Feet in the Vineyard: Graham Schuyler
When Graham Schuyler arrived in Myrtle Beach, it was a bittersweet event.
He and his wife left what he describes as the “perfect ministry,” serving as a high school football chaplain at a huge 5A school and connecting with young people all around Knoxville. The ministry was a natural fit, as he simply followed the path the Lord prepared for him and utilized his unique gift of evangelism through personal relationships.
His arrival in Myrtle Beach was to begin serving as the youth minster for a large new church plant, work he felt certain the Lord called him into. The discernment and interview process lasted more than five months and involved multiple road trips between Knoxville and Myrtle Beach.
As painful as leaving Knoxville was, the calling felt certain, so Graham resigned his position at his church, he and his wife put their house on the market and he drove to Myrtle Beach to find a new home.
Immediately upon arrival, Graham sensed something was wrong. He couldn’t have been more right — while still house hunting and before his first day of work, the church plant imploded completely. Despite the purchase of a $2.5 million dollar facility, it all fell apart. Graham was unemployed.
“I just got in the car and drove,” he said. “I was mad at God and we were having one of those loud discussions. I drove with no destination.”
Soon, Graham found himself in Pawleys Island. It was the place where he’d begun his work in ministry seven years earlier, serving alongside African-American Pastor Van Arrington working with mostly-minority poor and disadvantaged youth in the area.
Despite being a former Marine with combat experience, on this occasion he felt overwhelmed — with an overwhelming need for prayer. He drove into the neighborhood where he’d previously ministered and to the home of one of the community’s older ladies. She welcomed him with open arms and tears.
“After praying,” Graham said, “She told me they’d been praying for me by name to return to the community. She said their young men were far worse than when I’d been there before and she felt my return to the area could call them back to Jesus.”
Right then and there, Graham put on his collar and began to walk the neighborhood. He soon encountered a group of young men, dressed in classic “gangster attire,” drinking and smoking marijuana.
Upon seeing Graham, they all stood and moved quickly towards him. As they drew closer, he realized: “These are the boys I worked with, now grown into men.”
The lead man threw his arms around him and said, “Mr. Graham! Are you coming back to take us to church?”
Shocked and amazed, Graham talked with the men for a bit and asked, “Who’s been calling on y’all since I left?”
“Since you left?” the man replied. “Nobody’s been in this neighborhood since you left.”
On his way back to his hotel, Graham passed a high school football team practicing and felt called to sit in the stands and pray. While there, a mountain of a man, Head Coach Tyrone Davis, approached him; seeing his collar he asked, “Will you pray for my team?”
The next day, Graham received a phone call from Coach Davis and the high school principal … they wanted him to be the football team chaplain. The Lord was opening a new door.
From there, door after door opened. As an ordained priest in the Anglican Mission to America (AMA), his Bishop — The Right Rev. Chuck Murphy — “just happened” to be in the same town. With financial support from the AMA and an anonymous donor, he and his wife Wendy found the means to minister in the way they feel called.
Graham’s mornings are spent tent-making, working in the Lowcountry weather to build docks. Afternoons? It’s bit difficult to fathom.
“I get out of my car and go,” he says. “I just walk into the poor communities and build friendships. I’m not foolish — I wear my collar — but I’m welcomed into the nooks and crannies most people would never go. People recognize me and know I’m there to preach the Gospel, so new introductions are plentiful.”
Frequently he finds himself with a group of men drinking and smoking marijuana, but he still speaks and they listen.
“All too often, people who don’t attend church are keenly aware of the law, but know nothing about the Gospel. They are under the misconception that church is for those who ‘behave’ within the law. I’ve had other pastors ask me about my condoning their sins and I simply tell them their sins are of no interest to me. That’s between them and God. My calling is to tell them the Good News of forgiveness, God’s love and the free gift of grace.”
“We also talk sports,” he adds.
As we all know, the Vineyard has many sections … some fertile, some rocky, some hard-packed and some covered in thorns. Many well-meaning and faithful Christians desire, in their hearts, to “take the church outside the church to people who don’t go to church,” but the thorny areas are just a bit too far into the bush.
For Graham and Wendy, their work is to wade into the thorny areas, clear the brush and till the soil until it’s fertile.