On March 9, 2019 this blog visited Harvest Bible Chapel Rolling Meadows. I was in the Chicago area and had a free Saturday and decided to take in the Harvest culture. It was a unique experience that allowed me to better understand what people were telling me. This post is just a review of experiencing Rolling Meadows.
“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”
“Everything is arranged so that it be this way, this is what is called culture.”
by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:4 ESV
Worship at Rolling Meadows
On the weekend of March 9/10, 2019 I was in the Chicago area. The reason for the trip was personal. It was to spend time with a loved one who was taking a legal education course downtown. I traveled there from Washington, D.C. to see my sister and spend time with her. It was the first time since my Dad’s death and burial a couple of months back in seeing family. However, my sister’s legal course was also all day Saturday and I had a free day to kill. What I decided to do was meet with a number of people formerly from Harvest Bible Chapel and then also to sit through a service at Rolling Meadows. When I figured out the logistic issues then I was in the Palatine, Illinois area.
Why Visit These Places?
In the process of writing this blog I have visited a lot of churches and events around the United States. The primary focus of this blog is on the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and I have sat in in a number of EFCA services in California, the Midwest in Missouri and up and down the East Coast. One of the services I drove to and observed in 2016 is that of Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. That was a dark story of the daughter-in-law of the senior pastor allegedly being raped by her husband at the time, and having a loaded gun pointed at her. She filed for divorce and faced church discipline. The issue went all the way to the top of the EFCA in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can read he story in, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.” Then there was the group of people who approached me about a cult-like Acts 29 church in Richmond, Virginia called Remnant. In that situation a controlling church was even getting involved in the decision making processes of a person accepting a job offer, and people leaving fried. I drove to Richmond and sat through a service at Remnant and took it all in. You can read that, “The Disturbing and Cult-Like Behavior of Acts 29 Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia is Adversely Affecting Lives.”
But why would a person go to all that effort? Quite simply its to observe, take notes, and try and understand the culture and get a feel for it. Often times it helps me in writing when I see the organization function as it historically has done so. To observe key personalities in a church or personally interact with them helps me to understand what people are saying. It also helps me to vet witnesses and as well who approach me. As I attend I keep in mind what people say and when that plays out before me it helps me to analyze the situation better. I can also take notes and then listen to something online and see how an evangelical church spins the message or edits out information. To be honest I don’t think you can write a blog like this without taking in some of these locations. And that is why when I had a free afternoon I decided to check out Harvest Bible Chapel Rolling Meadows.
Concerns and a Warning
Going to Rolling Meadows came with concern and was one of the more tense experiences that I had. In doing my research I asked a lot of questions about it to people I know. I was told that the place was tense and that security was on alert for media and bloggers. I was also told that the leadership was on edge. When I asked about pictures I was told that could be difficult and could result in me being removed or thrown out. So having being forewarned I knew what I was up against when I attended. I decided to be more conservative than normal and not take many pictures. When I did take pictures it was mostly at the opportune times. For example during worship when people were standing. I thought this through in advance.
What was Observed
So a few minutes before 5:00 I braced myself for an intense experience. I was about to enter into a bubble that was cut off from the world. I was also about to see a culture that people have been telling me about over the phone. In North and South Korea there is a historic bridge called “The Bridge of No Return.” In my own way I was about to cross that bridge when I walked into the large overwhelming warehouse at Rolling Meadows. I was prepared to see the propaganda at work with the “Your Are Loved” being in the area.
So I finally walked in and stopped and gauged a feeling. Rolling Meadows felt very controlling. It felt apprehensive and a little suffocating. I thought to myself is this what Mars Hill Seattle felt like? I walked around and explored. The guest desks I walked past and I saw the overflow seating. When I walked into the main worship venue I was overwhelmed by the lights, technology and more. It was probably one of the most professional settings I saw. Cameras to record the worship and cameras to record the crowd. The worship got going and was very first rate. I stood there and took my first picture which you see at the beginning of this post. I then listened to Lauren Smith stop and speak. She talked about how hard these last few weeks were and how she and everyone were caught by surprise. Her voice cracked like she was going to cry. For me it felt like an act, as if everything was scripted or planned for the maximum emotional effect. After the worship ended I shook hands with a few people and sat down. I was not prepared for what I witnessed next. It was the resignation of Steve Huston. When I realized what was about to happen I furiously took notes. A couple people clapped some support and others scream out, “We believe you Steve!” While that happened I got a picture of him reading his resignation statement. That is for another post. I also witnessed Greg Bradshaw speak about Harvest 20/20. I then listened to John Smith preach the following message.
Picture I took during worship.
Picture of Harvest church plants above the overflow seating.
I left the worship hall and briefly looked at the chapel and then decided to leave. I needed to get back to downtown Chicago to see my sister. The bookstore was at the entrance. I tried to open the door and was met by security. They told me it was closed as it was a time capsule and still had all of James MacDonald’s material. I asked about Vertical music and was told that Amazon is what people are being told to buy it off. I shook his hand and then I left. Funny thing is that I planned to take Metra back to Union Station in downtown Chicago, but when the train came in I was on the wrong side of the tracks. So after missing the train I learned how to use Uber and took that to the hotel near the Hancock Center.
What Haunts Me….
After attending Harvest there is one thing that sticks with me. In many ways it haunts me and I have been thinking about it. It is the same issue that Sovereign Grace dealt with that baffled me. Why would so many people go to a church even as its beset by scandal and issues? Why tithe to a questionable entity? Why would people ignore everything and all the complicit cover up and still attend? For me even if the Harvest Bible Chapel scandal did not play out I saw red flags in the culture at Rolling Meadows. There was the emotional manipulation and the incredible way everything seemed to be orchestrated. But it bothers me that people still would attend given the issues that exist. That is hard to comprehend and I find myself asking that very question regularly.