The Barn opens its doors to Christians of all kinds
● By J. Chambless
Members of The Barn Senior Pastoral Team include (from left) Bruce Latshaw, founding and senior pastor; Lynn Latshaw, senior pastor; Krystin Luff, children’s pastor; Justin Burton, youth pastor; Caitlyn Burton, youth pastor; and Lenny Gawlikowski, pastor and director of Pneuma Center, a pastoral prayer healing ministry. (Photo by Natalie Smith)
By Natalie Smith
Drivers on Appleton Road may notice the red-and-white sign at the entrance to the long driveway. Beneath a simple outline of a barn and cross, it states, “The Barn Vineyard Church,” followed by the email address and church affiliation.
If the driver pulled into Chisel Creek Court, which is flanked by pastureland so common in this part of Chester County, they would indeed come to a barn – sort of. Rather, a large, barn-inspired church building that members use for worship and community.
Senior and Founding Pastor Bruce Latshaw, who, along with wife Lynn and church staff, tend to the current flock of about 400 members, explained the original church on the property actually was a barn. When family life insurance allowed the Latshaws to purchase 20 undeveloped acres near Kemblesville in the mid-1970s, they built a family home and an animal barn.
Then, “We felt a communication from the Lord to offer that animal barn to our church to meet there. [Church members] said yes, and that’s why the church is named The Barn,” Latshaw said. Church growth necessitated construction of the larger building in 2004, although that first building, refurbished and used for office space and group meetings, is referred to as the “Little” or “Old” Barn.
“Our culture here is very informal and casual,” Latshaw said of his church, which draws members from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Unlike a more traditional church service, “There is no set script,” he said.
He explained a typical service: “An introduction; 45 minutes to an hour worshiping God, singing songs accompanied by the band – guitar, drums and keyboard – flowing from one song to the next. In between the worship songs, we provide opportunity for various members of the church to come and read a meaningful scripture, or say a prayer, or give a prophetic word to the congregation.”
Personal ministry is offered at the end by a trained ministry team, who pray for those who present themselves. At the end, they celebrate Communion.
Lynn Latshaw noted that The Barn also places a high value on the arts. “Sometimes people are painting on stage; we have a dance team and children with flags,” she said. What resonates strongly through the church is the warm relationship members have with one another.
“I think of us more as a family than anything else,” said Kristyn Luff, who is children’s pastor and oversees about 45 kids. She’s considered a member of the Senior Pastoral Team. “I love the people [at the church] and I know I would do anything for them, I know they would do anything for me. It's our culture. Not that we do everything right all the time; we don't. But we love each other through that.”
Luff, who was raised Catholic, first came to The Barn in the early 2000s. Drug abuse in her family threw Luff’s life into turmoil. “I was angry and self-medicating and just walking a road that had no hope,” she said. “I was really struggling. I never lost belief that God was there, I just didn't have a relationship with Him.”
A co-worker, who was a church member, invited Luff to a service. It was life-changing for her. “When I walked in the door with my friend that day, I had my first understanding that God was tangible,” she said. “My walk with God has given me an understanding and compassion for all walks of life. I can understand making decisions that aren't the best. I understand what it is to be in a hopeless situation and find hope. I understand what it is to have God love you despite yourself.”
The Barn was the final stop for a church that had its beginnings with the Latshaws about 50 years ago.
“Both of us were part of the hippie counter-cultural movement of the late ’60s,” Bruce Latshaw said, “and I started this whole jump into Christianity by having a conversion experience with Jesus. That led me then to come to the Wilmington area. I lived there while attending the University of Delaware, studying for my master’s degree in education.
“It was about this time that the Jesus Movement migrated from the West Coast,” he said, referring to the Christian movement that was particularly appealing to young people with its informality and exploration of the Holy Spirit.
Lynn Latshaw, who also experienced a conversion, was among the UD students who would gather for worship. “There were probably 50 of us. We had started meetings on campus,” she said, “and our pastor from [a Wilmington church] would come out and teach.”
Then Lynn’s chance encounter with a reporter looking for “the Jesus People” resulted in a newspaper story that caused their meeting attendance to “explode overnight,” she said.
“We totally outgrew [the meeting space],” Lynn said, shaking her head and laughing at the memory. “We had hundreds. Overnight. And here we're new believers and suddenly we had all these people that we're supposed to do something with. I'm 19 and suddenly we're put into a leadership position. We had had no intention of leading anything.”
But the Latshaws, who married in 1971, proved to be gifted leaders. Although the Wilmington-based group disbanded, a return to Newark so both could study for additional degrees had the couple start meetings there. And people came, so their meeting spaces had to accommodate them.
