I woke up this morning with a certain awareness. It wasn't mental. It was more like when you wake up just "knowing" a day holds some kind of importance to you. Something in your gut and psyche has been hard-wired through years of celebrating or recognizing a certain important date. It happens every time the calender rolls around to the day each of my parents died. It likewise happens when my children's birthdays come around as well as other important dates I celebrated for years.
Today, February 11th, marks exactly 20 years that Harvest Church had its first public services.
As I laid in bed and remembered all the way back to that day in 1996, the same feeling I had that very morning we launched filled me. It can best be described as butterflies mixed with nausea. I wondered if anyone would show up to the Silver Screens Theaters (formerly behind old University Mall). The night before I even had nightmares of standing at the door to the theater, waiting, waiting, waiting, with no one showing up. The small group of us who had met in our family's home for 4 months were totally stepping out in faith, with almost no money to speak of.
But God came through and people DID show up. Our first service attendance was 76 adults. Those first 7 plus years at the Silver Screens were something else. When it would rain, the ceiling would leak so we had to have 55 gallon trash cans throughout. The AC wouldn't work half the time in the summer. The carpets were always beer soaked with old chewing gum that would stick to your shoes.
But we had a blast!
In late 1999 I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me to drive around the city and pray to be led to what would be the permanent home for Harvest. I drove the whole circle of the city. When I came to Palafox, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me to park right in front of the Rex Theater.
The Rex at that time was totally dilapidated, but I felt to lay hands on it and claim it as our home. We made an offer. It didn't go through. I was SO crushed and disappointed, wondering how I could have so missed God. But we moved forward and a few years later moved into the former Plaza Theater off of Fairfield Drive.
We finally had a home.
For all of 18 months until Hurricane Ivan wiped it out.
Again, the heartbreak. But we continued forward and for the next 6 years met at night at the church that had sent me out to start Harvest, New Testament Fellowship.
That season became known as the "NTF Season". It looked different, but the heart and DNA was the same. Looking back, it actually holds some of the fondest memories as many great people joined us and it had a real family feel. But my heart has always been to reach the unchurched and I felt getting back to a theater would be more neutral for people not used to church environments.
That led to Harvest being at the Rave (now Carmike Theaters) for the next 7 years. That season took set up and tear down to a whole new level and I still marvel at the incredible people that did it week in and week out. The goal to reach the unchurched and dechurched was achieved and many, many lives were changed with multitudes being baptized through those years.
Finally, in 2012, the Rex Theater came up again. This time the offer was accepted and around this time last year, Harvest finally had its home.
I was thinking this morning about the verse where the apostle Paul says, speaking of the Corinthian Church, "I laid a foundation and now others are building on it." From the beginning, the foundation, it's core values, were:
H unger for God
A tmosphere of grace, mercy and acceptance
R elational integrity
V ibrant, Christ-centered worship
S oundness in life and doctrine
T urned out to a lost and broken world
Though I did lay the foundation, with God's help, so many helped to build Harvest through its 20 years that I wouldn't even know where to begin in listing them. The church is by far the most resilient church I have ever seen, having overcome much. But it has stood and today made it to 20 years. I pray the very best for it and its current leaders.
Happy 20th Anniversary Harvest. You will always be in my heart.