Numerous people have asked Ernie (my wife) and me what happened to Berry Street and why we are no longer there. If you have read some of my blog posts, then you already know a lot about The Salvation Army Berry Street. If not, here’s a brief summary:
About ten years ago, my wife and I were both employees of The Salvation Army in Nashville. The Nashville Area Commander, with support from the Territorial Headquarters, approached us and asked us if we would like to start a “nontraditional corps” (a Salvation Army church) in an empty corps building in Nashville. He said that a traditional corps had never done well in that neighborhood and asked if we had any ideas of how we could do things differently.
We shared our vision of open sharing and participation based on 1 Corinthians 14:26 (which at the time we called “sermon-free church”). Our leader liked the idea and shared it with Territorial Headquarters. They gave us full-support as well as financial backing to start Berry Street Corps.
We started meeting and God began to attract an amazing, interracial, socially-diverse group of people who came together to listen to the risen Jesus and then to say and/or do what He said. We were very diverse and experienced amazing racial unity. We were in an urban neighborhood and many children began to come, almost all of them coming without a parent with them. God even provided outstanding, volunteer leaders to work with the kids every Sunday morning.
Each Sunday morning for 9 1/2 years, we met together to listen to and be prompted by Jesus. We saw many lives transformed as ordinary people opened their hearts to one another and to Jesus. Everyday people shared eloquently as the Holy Spirit moved them and we were all deeply touched and transformed by what we heard and experienced. Also, continual outreach was done in the neighborhood by Berry Street regulars and volunteers — festivals, concerts, friend making, counseling support, one-on-one mentoring, supplying school supplies, lots of free meals, and regular prayer walking with The Salvation Army Flag, etc.
Overall our attendance usually averaged about 35 children and 30 adults. However, there was a season when The Salvation Army brought men from the Nashvile ARC (rehabilitation center) to Berry Street and we averaged more than 100 people a Sunday for several months. Over the years, we had hundreds of visitors (and regular attendees) from Nashville and around the country come to see what was going on at Berry Street. Many times they came to tears as they saw God working through a diverse group of everyday people.
Several Salvation Army magazines published upbeat articles about how we met at Berry Street. I wrote a book about it called Beyond Church: An Invitation To Experience The Lost Word Of The Bible–Ekklesia and War Cry (the national magazine of The Salvation Army in the USA) published a great review of it. They said: “Beyond Church is groundbreaking . . . a plea to awaken the vibrant life and possibilities of godly community.”
Serving under three Nashville Area Commanders and three Divisional Commanders, we were given complete freedom to be “nontraditional” and to creatively follow the Holy Spirit’s direct leading, during Berry Street worship meetings. Our leaders all gave us and Berry Street amazing love and support. We were also encouraged and loved by many other Salvation Army officers (pastors/leaders) from around the country. In 9 1/2 years, only one person in The Salvation Army, a retired officer, ever told us that what we were doing at Berry Street didn’t match the Army.
Then a new Area Commander came to Nashville. From the start he told us that we had to change how Berry Street met. We tried to cooperate and changed Berry Street as much as we felt we could. However, he made a few demands that we couldn’t go along with, especially the one that said that we could no longer allow people to openly share during the Sunday morning meeting. We felt like we had no choice but to resign, rather than give up our calling from God (and foundational directions from The Salvation Army to lead a nontraditional corps).
Our abrupt and surprising departure was a very painful experience for Ernie and me and for all who had been a part of Berry Street in various ways: soldiers, regular attendees, the children, volunteers, supporters, people in the neighborhood, visitors, etc. About 70 adults came to our last meeting to say farewell and remember the amazing things God did at the corner of Berry and Meridian streets in East Nashville. It was a glorious time of celebrating the ways God blessed us all through ministering to one another!
Thank you to all the many people who have supported us, prayed for us, and encouraged us as we have walked though all the years at Berry Street and through this transition. Ernie and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity that God and The Salvation Army gave us to explore and live out at Berry Street, for 9 1/2 years, the ancient Greek New Testament concept of open sharing and participation known as ekklesia.
Although we are not sure what God has for us next or how we are going to make a living, we are excited and hopeful. In the mean time, God has given us some part-time work. Ernie and I are not retiring. We are looking forward to meaningful assignments.
I’ve always loved preaching and speaking (although I didn’t formally do that at Berry Street) and feel like God is going to open some doors for that. If you need someone who can help impart passion for Christ in your revival meeting, corps, church, event, councils, men’s camp, ARC, etc., please keep me in mind.
Ernie is an amazing facilitator and speaker. She loves to lead women’s retreats and workshops and to speak at women’s camps.
Ernie and I both facilitate team-building workshops based on the DiSC Personal Profile. These usually last about 3 hours and can help any group learn to work together more effectively as they learn about their personal style and the style of others on the team.
I also have 12 years experience as a full-time motivational speaker and would love to help your company, association, or group get excited about their lives and their jobs. I use lots of humor and even amazing illusions (“magic tricks”).
Feel free to contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.