Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cheyenne Vineyard Church's "Cotton Patch Gospel" has roots in Christian social justice

My former work colleague Randy Oestman left state employment to serve as a minister for the Cheyenne Vineyard Church, 1506 Thomes Ave. Vineyard services are very musical, I am told, which is not surprising, considering Randy's theatre background. Randy and his Vineyard colleagues take the New Testament's social justice message seriously. They minister to Cheyenne's homeless and collect leftover foodstuffs from farmers' markets to distribute to needy families. I buy my eggs from Randy, whose chickens lay the darndest-colored eggs. Randy even practices his theatrical skills in the chicken coop.

In October, the Vineyard Church is producing the "Cotton Patch Gospel," based on a book by Tom Key and Russell Treyz, with music by Harry Chapin, written just before he died in a 1981 traffic accident. Anything with music by Harry Chapin has to be good.

Here is a description of the play from Wikipedia:
Cotton Patch Gospel is a musical by Tom Key and Russell Treyz with music and lyrics written by Harry Chapin just before his death in 1981. Based on the book The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John by Clarence Jordan, the story retells the life of Jesus as if in modern day, rural Georgia.

Using a southern reinterpretation of the gospel story, the musical is often performed in a one-man show format with an accompanying quartet of bluegrass musicians, although a larger cast can also be used. A video recording of the play was released in 1988 with Tom Key as the leading actor.
Interesting to note that Clarence Jordan was the founder of the Koinonia Farm,  a ground-breaking Christian social justice community that infuriated its white Georgia neighbors by practicing and preaching equality for all, including African-Americans. During the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s, Koinonia was the target of a local economic boycott and several bombings. It was able to survive by shipping all of its goods through the U.S. Postal Service because, as we all know, "the mail must go through." Jordan also was instrumental in the founding of Habitat for Humanity, another revolutionary Georgia organization. Koinonia and Habitat had a big influence on one of its neighbors, Jimmy Carter of Plains. Clarence Jordan's nephew, Hamilton, was President Carter's chief of staff.

"Cotton Patch Gospel" will be performed at the Cheyenne Vineyard Church Oct. 5-6. 12-13 and 19-20 at 7 p.m. Admission is free but please bring grocery gift cards or non-perishable food for the needy. Call for tickets: 307-638-8700.

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