BLOUNTVILLE — From a very young age, Matthew Miller always knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a pastor.
After growing up in the Assemblies of God, Miller began to turn away from his faith. He experimented heavily with drugs and alcohol and found himself living on the streets of Pittsburgh.
Washed up with no other place to go, Miller found himself in Tennessee on a path back toward the faith that he grew up with. Soon, Miller was in seminary, working with a local Assemblies of God church.
As he was deep in his studies, something began to speak to Miller that shook the foundations of what he had believed in throughout his life.
“The Lord showed me that the Sabbath was Saturday and I had grown up in church thinking it was Sunday my whole life,” he said. “It’s the day we go to church then go home and take a nap, but I read the Ten Commandments, I thought this was amazing. It changed my whole life.”
That was the very beginning of Miller’s eye-opening realization that the Christian faith needed to get back to its Hebrew roots in order to better understand the teachings of the Bible.
Miller quit seminary and began studying under Rabbi Joe Bell, owner of the Manna Bagel Company in downtown Bristol, who leads a Messianic Jewish congregation.
“One day, I realized Jesus was a rabbi. He was a rabbi and he didn’t come to start this thing called Christianity. He came to reform the faith of Abraham and reform how the Pharisees were doing things,” Miller said.
In learning more about Messianic Jews, Miller began to see a need for a ministry that would speak to those who were interested in worshipping on the Sabbath, which is traditionally considered to be from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, as well as incorporating the Hebrew traditions like the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.
“The Lord told me that I needed to move back to Johnson City and start a Hebrew Christian congregation and that there were going to be people interested in worshipping this way and that there would be growth, so my wife and I said, ‘OK’,” he said.
Once Miller and his family made the move, the stage was set for the beginnings of what would become The Vineyard of Yahweh, a Hebrew Christian fellowship that’s the only gathering of its kind in the Tri-Cities.
After meeting for several months in the Millers’ home, the congregation — which had grown to about 30 or 40 people — outgrew its space. In April 2010, the congregation moved to the Corey Ippolito Vineyard in Blountville after being invited by owner Kevin Corey, who also grew up in the Assemblies of God.
Corey had always been interested in what the Jewish faith had to offer and enjoyed learning about the history in the Old Testament, so when the opportunity came for the congregation to make the move, he said it just made sense.
“We just feel that this is the Lord’s property, so the more, the merrier,” Corey said.
Once the congregation moved to the vineyard, they incorporated it into their name and The Vineyard of Yahweh was born.
It’s not a church, nor is it a synagogue. Instead, the congregation adheres to the idea that the “church” isn’t about where you worship; it’s about the fellowship that comes from gathering together in the name of faith.
The Vineyard believes most of the orthodox doctrines shared by most Protestant denominations, with the exception that they have services on the Sabbath.
Friday services begin the evening and feature a lively time of worship and celebration. Services incorporate certain things associated with traditional Judaism, such as the blowing of the shofar — a ram’s horn — and the use of prayer shawls.
Another important aspect of the services is the emphasis on fellowship. Once the worship and message portion of the service is over, everyone gathers together for a meal. Miller said their services can sometimes last until 11 p.m. or later.
The congregation itself is a very diverse group, consisting of people from Catholic and Jewish backgrounds, as well as a variety of other Christian denominations.
When asked what brings so many different people together, Miller said he believes it’s truly the work of God.
“God is calling the body of Christ back to the Hebrew roots. He’s speaking to the body and he’s preparing the body for Jesus to come back,” he said. “I believe we’re going to grow and that more groups are going to spring up and the word is going to get out that the Sabbath and the feasts are for Christians, and I believe more and more Christians are going to incorporate that into their Christianity in preparation for Jesus’ kingdom on Earth.”
Miller said The Vineyard might also serve as an answer to those who seek faith but have been turned off by the more bureaucratic aspects of the modern church. He said the fellowship is there for anyone who might feel a desire to dive deeper into their faith.
“When we go to church — wherever we go — we should experience our God. It’s like jumping into water. When you jump into water, you should get wet, and when you come to worship our king, you should feel him all around you,” he said.
Friday night Erev Shabbat services are held at 6:30 p.m. at the Corey Ippolito Vineyards at 533 Rogers Oakdale Private Drive.
For more information, visit www.thevineyardofyahweh.com.