The History of Vineyard Via de Cristo

The History of the Via de Cristo movement is an outgrowth of the Catholic Cursillo that started in Majorca, Spain in the late 1940's. Cursillo as we know it started out as a "short course in Christianity" developed by Catholic Action for Young Men to prepare leaders to take young men from Spain on a pilgrimage to the shrine and burial place of St. James at Compostela. One of its other objectives was to overcome the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War which had left the church and the nation bloodied and divided just before the beginning of World War II.

The Cursillo (little course) in Christianity came from these little courses of study for pilgrimage leaders, and the first Catholic Cursillo was held in the monastery of St. Honorato in Majorca. Originally, the "little courses" were training sessions for the young men’s branch of Catholic Action and were only given to those who wanted to join this organized apostolate. However, the experience was so powerful that it was decided to give them to other young men in order to grow the church and build Christian leaders. That is when Cursillo was born.

From Spain the movement spread to Latin America where the first Cursillo for women was held. It was brought to the United States by two Spanish airmen who were being trained by U.S. airmen in Texas. The first U.S. weekend retreat was held in Waco, Texas, in May of 1957. From there, it traveled to Corpus Christi in 1959 and then spread through Texas and into Arizona. By 1960, Catholic Cursillo retreat weekends were spreading throughout the southwest and were also being held in the east in Ohio and New York, all conducted in the Spanish language. The first English language weekend was held in San Angelo, Texas in 1961.

In 1965, at a meeting in Kansas City, the National Catholic Secretariat was organized as the governing body of Catholic Cursillo. They also named a National Episcopal advisor and established a National Office. With the blessing of the Catholic church, the movement spread throughout the country.

In the early seventies some Lutheran pastors and lay persons attended Cursillo weekends in Iowa and Florida. With the help of the Catholic and Episcopal movements, Cursillo was adapted for Lutheran use and the first Lutheran weekends were held in Miami and Atlanta in 1972. Leaders from these two new movements eventually discovered each other at a national church convention. Out of that "chance" meeting another Lutheran Cursillo movement started in Chicago and their first weekends were held in 1976. The Lutheran expression of Cursillo continued to grow and in 1980 some of the movements in the eastern part of the United States expressed interest in forming a national governing body for Lutheran Cursillo. After sending out invitations to all the known Lutheran movements in the U.S., a national meeting was held at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Atlanta in 1981. With the help of a bishop of the American Lutheran Church, a document stating the intent to form such a body was drawn up and a first draft of the constitution for the National Lutheran Secretariat was written. In the early 1980's, the Roman Catholic Secretariat began requesting a name change for the Lutheran movement if Lutheran Cursillo did not sign an agreement that team members and participants on the weekends would all be of the same denomination.

After struggling with this decision for about 6 years, the National Lutheran Secretariat decided in 1986 that they would change the name of the Lutheran movement to Via de Cristo (the way of Christ). This decision was made in order to keep the Lutheran weekends ecumenical.

Via de Cristo found its way to Northern Virginia when Pastor Ed Simonsen accepted a call to a church in Sterling, Virginia. Pastor Simonsen had been instrumental in starting Lutheran weekends in Florida after attending a Catholic weekend. As the community in Northern Virginia grew, they formed Rainbow Via de Cristo, and continued to spread. Pastor Simonsen was called to a church in Western Maryland, and he began sending members of his new congregation to Rainbow Via de Cristo weekends. The Western Maryland community grew rapidly, and began to realize that many Cursillistas did not remain involved due to the hour-and-a-half trips to attend monthly gatherings and team meetings.

In the summer of 1996, a group of Cursillistas met at a picnic in Western Maryland and discussed the challenges of a multi-regional community with more than 700 members. The group agreed that forming a new community would offer more weekends for training Christian leaders, give more people the opportunity to be involved, and "grow the movement" and the body of Christ. More meetings and discussions followed, capped by a meeting with the NLS Vice-President of Outreach Doug Burrows. In the fall of 1997, the fledgling group held its first election of officers and voted on a name, and Vineyard Via de Cristo was born. The name "Vineyard" was taken from Psalm 107:37, and expressed the hope that the group’s efforts would "sow seeds and yield a fruitful harvest."

Vineyard Via de Cristo now serves Western/Central Maryland, Northern West Virginia, and Southwest/Central Pennsylvania, and has been involved in sowing the seeds of new movements in New York, New Jersey and Central Pennsylvania. The community remains committed to providing training for Christian leaders, giving them an opportunity to develop a stronger, deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ and become "the hands through which Christ works, the mind through which Christ thinks, and the heart through which Christ loves."
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