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Liberty University Homecoming

For the last five or so years no visit to Liberty is really complete without a visit to Thomas Road Baptist Church, now more or less conveniently located right off Campus North in the former GE/Ericsson facility. It’s more than walking distance from the Vines Center at the center of campus, and I suspect most Liberty students go to church on campus. TRBC is apparently packed for both services on Sunday (9:30AM and 11:00AM).

We had hoped to see both Jonathan Falwell and Charles Billingsley [link], the current singer in residence at TRBC. Jonathan’s ascent and competence as pastor of Thomas Road is nothing less than a miracle, and I really wanted to see it for myself. I don’t know much about Billingsley; he’s a former member of NewSong [link], has a discography of eight or nine albums as a solo artist (most available for purchase at TRBC), has put in appearances on CBN and TBN, etc. Unfortunately we ran late, and by the time we found the church, found a parking space, etc. the music was over. It didn’t matter: Billingsley was appearing somewhere else.

The Lynchburg area is heavily churched. There are pages and pages of churches in the phone book; I counted 65 Baptist churches alone several years ago, and I rather doubt there are fewer today. And there are more than a dozen Baptist churches on US 29 South between Lynchburg and Chatham. There’s a sizable Calvary Chapel, a couple of substantial independent churches (including Tree of Life [link]) and a significant Evangelical Free Church presence. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that most regular church attenders are unhappy in their current church and would go elsewhere if they knew where to go. I’ve only heard good things about three churches: TRBC, Calvary, and one recently revived old hidebound church in the respectable part of town the name of which escapes me. Rivermont Avenue, maybe.

For years Liberty faculty (excepting School of Religion faculty and seminary faculty who were on supply and people with written excuses) were required to attend Thomas Road; when this restriction was lifted fifteen or twenty years ago there was a substantial exodus, much to the benefit of other churches and probably to the benefit of TRBC too. One of the things this means today is that when you see Liberty faculty at TRBC they’re there because they want to be.

So I’ve said all that to say this: I had high hopes for my visit to TRBC. Unfortunately Jonathan wasn’t speaking; instead we got to hear someone named Brian Bloye, a former Liberty and TRBC staffer who heads a large church somewhere in Georgia [mp3]. He gave a kind of by-the-numbers contemporary evangelical presentation of Psalm 23 (example bullet: “Is the Lord really your Shepherd? Or is your shepherd money, your job, etc?”).

The TRBC sanctuary is massive. Here’s a handheld video that at times shows the massive stage, huge choir, video screens, background projection screens, etc.

Official video production at TRBC typically does short pans and tight shots of individual choir members, so it’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the place from official video. It’s just a massive, overwhelming, immersive experience.

The foyer of the church is also massive; it’s called Main Street, it’s a sort of bazaar, full of stalls selling official ministry products, books, coffee, etc. Here’s another handheld video of it on an off day. I don’t think it does it justice.

Products being sold the day we were there included a memoir by Duke Westover about his time traveling with Jerry Falwell [link]. Apparently this book is new (and something of a niche product) as it merited a separate booth in the middle of the floor away from the usual book stall.

My traveling companion had never been to TRBC before, and described Main Street as being “like Vegas,” by which I think she meant that it reminded her of the shopping areas that dominate the walkways under and between casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas, not that she thought any of the church workers resembled show girls, or whatever. I’m sure if she’d ever visited Branson or the Grand Ole Opry she would have phrased this differently.

We have promised ourselves that we will go back for Homecoming next year and make more of an effort to see it in all its ragged glory. We hope we can catch Charles Billingsley and Jonathan Falwell at TRBC next year too.

 

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  1. October 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm
  2. October 26, 2010 at 9:01 pm

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