Word of God (community)

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The Word of God is an ecumenical, charismatic, missionary Christian community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The community began in 1967 as an evangelistic outreach to students at The University of Michigan. Initially the group was made up of Catholics, but expanded to include Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, and Christians of the free church tradition.[1]

Origins 1967-1976[edit]

The Word of God was founded in 1967 by four young Catholics, Ralph Martin and Stephen Clark (formerly involved in the Cursillo Movement office in Lansing, Michigan) and Jim Cavnar and Gerry Rauch who were involved in Charismatic renewal work at the University of Notre Dame.[2]:p.80 They came to carry out evangelism in Ann Arbor, Michigan after their encounter with the Catholic Charismatic movement at Duquesne University that year.[2]:p.10,80[3]

The men began having prayer meetings in their apartment near the University of Michigan’s main campus with four people.[citation needed] The meetings began to grow and soon there was a sizable group coming to every meeting. They moved to Saint Mary's Church in Ann Arbor to accommodate the growing numbers. By 1973 the numbers had grown to 1000.[citation needed] They started to organize the gathering into groups of people to meet together. As meetings grew so did their venues. Soon there were many meetings throughout the week. Membership had grown to 3000 by 1976.[citation needed]

Community Life[edit]

The members of the community, in many cases, lived in common together in houses. There were houses for married couples and houses for single men or women. They also had dorm households at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.[2]:p.114-115 The different households began to be split up into different “districts.”

Members of the community attended Sunday morning church, a weekly district prayer meeting, and a monthly city-wide prayer meeting. Many families home-schooled their children and the community also had its own school. Spanking children was encouraged as a form of discipline. Adult members of the community each had a "spiritual leader" who was another member of the community. A married woman's "spiritual leader" was her husband. A single woman's "spiritual leader" was typically a married woman. A single man's "spiritual leader" was typically a married man.

National and Global Expansion[edit]

As their influence grew they soon began to create communities in other areas. An international association of charismatic communities was created in 1983 called “Sword of the Spirit.”[2]:p.87 When it began it included communities in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Philippines, Great Britain, Austria, and Belgium.[citation needed] As of 2009, it has over 60 associated communities.[4]

Fellowships[edit]

In 1979 The Word of God created four denominational subgroupings or “fellowships” to help people live out aspects of their faith they could not live in a strictly interdenominational setting. The four fellowships were the Catholic Fellowship of the Word of God (now Christ the King Catholic Church), Cross and Resurrection Lutheran, Covenant Presbyterian, and Emmaus Fellowship (now Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor).[2]:p.86

Servant Publications[edit]

A publishing house affiliated with the Community, Servant Publications, published works by contemporary Catholic and Evangelical authors, including community members Bert Ghezzi, Stephen Clark, and Ralph Martin.[5] Around two million songbooks in the series Songs of Praise were circulated.[citation needed] These presented songs used in charismatic renewal prayer groups, many written by members of the Word of God Community.[6] Servant Publications ceased operations in 2003.[5]

New Covenant Magazine[edit]

The community published a magazine called New Covenant to teach and guide the charismatic movement and to coordinate its national activities.[7]

The Cult Question[edit]

In the 1980s allegations that The Word of God was practicing too much control over its members prompted leadership of both the Roman Catholic Church, and The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod to send teams to investigate the community and determine if what they were teaching was orthodox.[citation needed] Neither investigations concluded that the community was teaching heresy, or warranted the denotation of a cult.[citation needed] In 1989, a coalition of 7 groups led a boycott of Domino's Pizza due to the connection between Tom Monaghan and the Word of God.[8] In the 1990s, students at MIT protested that the (then)-Domino's CEO used company funds to finance the cult.[9]

The Split[edit]

In 1990 the community split over proposals to seek a status that would allow greater local autonomy from "Sword of the Spirit". The Word of God community adopted the proposals, and a faction led by Stephen Clark organized itself as a separate "Washtenaw Covenant Community" (now "Word of Life"), retaining full affiliation with "Sword of the Spirit".[2]:p.90-92

Mission Christ[edit]

In the late 1990s the Word of God began a youth outreach in the Washtenaw county area called Mission Christ.[10] Mission Christ began as a weekly meeting, but soon spread to include meetings at many of the local high schools and Universities, including: Huron High School (Alpha Omega), Pioneer High School (Pioneers for Christ), Ypsilanti High School, Father Gabriel Richard High School, Dexter High School (Genesis), Eastern Michigan University (Mission Christ Outreach), Concordia College, Washtenaw Community College, and the University of Michigan.[citation needed]

These groups became a source of controversy between the years 2000 and 2004 under the leadership of John Luton.[citation needed] There were two lawsuits filed by individuals against their schools over issues of discrimination against Christians.[citation needed] The first was filed by Betsy Hansen against Pioneer High School after her group, Pioneers for Christ, was allegedly barred from discussion in a forum on homosexuality during the schools diversity fair.[citation needed] The second lawsuit was filed by John Luton against Washtenaw Community College after his group was denied official group status over issues of free speech.[citation needed] In both cases they were represented by attorneys at the Thomas More Law Center.[citation needed] The Hansen case was featured on The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity and Colmes.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Word of God Community". 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Thomas J. Csordas (2001). Language, Charisma, and Creativity: Ritual Life in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Palgrave Macmillan. 
  3. ^ Bord & Faulkner. 1983. The Catholic charismatics. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 11.
  4. ^ "The Sword of the Spirit Communities Worldwide". 
  5. ^ a b "Servant Publications Folds". Publishers Weekly. 2003-10-20. 
  6. ^ Songs of Praise, Combined Edition. Servant Publications. ISBN 0-89283-173-1. 
  7. ^ "A People of Peace Community". 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ http://tech.mit.edu/V111/N18/birnby.18o.html
  10. ^ "MissionChrist". 

Further reading[edit]