WARNER ROBINS -- What Bruce Brookshire had in mind for Grace Fellowship when it began eight years ago this Easter and what it is today are somewhat different.
But Brookshire, the churchs pastor, said thats a good thing.
I was Episcopalian and served as an Episcopalian lay minister, he said. The Episcopal Church has a very strict distinction between clergy and laity, and I had gone as far as a lay minister can go. I had a real desire to reach my peers, but most of them found going to my church too liturgical, too rigid and restrained for them. I was looking for another way to reach out.
Brookshire said his peers included working musicians, bartenders, waitresses, bikers and others who tended to work or be active late nights and found it hard to make early morning services, especially formal ones.
Brookshire himself had been a working and touring musician since the 1970s, most prominently as leader of the band Doc Holliday which recorded numerous albums with A&M Records and other labels. It also included years of drug use before he said he turned to God and ministry. He still tours occasionally and plays frequently at area restaurants.
I went to my priest and started talking about a nightly fellowship within the church along these lines, but as we planned out the nuts and bolts I realized pretty quickly it wasnt going to work.
Attempts at creating a workable service and attempts by Brookshire to become an ordained priest fell through. Brookshire, a 1972 graduate of Warner Robins High School, said he did earn a ministerial diploma equivalent to a Bible college degree from the Episcopal-related Sewanee: The University of South based in Tennessee. His degree was done through local priests and mentors. He is now working online toward a counseling degree through Louisiana Baptist University of Shreveport.
Conversations with musician-friend Larry Howard, a former guitarist-vocalist for the band Grinderswitch who had become a minister and Christian recording artist, helped Brookshire decide to go a different direction. He and Grace Fellowship came under the wings of Evangel Fellowship International, a loose organization of ministers and churches based in Conway, S.C.
Over time, my idea of who would be coming to Grace changed, too, Brookshire said. My vision for musicians and bartenders was replaced by who God actually sent us, mainly people who had been turned off by other churches, not given a welcome, people on small or fixed incomes who feel they dont have enough money to be accepted in some churches and even people who simply dont like crowds. People dont choose to come here because were cool. They come because of being almost instantly loved and supported -- not smothered but supported. We have very few rules.
Brookshire said the church has orderly but participatory worship and that the rule about not having drinks in the condominium clubhouse/sanctuary is typically broken every week -- by him and his cup of coffee.
The small church, which calls itself a transdenominational community of faith, has gratefully met in the Westcliff clubhouse from its beginning.
Our food pantry is one of the few in Middle Georgia that doesnt require any ID or paperwork and doesnt really have specific hours, he said. When you need food, you need food.
Other ministries of the church include a childrens program during services, a prayer group, clothes and household items available through the year and at an annual koinonia festival, hygiene kits prepared for homeless and street ministries, and even prayers for pets.
I think every church is in a sense an emergency room, Brookshire said. People are needy whether they realize it or not, and its not just money-wise. I feel worship is something we draw strength and energy from to get us through the week. We need to be mindful of the Gospel and living it out at all times without a Sunday behavior and a different Monday behavior.
Brookshire said he doesnt consider himself liberal or conservative in his teaching and preaching but rather tries to teach the Bible and present various views and let people find their own theology.
Among our values is a hands-on-the-Bible approach, he said. We want everyone reading the Bible and seeing for themselves what it says. Were culturally diverse. Everybody is welcome and can come as they are, casual or dressed up. Theres always an empty chair and a welcome. Its the Gospel that binds us together and not our life situation. We have mothers, single mothers and grandmothers all bound together not by class or the lack of it but by the Gospel. I want to take the fear out of going to church. If youre a grumpy person, just come be the best grumpy person you can be. All are welcome wherever they are along their path in God.
Brookshire has one grown daughter. He and his wife, Lisa, serve together along with others as part of the churchs worship team.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.