Posts Tagged ‘brownsville revival school of ministry’

Brownsville Assembly of GodLast week it was reported that Brownsville Assembly of God, former home to the historic Brownsville Revival, is experiencing harsh financial woes. In the years since the revival tapered off, regular Sunday attendance at Brownsville has fallen to about eight hundred. During the hey day of the revival, nightly services were so packed that the church built an overflow sanctuary in order to hold the multiple thousands of attendees. Now the overflow is used as a gym and storage area.

Currently Brownsville Assembly of God is sitting on around six and a half million dollars of debt, most of which was accrued during the revival on projects relating to the revival. In the years since, the leadership that accrued that debt has moved on, and has left a trail of hardship in their wake.

So how did it get to this point? Was there wide-spread corruption from the revival leadership?

I was there almost from the beginning. I was there during the infamous Pensacola New Journal articles and subsequent responses. There was little talk of money during those days. Of course, as it is with almost all churches, there was some money talk (tithes and offerings), but it was never an obsession, and was almost the polar opposite of the ever-so-popular prosperity gospel. Steve Hill, the headliner of the revival (if you would), refused to accept a salary from the church. He lived off of donations given through his ministry. As such, once a week John Kilpatrick (the pastor at the time) would call for a special offering that would be donated to Steve Hill Ministries. Dr. Michael Brown, as far as I am aware, lived off of book royalties, donations through his ICN Ministries, and possibly a small salary as President of Brownsville Revival School of Ministry.

However, even though corruption is an unlikely culprit, there were some questionable choices. First of all, in a highly localized revival, the leadership team made the decision to start traveling around the nation to ‘set America ablaze.’ This obviously put a strain on church finances. Not only did it have to pay for plane tickets and travel expenses for gears, but because John Kilpatrick was afraid of flying, an expensive coach bus was purchased for his travel needs.

Kilpatrick now claims to not remember much about the financial situation then, and there is validity to that claim. The leadership team was working around the clock for most of a five-year period of time. They were exhausted, so I wouldn’t expect him to remember the details. But, that exhaustion may have led to poor decision making as well.

Though financial mishandling is unquestionably one of the culprits of the current situation, I do not believe it to be the main one. The revival was a world-famous movement. People came from around the world, literally, just to spend a day or two there. It touched the world, yet it left almost no positive impact on the community, which left them with a small fraction of attendees once the visitors stopped coming.

When I was there, the neighborhoods surrounding Brownsville were poor, run-down blocks. Imagine living in a house with no roof next door to a house with an amazing roof. Then imagine that your neighbor has a delivery of lumber and shingles sent to his house one day, and he re-decks and re-shingles his entire roof, while you still have no roof. This is the impact that the revival had on Pensacola. Instead of taking that passion (and finances) and reaching out to their neighbors, they bought out many of their neighbors (and the ones I’ve heard talk about it say that the ambassadors of the church were not too graceful in their offers), tore down the houses, and built parking lots. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhoods were largely ignored by the church.

Greater Pensacola was ignored by the church as well. The weekend evangelism teams were not out to get to know their city and build a relationship. They went out to fulfill what they viewed as a duty to walk up to random strangers and nicely tell them that if they didn’t know Jesus they were going to hell.

I’m sad to see Brownsville in the midst of financial hardship. Even though I personally and no longer a fan of institutionalized church, others call it their home and it works for them. I do hope they can pull through, and they are now turning toward the right path. They recognize their lack of impact on the community, and are now getting involved. They have begun offering day care services, computer training, GED classes, and the like. These are real, tangible needs of the community. In the process, if they are able to show them the love of God, then awesome.

brsmI’ve spent a good deal of time in this series pointing out the flaws in myself and my perceived flaws of Brownsville, and for me it has been a necessary part of my growing period, but there were a lot of good things about my time there as well. I’ve already talked about the community aspect, and though that was not always perfect either, it is the best sense of community I’ve had during any time of my life. The only thing that has come close was our group of friends we had while in Monterey, California for language training with the Navy.

The focus of the Brownsville Revival and the school was relationship. This focus started me on a journey that has never ceased. I have a different, perhaps deeper, definition now of relationship with God, but this is where it started. It’s as if my soul is a guitar and at some point an everlasting chord was struck. In music you have consonance and dissonance. Consonance is harmony – resonance. Dissonance is disharmony, like a child banging a piano during Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ When that chord was struck inside of me the idea of relationship resonated with me. It felt right.

If you’ve ever tuned a guitar you know what perfect resonance feels like. Not just sounds like, but FEELS like. When your tuner is playing a perfect low-E, and you get your guitar to that perfect low-E, it literally warbles. You can feel it on your finger if it is close enough to the string, you can feel it in your inner ear, and if it’s loud enough you can feel it in your chest. That’s what the spirit of the message of Brownsville did for me, and still does. All of the politics and back-biting aside, it still resonates with me.

