Dr. Daniel J. Vassell Sr., 64, was many things — a husband, father, grandfather and reverend — but one thing was certain: he was a visible representation of joy. You could always feel his presence in the way he lit up a room and welcomed all who graced him because his laughter would radiate contagiously throughout any space. Whether he knew you for 20 years or had just met you, you were immediately his friend.
That was manifest in my post Take the Celebration to the People, which I wrote right at the time I left the International Offices of the Church of God, and I’ll reproduce most of that as my tribute to him:
One Christmastime I met him in the lobby, and I think I mentioned something to him about my Anglican activities. For someone whose roots are Jamaican like Daniel, Anglicanism is a familiar thing. You even see Anglican traits reflected in the way Pentecostal West Indian churches worship and operate. I remember one church I preached at in New Jersey where the Grenandan pastor changed the colour of the pulpit stoles.
Daniel was emphatic at the mention. “You mark it down,” he said, not wanting me to forget what he was about to say. Anglican and other liturgical churches were, in some ways, better at taking the “celebration” outside of the four walls of the church. Pentecostal churches gathered on Sunday, exuberantly worshipping, and, in too many cases, that was it. Because of the constraints of the liturgy, other churches had to celebrate elsewhere–and if there’s one thing that West Indian churches like to do, it’s celebrate. But it’s better when the church took the celebration to the community around it and not just kept it to itself.
In many ways, that encapsulates what is, IMHO, wrong with most of North American Evangelical Christianity these days. To start with, our churches–especially our Anglo ones–are far and away too performance oriented. That’s odd, considering we preach that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross is what gets us to heaven, not our own works. But we’ve come to equate fulfilling the mission of Jesus with what amounts to a business model of performance.
Beyond that, our obsession with worship has led us to focus our attention and resources on our Sunday service and how it’s done and housed. That in turn has led both to wrapping our Christian life around our worship and to the expensive edifices that we’ve built to house that worship, edifices that have sapped the financial resources God has given us from directly ministry related activities, to say nothing of the celebration we’re supposed to be having.
But our life in Christ is to be celebrated, and that celebration needs to come out of the confines of the walls of our churches and into the world around us. How that takes place depends upon the culture we’re ministering into and the legal status we have, but in a world racked by economic uncertainty the sight and experience of people who still have something to celebrate and do it is a powerful message.
So, as I prepare to venture out from the confines of the International Offices (my work has been part time, so the venturing in has been likewise) my message is this: it’s time to take the celebration of the life that Jesus Christ has given us out of the confines of our churches and into the community around us. It’s time to take the celebration to the people.
Rest in peace Daniel, we’ll do our best to take the celebration to the people.