The newest congregation in the Restoration International Outreach network of churches doesn’t meet on Sunday mornings and it is not called “church.”
RIO Maranatha Fellowship is a worship service of a different ilk, and organizers hope the outreach provided will be an opportunity for people to learn more about end time prophesy and serving others in the community.
Former State Sen. Raymond Finney is spearheading the RIO Maranatha Fellowship that meets on Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. at RIO Central, which is located on South Long Hollow Road just off West Lamar Alexander Parkway.
“Rio Maranatha Fellowship is the newest worship experience of the Rio network of churches,” he said. “Our network has 10 churches in Blount and Loudon counties. We have dozens in foreign countries, mostly third-world countries. We take missions very seriously.”
The fellowship will focus its studies in part on the beginnings of Christianity and on scriptural prophesy. “I have been studying end-of-time prophesy and the Hebraic roots of Christianity,” Finney said. “The pastor asked if I would start a worship service on these topics, and we chose Saturday.”
Finney said the intention is not to interfere with other churches’ services on Sunday and Wednesday. “We’re not in competition with other churches. This is to supplement so people can worship with us on Saturday and at their regular churches on Wednesday and Sunday,” he said.
In the fellowship bulletin, participants are encouraged to tithe to their home church first before giving to Maranatha Fellowship. Finney said Maranatha Fellowship is not the usual church.
“We’re not competing with other congregations. We’re stressing things there is a hunger for,” he said. “There are lots of people who want to know about end-time prophesy and why we believe the way we do. The teaching comes from early church background and Hebraic teaching. We’re all learning together.”
Finney said he has a weekly prophesy newsletter he has been writing for a long time and people all over the world subscribe to it. The senator said he and RIO senior pastor Ronnie Hepperly had been talking about starting Maranatha Fellowship for some time. “He wants to get people involved. It’s not just for our network of churches. We want to invite all denominations to come and learn,” Finney said.
Finney said he is in the process of developing a foundation for the teaching and planning projects for outreach in the community. “Most of these activities don’t cost money, but they have eternal rewards and help you feel better about yourself. I guarantee you will feel better than the person you are helping,” he said. “That probably sounds hokey, but at any rate, we’ll get people in the community doing things for other people and not taking credit for it. We’re doing things for Jesus, to build up the church.”
Finney said each family participating at Maranatha gets a notebook and each message will be on 11 x 17 inch sheet of paper they can keep. “The sheets will also be hole-punched, and they can keep the messages in the notebook,” he said. “It’s going to be a working congregation. The idea is that we believe Jesus is returning soon - the rapture. There are lots of thing the Bible tells us to do in the last days. We’re supposed to be actively working.”
Project Andrew relates to the disciple who introduced Simon Peter to Jesus. Finney said reaching others for Christ in a compassionate way will also be a facet of the new fellowship. “We’re asking people to write letters to God. That sounds hokey, but it is a form of prayer. You can say it verbally or in writing,” he said. “Then we seal these in a locked box, and those will be people we are praying for, praying they have salvation.”
Another of Maranatha Fellowship’s projects will honor service men and women who are in harms way, such as in the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We want to remember them in prayer and have the congregation write letters telling them we’re thinking of them and love them,” Finney said. “And we are also stressing any veteran you know, tell them we appreciate what they’ve done.”
Another initiative the new Maranatha Fellowship is participating in with other RIO congregations is Project Change for a Change. “We’re trying to get people to make lifestyle changes. Save change and contribute to Project Change. We’re buying truckloads of food, 40-foot trailer trucks. We did the first one three weeks ago,” he said. “We had 500 families and we are going to do this monthly. We would like to do it weekly if we could get funds to do it.”
Finney said he participated in the first Project Change for a Change food drive and 220 volunteers showed to pack boxes for needy families in the community. “We’re trying to make this an ongoing project to feed people physically and spiritually,” he said. “We’re working hard on that.”
Maranatha Fellowship is going to be active with other RIO congregations in foreign countries as well, Finney said. RIO took a missions crew to Haiti recently to help with the rebuilding. “We are taking a team of block masons to rebuild devastated buildings, and also physicians and some others with medical expertise,” he said. “The whole network is trying to be a working church.”