July 30 where the church will ask for a conditional-use permit. If it is granted, the church will move forward with the acquisition, Clark said. And then the church will work to be a good neighbor.

"I want an opportunity to earn their respect," he said.

Clark didn't cool my anger, but he did demonstrate to me that when you have a commission to fulfill, you can't lose focus no matter the obstacles. As I was leaving the parking lot in front of Vineyard's current location on Winchester Road, I noticed that the church's name was at least three times smaller than the word "Welcome."

"At this point," Clark said before I left, "we are committed to ride the train until they tell us to get off."

The next scheduled stop is July 30.

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