“We were like hermit crabs,” Bruce said. “Every time we grew, we got a bigger shell. So, we kept moving around. Then the little group that started meeting in our graduate-school apartment in Newark was the beginning of this church.”
After earning his degree and teaching school in New Castle, Bruce was approached by church leaders who said they would match his salary if he would be willing to be a pastor. “That’s what I really wanted to be anyway, ever since I came to the Lord. So, I said yes,” he said. “I quit my job and became pastor of a 75-person church.”
The church grew, and for 25 years, Bruce was pastor of the non-denominational Newark Christian Fellowship, but changed the name after the move to Landenberg and a 2003 affiliation with the Vineyard Movement.
“We searched around for what we called at that time a ‘larger spiritual family’ to join,” Bruce said, explaining how The Barn became a Vineyard Church. “Several networks of churches like that met with us. We decided we were most like the movement that was called The Vineyard.
“It had come from Southern California. The Jesus Movement had come from Southern California here. The Vineyard was birthed immediately out of the Jesus Movement. So that Movement was very much like what we experienced as young people and how we did church. It was a good fit.”
In addition to Luff as children’s pastor, The Barn Vineyard Church is staffed with other Senior Pastors who oversee different areas of ministry.
Lenny Gawlikowski is director of the Pneuma Center, a pastoral prayer ministry that works on physical and inner healing and counseling. He also trains others to carry on that work.
“Once people get healed -- you are going to go out and help others. I call them rough sea sailors -- once you've navigated the rough seas, you go out and show someone else how to do it,” he said.
The former assistant pastor of a New London church, he became acquainted with Bruce Latshaw after Gawlikowski was referred to him following a “profound experience with the Lord.”
“He actually began to mentor me,” he said. Gawlikowski eventually set up a prayer ministry called Shepherd’s Way, but after financial difficulties caused its dissolution, Bruce invited him to continue his work at The Barn. Its association with The Vineyard has given The Barn access to the School of Kingdom Ministry, which also trains participants in a more formalized fashion through an online course.
As the church’s Freedom Outreach director, Keisha Jackson is in charge of the ministry founded in 1999 by Barn member Thomas McGrath that works with at-risk youth and families in Wilmington. Jackson said she’s been a part of Freedom Outreach since she was a girl, when she joined a baseball game across the street from her mother’s house.
“Little did I know that they had an afterschool program. Once I found that out, they could not get rid of me, and here I am today – the director – almost 20 years later,” Jackson said. “I want to see transformation and change in these kids’ lives, the same way it happened in my life. I know God did it for me and He will do the same for them.”
Justin and Caitlyn Burton are the church’s youth and young adult pastors to a group of about 40 pre-teens, teens and young adults, and they came from a more traditional Baptist church. Their being at The Barn was literally an answer to a prayer.
“Much like Bruce and Lynn, I had a conversion moment which led me to Delaware, where I met my wife,” Justin said, “and we got involved in a college ministry. But our church culture was very different than The Barn and Vineyard experience.”
Friends who were leading worship once a month at The Barn invited the Burtons to join them. “It was very different, but we got exposed to different ways of thinking, new paradigms, new experiences that we just fell in love with,” Justin said. The Burtons went to California to attend ministry school, then after a year found out they were having a baby and decided to go home to Delaware, Caitlyn said. They knew they wanted to become members of The Barn, so Caitlyn sent Lynn Latshaw a text, stating they were returning and asking if they could serve the church in some way.
Meanwhile, about 100 members – 25 to 30 families – had left to form another Vineyard Church (“The Movement calls it ‘church planting’,” said Bruce) in Newark, close to the Maryland border. In that group was the former youth pastor who received a call to become a church pastor.
Lynn Latshaw was worried about replacing the youth pastor, so she and Bruce prayed about it. The next day she received Caitlyn’s text. Lynn felt the couple could work well as the youth pastors.
“When I read it, I just really felt strongly –[Bruce did too – that God had provided people, but it was so unlike us to go outside [the church],” Lynn said. “But it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We have great staff, every single person. Everyone is amazing.”
Bruce Latshaw said The Barn Vineyard Church’s acceptance of all is inherent in their tenets, even those who might be shaky in their beliefs. “We want people to belong, and then they believe. We want to enfold them in a family in love with Christ,” he said.
More information about The Barn Vineyard Church is available at www.thebarnvineyard.com
Natalie Smith may be contacted at DoubleSMedia@rocketmail.com.