As we give thanks and look back on the Lord’s working with us in covenant community in Ann Arbor over the past 50 years, we can say with the Psalmist “Come and hear all who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.” (Psalm 66:16).
Whether we’ve been here from the first charismatic prayer meeting (which began in 1967), the first community covenant commitments made (September and November 1970), and many other covenant commitments made by people joining us over the past 50 years, we’ve all had the same experience. We can each recall how the Lord led us to covenant community, how he had people speak words from the Lord that were formed just for each of us, and how his Spirit made us want to be with such people in community together. And we know how the Spirit revealed to us how close God wanted to be with us together as a people. Maybe someone gave a prophecy to the whole group that we knew was especially for us. Maybe the Spirit brought us to see our sins so that we could really see his mercy. Maybe he had someone speak a word of knowledge or wisdom that no one could know except for you and God. Maybe he did it suddenly in our baptism of the Holy Spirit, and maybe he showed it to us as we lived out our “Yes” in the months that followed.
However God chose to call each of us, we know it was specifically for us, and when we said yes, we knew that he was calling us to a life of faithfulness. And now 50 years later, we witness God’s faithfulness to uphold that covenant. So let me say, “Come and hear me tell you what he has done for me.”
I wasn’t present at the first covenant commitment ceremony in 1970 because I was stationed at that time on a U.S. Navy Vessel at sea. But I was present at the first charismatic prayer meeting held in Ann Arbor in 1967 and I experienced God preparing us over the next 2 years to want to choose him above all else. Right from the start he showed us that it was not what we did that mattered as much as joining him in what he was doing. I remember visiting various local churches andpeople’s homes in those 2 years to share what God was doing to bring renewal through new life in the Spirit (being baptised in the Holy Spirit), spiritual gifts, and Christian community. And I would often see or hear someone respond with yearning that they too wanted that closeness to God.
As the first Thursday night prayer meetings grew from 12 people in November of 1967 to hundreds over the following year – many came from Michigan, Ohio, and even Canada! – we “regular” attendees who lived in Ann Arbor felt the need to begin meeting on an additional night of the week to have a chance to focus on our own spiritual growth and worship of the Lord. A few of us also met together outside of these prayer meetings to seek the Lord for what he wanted to do with us all as a local charismatic group.
When I graduated from the University of Michigan, I immediately went into the U.S. Navy as my friends in Ann Arbor continued their weekly prayer meetings. One day on my ship, the captain sent word that I had a ship-to-shore radio phone call. As I went to answer it I thought, “This must be something big.” because the only other calls I was aware of was when the Admiral told us he was helicoptering out to inspect our ship at sea, and when we were instructed to stay out at sea to ride out a hurricane. It was someone from the Ann Arbor prayer group calling to let me know that God was inviting them to bind themselves together to him in something called a “Covenant,” and could I pray with them that we would understand what it all means and be able to respond to it. I never forgot how seriously God took that offer to make a commitment to follow his covenant with us. My unusual long distance call led to a long distance prayer, and the prayer group was able to accept God’s invitation 50 years ago and make the first public commitments to a common way of life together in covenant Christian community.
After I completed my time in the navy, I returned to Ann Arbor and was able to publicly affirm my own formal commitment to that same way of life in Christian community. The community was much bigger than when I left. And it had adjusted as needed to care for the growing number of people by establishing small groups, one on one pastoral support, and formal leaders chosen to coordinate this care.
The community asked me to serve in leadership along with the other community coordinators, and I worked together for many years with other men and women called by the community to lead and give pastoral support. So I was able to experience first hand, during both easy and difficult times, the character of these people. Although not everything they did worked the way they wanted, I never had any reason to doubt their intention to do what they thought would help build God’s kingdom. Over the years, we listened to the Spirit, sought input, worked for consensus, and asked forgiveness when needed. It reminded me that if we want to remain a community committed to doing God’s will, we need community members and leaders who always look to the Holy Spirit and pray that God always stays very close to us as it says in Psalm 80:17, ” Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you.”
God did many things with us over these 50 years – including running an ecumenical Christian school, publishing New Covenant magazine, composing and distributing our own worship music records (LP records to Cassette tapes to CD’s to MP3’s), and having community members sell their homes and buy houses to cluster together in neighborhoods. It still amazes me that when my family sold our house to build a new one in a cluster of community houses, I had groups of men come every night for 2 weeks to put multiple coats of paint over the fresh dry wall of my 2 story house.
And the Lord spoke freely in prophecy to us and continues to support us this way to this day in the midst of the worldwide pandemic. So many of the prophetic words we received were meant to encourage us and remind us of what we already knew – God’s love and care for us. Yet, like a good father, he also warned us about harder things to come.
I remember at one of our community anniversary celebrations, Bruce Yocum gave a prophetic word during the anniversary prayer meeting. The Lord said he had lifted us up as a community and he would raise us even higher. But the Lord also warned that there would come a time when we would experience being cast down to the ground and trampled upon, and that he would raise us up again if we only remained faithful to him through it all. It was a dramatic and stunning word. But like many other prophetic words from the Lord, it was tucked away in the back of our minds because we couldn’t imagine what it could mean – until it happened. I often think how hard or even impossible it would be to try to do God’s work without God’s word and guidance. It surely is an example of how God equips and leads us as a people in exercising the spiritual gifts he gives us.
There are many other important things that God has taught us through our experience of community life together and the working of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Some examples include the hidden undergirding over all the years of the community intercession team who regularly prayed, fasted, and did spiritual warfare, the hard work of single mothers andfathers raising their children alone, the encouragement and strength we got from honoring each other publically, the joy we experienced from wholesome speech and entertainment, the unifying force of our common Lord’s Day Celebrations locally and throughout the world, the “sandpaper ministry” of speaking the truth in love to one another in our daily household life together, the sharing of our resources, money and possessions, the honesty of repentance among spouses and families, the healing we received when we worship God as he deserves to be worshipped, and so much more. It all comes back to the initial call that each of us experienced when we each made our covenant promise to God and one another as we each stood and said, “ I want to give my life fully to God and live as a member of this community.”
By God’s grace we continue to rejoice and give thanks for the gift of covenant Christian community and God’s faithfulness to us.
Top photo credits: photo collage of early charismatic prayer meeting and community gatherings past and present, (c) 2020 The Sword of the Spirit
Tom Gryniewicz and his Wife Ellen are members of Word of Life community in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA. Tom serves as a coordinator of Word of Life and Ellen serves as a senior woman leader in Word of Life.