by Guy Page
A unique worship event called “Rally: A Cry for Vermont” will begin Sunday evening at a church in South Burlington.
The co-organizers, Pastor Mark Fay of Vibrant Church on Williston Road in South Burlington (just east of the airport) and Pastors Peter and JoAnne Fiske of the Church at Prison say “Rally” will be a gathering open to all Vermonters for testimony, repentance, sharing, ministering and singing.
“Tired of feeling beat down and hopeless? You can help or be helped,” a statement from the organizers said. “This is your chance to get out of the darkness and it is your chance to be in the Light. We will have Pastors available for comfort, guidance, confession or whatever you may need. We will have worship music, we will have fellowship.”
“This will be an opportunity for you, your family and friends to come and share,” the statement said. “We are not alone, and together we will make our Cry For Vermont heard. Many of us have watched what happened at Asbury [College, a Kentucky college where the student body has been in revival for weeks] and is now happening around the country.”
The first event will be Sunday March 12 from 5 – 8 PM. The Church will be open Monday the 13th at 7:15 – 9:15 AM.
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Few Christians in Vermont – including, for all I know, the organizers of the Rally – realize that Vibrant Church has a strong historical connection with the first Asbury Revival of 1970. This revival was mentioned in the film “The Jesus Revolution,” a biopic about the counterculture movement of the early 1970’s now playing in theaters – including the Capitol Theatre in Montpelier and Essex Cinemas. Nationwide, “The Jesus Revolution” has hit a popular nerve, with ticket sales doubling expectations.
As the closing credits rolled on opening night of “The Jesus Revolution” at Essex Cinemas, a man I know as a devout but eccentric Catholic stood up and announced the meeting on Sunday evening. Why was he (of all people) giving us this news. I don’t know. The wind blows where it will. What I do know is that the times now – with many disillusioned with society and authority – are reminiscent of the years that brought the Jesus Revolution to Vermont.
The 1970 Asbury revival influenced the Jesus Revolution in California. In the early 1970’s, a handful of bell-bottomed hippies wearing granny glasses and Jesus Love You shirts left their Jesus Revolution roots in California and opened a commune in an ugly brown apartment building at the corner of College and Pine Streets in Burlington and named it Bethel – Hebrew for ‘House of God.’ And so it was, for the five-or-so years of its colorful history.
A huge sign proclaimed Jesus Loves You from the second story. Street preachers proclaimed Jesus Loves You on the sidewalk on Church Street. A radio program, “The Rock That Never Rolls,” produced in the basement of Bethel by commune elder Dale Yancy and carried on local radio stations declared, you guessed it, Jesus Loves You.
The local religious establishment didn’t think much of them, and the opinion was at times mutual. One fine Sunday morning, Bethel even picketed the First Congregational Church on South Winooski Avenue. That’s what hippies were doing back then – living in communes and picketing the Establishment. One wonders if a young Bernie Sanders – then in and out of Burlington, himself a former Vermont communard if the stories be true – ever stood outside of Bethel and wondered if it would be fertile ground for political organizing.
Doubtful. Bethel was all about JLY. When the landlord eventually refused to renew the lease, the residents and hangers-on said the Jesus People equivalent of ‘bummer, man’ and quietly left – many finding homes and jobs in the Burlington area and a new church home at Community Bible Church – many, many years later renamed Vibrant Church. They immersed themselves in the life of the church and retained their love of activism – ministering to prisoners, the unborn, and the homeless. One former Bethel leader authored a weekly column combining news headlines and biblical prophecy. His initiative and output encouraged this editor/publisher to pursue his own vision of publishing the news as he understood it.
In the early 1970’s, the author was a Burlington teenager living on College Street five blocks north of Bethel. He visited a few times and has maintained friendships with many former residents.
Categories: Society & Culture