Over the years I’ve learned to focus on that inner chord instead of my own mind. I love learning, and I know it’s important, but it means nothing if I’m not true to myself. Because of this, there are things that I know to be true for me for which others call me a heretic, and I’m fine with that. I have to feel for resonance.

The thing that hurts the most is that there is so much dissonance coming from the Church, and I’ve willfully perpetrated it in the past, but those few years in Pensacola were years of harmony. Even in times of struggle, I was always close to that chord, and it was never hard to find resonance. Perhaps a prayerful walk through the woods, curling up with a good book, or jamming with some friends.

I left Pensacola during a time of dissonance – not only in the school but in my own personal life, and I lived in that dissonance for years. I tried the same routines (going to church, reading the bible, etc.), but they weren’t working, because I had ceased to be true to myself. Part of it was guilt. Guilt is the greatest cause of dissonance in the human soul. Somewhere around 2005 or 2006 I was able to finally come to terms with my guilt, and that started me on the process of rediscovering that chord. The night I found it again, I wept, and it didn’t come through the traditional means.

Inside of me that chord never changes. Instead, I am constantly changing to create a better resonant quality. All I can say is thank you to Brownsville for striking that chord in me (or at very least revealing that the chord was in me).

 

Jam SessionIf you haven’t read Part IV, here it is.

Mike, Jeff, and Aaron were great guys, but I needed to live closer to work. I would normally get home from revival services at about 1 AM, and had to be back up at four in order to walk to work. I’d work until ten, which gave me just enough time to walk home, shower, and leave with Mike for school at noon. After school it was time for church again. I was exhausted.

Glen and Will, whom I had met during classes, started talking about getting a place together. Even though moving made the most sense to me, I struggled with making the decision. I have always been loyal to a fault. To this day I still find it very difficult to accept job offers (even for greater pay) if I’m with another company (even if that company sucks). So, in considering moving, I felt as if I was abandoning my friends.

I struggled for almost a month, but finally made the decision to move in with Glen and Will at the Fairfield Villa Apartments, which were much closer to school and work.

This is where it all really began for me.

I’m going to try to elucidate my feelings here, but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do them justice.

My experiences at Fairfield Villas are the most important things I have held onto from my days at BRSM. It was community. True, beautiful, amazing community.

A lot of us from the school lived there. At one point the complex as almost exclusively BRSM students. The complex was broken up into enclaves, and ours formed a community.

How to describe it?

Spontaneity.

Intuition.

Going next door to borrow sugar could turn into an all  night prayer meeting. Stopping in for coffee could result in dinner and a jam session.

The mere twang of a guitar string would bring people from all corners of the complex. Someone else with a guitar. Another person with a jambe.

An outdoor BBQ was a whole enclave affair, and some nights you might find some of the girls apartments holding balcony concerts (complete with lip-syncing and aluminum foil headset microphones). I married one of those girls.

There were woods behind the complex, and many of us would go into them to pray. Some mornings it looked like a scene from a zombie movie. A bunch of slowly walking people, listing from side to side.

But it was beautiful.

Group dinners. Impromptu discussions.

I miss it so much. I’m going to talk more about BRSM before I move on, but community is what I truly miss.

That sense of togetherness. Oneness.

And it’s so much more important for me that it be in my living environment. Church can offer a sense of community, but the true beauty of it comes when you live near each other and open your lives to each other.

 

BRSMIf you haven’t read Part III yet, here it is.

The school was everything I had hoped it to be. It was so richly diverse in so many ways. There were recent high school graduates, scholars, pastors, felons. Multi-ethnicity was cherished, and denominations meant nothing.

The classes were intense. An accounting major goes to school to learn how to crunch numbers for other people. A business management major learns things that will help him run a business. But at BRSM, we felt that we were being given the keys to the universe. And not in a  cultish way. There was never any of the “agree or be banished” mentality. Bob Gladstone would stand up and just imagine what it would be like after death –  flying around the universe and seeing other worlds, interacting with other creations (the angels, the creatures that form the elders), and even just seeing entirely new colors that are not on our viewable spectrum.

And yet things were also heavily regulated. First semester students were not allowed to date. You had to go to church a certain amount of times per week. Then there were they Ushers (a churchy term for bouncers in this case). They were there to make sure things were going as they should be. A girl was wearing a shirt that was too revealing? Send her home to change. Someone needs to leave in the middle of the class? Block the door and ask where they’re going.

