|Headquarters Michigan, United States|
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The Word of God is an ecumenical, charismatic, missionary Christian community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The community began in 1967 as an evangelistic outreach to students at The University of Michigan. Initially the group was made up of Catholics, but expanded to include Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, and Christians of the free church tradition.
The Word of God was founded in 1967 by four young Catholics, Ralph Martin and Stephen Clark (formerly involved in the Cursillo Movement office in Lansing, Michigan) and Jim Cavnar and Gerry Rauch who were involved in Charismatic renewal work at the University of Notre Dame. They came to carry out evangelism in Ann Arbor, Michigan after their encounter with the Catholic Charismatic movement at Duquesne University that year.
The men began having prayer meetings in their apartment near the University of Michigan’s main campus with four people. The meetings began to grow and soon there was a sizable group coming to every meeting. They moved to Saint Mary's Church in Ann Arbor to accommodate the growing numbers. By 1973 the numbers had grown to 1000. They started to organize the gathering into groups of people to meet together. As meetings grew so did their venues. Soon there were many meetings throughout the week. Membership had grown to 3000 by 1976.
The members of the community, in many cases, lived in common together in houses. There were houses for married couples and houses for single men or women. They also had dorm households at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. The different households began to be split up into different “districts.”
Members of the community attended Sunday morning church, a weekly district prayer meeting, and a monthly city-wide prayer meeting. Many families home-schooled their children and the community also had its own school. Adult members of the community each had a "spiritual leader" who was another member of the community. A married woman's "spiritual leader" was her husband. A single woman's "spiritual leader" was typically a married woman. A single man's "spiritual leader" was typically a married man.
National and Global Expansion
As their influence grew they soon began to create communities in other areas. An international association of charismatic communities was created in 1983 called “Sword of the Spirit.” When it began it included communities in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Philippines, Great Britain, Austria, and Belgium. As of 2009, it has over 60 associated communities.
In 1979 The Word of God created four denominational subgroupings or “fellowships” to help people live out aspects of their faith they could not live in a strictly interdenominational setting. The four fellowships were the Catholic Fellowship of the Word of God (now Christ the King Catholic Church), Cross and Resurrection Lutheran, Covenant Presbyterian, and Emmaus Fellowship (became the Vineyard Church of Milan which later spawned the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. After Pastor Ken Wilson's controversial acceptance of gay marriage, the Vineyard Church of Milan shut down and the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor booted Ken from the pulpit. This resulted in Ken forming a local Ann Arbor chapter of the Blue Ocean Faith Community of Ann Arbor MI).
A publishing house affiliated with the Community, Servant Publications, published works by contemporary Catholic and Evangelical authors, including community members Bert Ghezzi, Stephen Clark, and Ralph Martin. Around two million songbooks in the series Songs of Praise were circulated. These presented songs used in charismatic renewal prayer groups, many written by members of the Word of God Community. Servant Publications ceased operations in 2003.
New Covenant Magazine
The community published a magazine called New Covenant to teach and guide the charismatic movement and to coordinate its national activities.
The Cult Question
In the 1980s allegations that The Word of God was practicing too much control over its members prompted leadership of both the Roman Catholic Church, and The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod to send teams to investigate the community and determine if what they were teaching was orthodox. Neither investigations concluded that the community was teaching heresy, or warranted the denotation of a cult. In 1989, a coalition of 7 groups led a boycott of Domino's Pizza due to the connection between Tom Monaghan and the Word of God. In the 1990s, students at MIT protested that the (then)-Domino's CEO used company funds to finance the church.
In 1990 the community split over proposals to seek a status that would allow greater local autonomy from "Sword of the Spirit". The Word of God community adopted the proposals, and a faction led by Stephen Clark organized itself as a separate "Washtenaw Covenant Community" (now "Word of Life"), retaining full affiliation with "Sword of the Spirit".
In the late 1990s the Word of God began a youth outreach in the Washtenaw county area called Mission Christ. Mission Christ began as a weekly meeting, but soon spread to include meetings at many of the local high schools and Universities, including: Huron High School (Alpha Omega), Pioneer High School (Pioneers for Christ), Ypsilanti High School, Father Gabriel Richard High School, Dexter High School (Genesis), Eastern Michigan University (Mission Christ Outreach), Concordia College, Washtenaw Community College, and the University of Michigan.
These groups became a source of controversy between the years 2000 and 2004 under the leadership of John Luton. There were two lawsuits filed by individuals against their schools over issues of discrimination against Christians. The first was filed by Betsy Hansen against Pioneer High School after her group, Pioneers for Christ, was allegedly barred from discussion in a forum on homosexuality during the schools diversity fair. The second lawsuit was filed by John Luton against Washtenaw Community College after his group was denied official group status over issues of free speech. In both cases they were represented by attorneys at the Thomas More Law Center. The Hansen case was featured on The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity and Colmes.