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A church is not a building; it's the people who gather to worship and serve God who make up a church, said the Rev. Bill Herzog.
And that's a good thing for his Vineyard Church of Toledo, which moved recently for the fourth time in 10 years because of steady growth.
A church known for its casual atmosphere and a focus on worship and servant evangelism, Vineyard left its previous location on Reynolds Road - fondly known as "The Barn" - in July and is now holding its Sunday morning service in the auditorium of Springfield High School.
Sometime in the next few years, Vineyard will build a church on Hill Avenue in Springfield Township.
"We're going to have to start raising money. I hate that," said Mr. Herzog, a laid-back leader whose graying hair is pulled into a ponytail.
Pastor Herzog, 53, and his wife, Barb, would rather spend their time ministering to their congregation of about 300 people and showing God's love to strangers by raking yards, giving food to the needy, holding free car washes, and handing out cans of soda pop to skateboarders.
"We give and we don't ask," Pastor Herzog said. "That's when the barriers come down. We get an opportunity to talk to people. We're not in suits and ties screaming that they're going to hell."
Vineyard Church of Toledo started in the Herzogs' living room in 1994 with about a dozen people.
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The minister was working full-time at the Ford stamping plant in Maumee when he began helping out at the former Living Word Church in Toledo.
Living Word closed in 1988, but the Herzogs' involvement in that church eventually inspired them to enter the ministry.
"There's a ton of great churches in Toledo," Pastor Herzog said. "But there's also a ton of people who don't go to church on Sunday mornings. So it's not like there's too many churches.
Once they decided to start their own church, they began investigating Christian denominations and associations.
"They say you should build a church you'd want to go to and people will come to it," Pastor Herzog said. "The first step is finding a church you'd want to go to."
He and Mrs. Herzog found their spiritual home in the growing Vineyard movement, which started in California in the early 1980s and flourished under the leadership of John Wimber, a self-described "beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study."
Mr. Wimber died in 1997 but the Association of Vineyard Churches has become one of the fastest-growing Christian organizations in the world, attracting people with its casual atmosphere, a belief in healing and spiritual gifts, and charismatic worship.
On its Web site, www.vine-yardtoledo.com, the church lists its essentials as worship, mercy, biblical teaching, administering spiritual gifts "in a naturally supernatural" way, and serving others.
It didn't take long for Vineyard Toledo to outgrow the Herzogs' living room.
The church moved into a nondescript brick building at Central Avenue and Douglas Road in the summer of 1995.
By late 1996, Vineyard was once again ready for expansion. Early in 1997, it relocated to "The Barn," the distinctive barn-like structure on South Reynolds Road that had been the original headquarters of Hickory Farms Inc.
Pastor Herzog, who plays guitar and sings, led the church's praise and worship in addition to preaching until Dave Chumchal joined the staff as minister of music in 1997.
The Toledo church's music department has earned a national reputation, recording several discs of praise and worship music and being featured in national Vineyard compilations.
As the church kept growing, Pastor Herzog said he "wrestled" with the idea of quitting a factory job to devote all his efforts to ministry. It was an especially tough call, since he was just a few years away from qualifying for early retirement.
"I did the bi-vocational thing for seven years," he said, "but I was working 40 hours a week and pastoring a church of 300 people. I felt God was leading me to quit [the factory job]. I took a leap of faith."
A similar leap was taken when Vineyard decided to move out of The Barn.
The church bought 18 acres of wooded land on Hill Avenue in Springfield Township, bordering busy U.S. 23, for $155,000. After the property is paid for, the church will begin building a facility on the site that includes some federally protected wetland areas.
"It won't be anything extravagant," Pastor Herzog.
"We'll leave some woods on the side where the neighbors are so we can leave them alone. We'll probably put some picnic tables up and a prayer path," he said.
But that move is several years away.
In the meantime, Vineyard staff and volunteers arrive faithfully at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday in the parking lot of Springfield High and begin unloading a trailer full of equipment - chairs, computers, sound gear, lights, projectors - to get ready for service.
"We never had to do this before. We were always blessed to have our own building," Pastor Herzog said.
Another drawback of not having a regular church home is finding places for events other than Sunday services. Vineyard's Peace House, an alternative service for 17 to 30-year-olds, is being held at the Mill on Glendale Avenue at 8 p.m. on the second and fourth Sunday of the month, including tomorrow.
It takes a lot of people, a lot of energy, and a real commitment to keep things running when the church is in transition. But Pastor Herzog sees a silver lining to the temporary situation.
"Change is good," he said. "It stirs things up. It gets us out of our complacency."
Vineyard Church of Toledo meets at 10 a.m. Sundays in Springfield High School auditorium, 1470 South McCord Rd.
- David Yonke