I could have sat with a group of friends and told them that I had been thinking that God was going to bring a hurricane to destroy the strip clubs in the city, and people would have listened to me, but I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts to school.

There was also such a sense of hierarchy there. It was stifling. We were taught that we, teachers and students alike, were all equal in God, but there was a clear authority structure, and real consequences for going against it. For instance, missing class because you were up late the previous night finishing a paper could get you a call from the Pastoral Care department. Getting married in the middle of a semester (instead of between semesters, which was the only allowed time for weddings) would get you kicked out of school, but another couple could possibly stay in school if they’d had premarital sex, as long as they were repentant (true story with no names involved).

I got a job at a McDonald’s that was three miles down the road from my place with Mike, Jeff, and Aaron, and although Mike and Jeff (the only two with cars) really were great guys, neither of them was going to wake up at 4:45 AM to get me to my opening shift – the only shift they had available for me. So I walked (Mike took me the first few times, but that didn’t last too long).

Pensacola is a beach town. Windy. Those were not fun walks, and I started looking for a closer place to live.

I found it with Glen and Will (and later Damien).

Next time I’ll talk about the Fairfield Villas (the nostalgia is already flooding me).

BRSMIf you haven’t read Part II yet, here it is.

I’ve come to realize that I cannot tell my story unless I am willing to be completely candid. I have to be honest about how I feel. Even in cases where I do not mention people by name, they will know I am talking about them. I will be respectful but honest.

I had been accepted into Brownsville Revival School of Ministry (BRSM), and one of the people at my church knew another guy from the area who had started the previous semester (the pioneer semester of the school), so I rode with him.

Mike’s story, I later learned, was one of the common stories coming out of BRSM. A rebellious kid who got involved in drugs and got in trouble with the law had gotten saved at the revival and now wanted to change the world. I lived with Mike for my first four months, and my other three roommates had similar stories.

I felt inferior.

I’d been a Goody Two Shoes all my life. How was my story just as compelling as theirs? Being saved from mediocrity just didn’t seem as cool as being saved from heroin addiction or something like that.

Inferiority ended up being the theme of my time at BRSM. I knew then, as I am very well aware now, that I shouldn’t be comparing myself to others, but it was so hard to do when everyone else was comparing themselves to others, and comparing others to others. The school was supposed to be a place of no cliques, which sounded like heaven to a socially awkward nerd like me, but that didn’t exactly work out.

I did have some amazing friends though. It started with my initial roommates – Mike, Jeff, and Aaron.

I was the contentious one of the group. I was smart enough to know I was smart, so I always looked for ways to debate or undermine someone else. Like I said, I was a jerk all wrapped up in a holy blanket. Don’t me wrong though. I was also a polite and loyal friend, I was just argumentative. Jeff called me a pseudo-intellect once, and I think it’s the most honest, and accurate, thing anyone has ever said to me.

Jeff was the experienced one. He was older than the rest of us (not too much older, but enough to count), and he’d been in and out of church between bouts with drugs and alcohol. I have always respected Jeff. He’s much wiser than he thinks he is.

Aaron was the newbie of the group. If I remember correctly, he had only been a Christian for a few days, perhaps a few weeks. In an instant during one of the revival services that he was dragged to he had gone from hating God (not disbelieving, but actually not liking a god he believed in) to loving God and wanting to go into the ministry.

To me Mike was the most passionate of the three of us. Oh, Jeff and Aaron were very enthusiastic, and they were passionate, but Mike would sometimes lock himself in his closet for hours and play the same riffs on his guitar while just getting lost in prayer. It was beautiful.

We were expected to attend four revival services a week, and a Sunday morning church service. I may remember this incorrectly, but I think when I first started there the church was having nightly services every night of the week, but at some point the leadership decided to take Monday nights off. For those who were supported by parents, benefactors, or their churches, there was some free time, but for those who had to work, there was little. They either worked in the morning before school, or on the nights they did not have revival. There were a few who did not make their weekly quota of revival services because they had to work. These people were reprimanded by school leadership. And how did they know this information? There was no badge in system at the church (though there was at the school). The knew because people told. The focus on obedience and holiness bread a culture of narcs in the guise of concern. The conversation would sound something like this:

Sir, I’m really concerned about Billy. He badged in at school yesterday, but then left because he had a doctors appointment (or, ‘he watched TV at a friends house the other day,’ ‘he has been playing video games,’ ‘he went into a female’s apartment the other day; it was just to help catch  bug, but you know how temptation can hit you’). I just really want to make sure he’s doing fine with the Lord.”

I’m not kidding. It really was like this at times. I said I would be candid, with both the good and the bad, and there you go.

Next time we’ll talk more about the school.