OCV has had many beginnings. Over seven years ago God began drawing our hearts to this venture through a series of twists and turns. What began as a general call to plant a church in western PA, took on a more specific shape over time. As we continued to discern this growing call we sensed that we needed to look into the Vineyard family of churches and begin focusing not on the urban center (Pittsburgh) that we had initially been drawn toward, but rather to move back to the corner of rural western Pennsylvania we always called home.
Seeing Small Places Through God's Perspective
At first we (and many of those we talked to) did not know what to do with this idea. It seemed to go against the grain of most current church plating models. So much of church planting today revolves around urban centers and the surrounding suburbs. We understood the opportunity and need the unprecedented growth of cities presents for the Gospel, but we couldn't help thinking about smaller places--the places where we have spent most of our lives. It seemed to us that Jesus never forgot about rural Galilee even as He spent time in cosmopolitan Jerusalem. Both places (and everywhere in between) mattered to Him and were touched by His ministry in powerful ways.
As we thought and prayed about all of this we felt God confirming a call to invest in smaller places and to pray for a church planting movement among the small towns and rural villages of northwestern PA and beyond. We knew that there were plenty of people far from God in the rural places we typically characterize as more religious. Even among our friends who grew up in the church we saw many who were effectively "de-churched," having either adopted a "me and Jesus" individualism or chosen to leave the faith altogether. Rather than being saturated with faith, the rural places we observed were sometimes just as much spiritual wastelands as the cities, especially for younger generations.
As we began to turn our eyes toward home God did two important things. First, He helped us connect with the great folks at Multiply Vineyard's Small Town USA initiative. He also began to give us vision for planting a church in a specific place--Oil City (pop. 10,000). Once a town of more than 20,000 and the epicenter of the oil industry, today Oil City is a postindustrial town with many needs, but also with some exciting, though easily overlooked, potential. Over and over again God confirmed in our hearts and in the hearts of our community that Oil City was where he was calling us.
Oil City Vineyard's First Year
Based on this sense of call we (Aimee and Charlie) moved from Charlottesville, VA in June 2016, bought a house in Oil City, and began hosting Sunday worship in our house that August. Eight adults attended the first gathering. Soon we were numbering in the teens and stretching the capacity of our little house on Innis Street. Once again God directed our path by leading us to the Oil City Civic Center and an opportunity to rent out a storage room and the Great Room of John D. Rockefeller's National Transit Building.
Fifteen people attended our first meeting in the National Transit Building on October 2, 2016. Soon more started stopping by. Sometimes they stopped just to check out Oil City’s newest “vineyard” (at least one person has been disappointed to find that the only wine we have available is for communion!). At other times, a visit led to deeper involvement in a growing community built around relationship—first with Christ and then with each other and our neighbors. Over the years, these relationships have multiplied and deepened. We’ve loved local kids at our Princess Party and by teaming up with folks at Angel Tree and the county's backpack drive. We’ve watched people display their artistic talents on canvas, through songs, through culinary creations. We’ve prayed for each other in the face of sickness, fragmented relationships, and unforeseen diagnoses.
Kingdom Gains, Growing Pains, and the Goodness of God
All told, we, a community of Christ followers who meet in rented space and call ourselves Oil City Vineyard, are becoming a family. Over the last five years we’ve learned a lot about each other. We’ve seen glimpses of the amazing talents and hearts that we each bear, and we’ve watched as God has gradually brought the people of His own choosing through our doors and into our lives. We serve a God who is on a mission to save the world (including us earthlings!) he created. Praise God! It’s not us, the Church, who has a mission in the world; rather, it’s the God of mission who has a Church in the world. We get to join Him. It is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are grateful that we get to be part of this mission in this corner of the world.
Throughout all of this we've emphasized that "success" is not filling seats but living the way of Jesus, to love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). As we tried to do this we found that the seats we put out kept filling up. Soon the Great Room that had once dwarfed our little assembly of people seemed to be shrinking! By the summer of 2017 we began looking for a new home for our Sunday morning gatherings. After running into a lot of closed doors God surprised us with a door we didn't even know existed. In September 2017 we began meeting at our new home--the Oil City YWCA.
For the next four years the YWCA and its amazing staff provided us with a great place to grow as a community. The well-kept gym and building offered us room to grow into three children's classes and, in the summer of 2019, a new youth program that continues to meet in the building on Sunday evenings. We baptized young and old in the YW's front lawn, welcomed new visitors to first connect pizza parties in the gym, passed out donuts at Easter in partnership with two other congregations on Easter morning.
By 2019, we knew we were outgrowing the space, but we hesitated to move on. We loved the staff and the YW felt like home. In short, we were dragging our feet.
Caring for Our Community Through the Pandemic
Then, in the early spring of 2020, COVID forced our hand. Like almost every congregation, we sought to do our best during those crazy months to take care of folks and to continue to be the church in and for our community. For about three months a handful of us streamed services.
Streaming worked well in some ways, but we longed for a chance to get together in person. With uncertainty over COVID high, we opted to meet outdoors from June 2020 through October 2020 in Oil City's Justus Park. What a gift that season turned out to be. Against the beautiful backdrop of the Allegheny River valley, we worshipped, prayed, learned together from scripture, welcomed new folks into the OCV family and saw God do great things in our midst. It somehow felt entirely fitting when we baptized eight people in the river we had been worshipping beside all summer. The entire experience of the summer along the river was so appreciated by the folks at OCV that we opted to do the same thing during the next summer as well.
OCV's New Home--Clarion University's Venango Campus
As enjoyable as the park was (except for the Sunday a 3% chance of rain turned into a deluge), by the end of the summer the time had come to look into indoor meeting spaces that offered room for continued growth. Once again, the Lord used a chance conversation to plant the seed of a new meeting space in our minds. By September 2021, OCV had a new home in the Rhoades Center of Clarion University's Venango Campus. With a full size gymnasium, plenty of parking, and a clean, comfortable space for OCV Kids, the Rhoades Center has proven to be a great home for OCV in this season.
We are glad to be part of the Vineyard family of churches. There are over 600 Vineyard churches in the US and over 2,400 in 95 countries of the world. Click here for more on the history of the Vineyard Movement past and present.
For more on the distinctives of the Vineyard Movement check out the Vineyard USA website or, if you have a bit of time and are really interested, check out this talk by Vineyard UK leader, John Mumford.