The Vine Christian Community Church [now known as the "Twelve Tribes], owner of the Yellow Deli restaurants and the subject of some controversy here over the past few years regarding its unorthodox style, is selling almost all of its businesses and properties here and plans to relocate the majority of its people to New England. One church elder called it "a major shift in the church's direction." Elder Gary Gilbreath said that approximately 70 of the church's 100 members will leave this city over the next year for a mission outpost in Vermont or for planned missions in New York City and Boston. Three Chattanooga Yellow Delis will close, as well as restaurants in Dayton, Trenton, Georgia, and Mentone, Alabama. The Yellow Deli restaurant and church in Dalton will remain open.
The spokesman said the church is relocating its members, most in their late teens and 20's because it has found more enthusiasm towards its ideas in Vermont than it has found in the Chattanooga, area. Mr. Gilbreath explained the reason for the move as a "general feeling that the Lord a directing us to other places, some of which there are people who have never heard the name of Jesus." And that it is just "a saturated Bible belt town down here" Mr. Gilbreath said. "People are just dull with it. Mr. Gilbreath said. I grew up like them and I was just a hypocrite," said the Trenton native "The message we have to share is meeting for more response in Vermont than it has here. My people there have said to us, 'We want you to come up here and show us what you are doing and show us how to live and help us.' In Chattanooga people are more likely to say 'You're OK, but we really have no use for you.'"
He said the church's experience with the Areopagus on McCallie Avenue was representative of the frustrations the church's members have met "We never felt the Areopagus lived up to what we thought it could be. We hoped it would be a Christian center where people would come together and share the spirit" he said. "It has met with next to no response. The larger Christian community has had no interest in participating," he said. "We want to go where people are really wanting what we have. It seems like the people of Chattanooga are not really interested in what we are trying to do."
The church has been the subject of much controversy during recent years. Newspaper articles have described the restaurant operations as forcing church members to work long and grueling schedules with little or no pay. Critics have also accused the church's elders of seizing the personal property of new members and wielding autocratic power in using it for the church's purposes.
During last August and September, the church held public meetings at the Central YMCA in an effort to meet with interested persons and improve its image. However, as one member of the community admitted, the church has took a low profile during recent months. The decision on which church members go to Vermont and which stay in the Chattanooga area or at Dalton will be made after open discussions, said Mr. Gilbreath.
He said the council of elders, which has final say on all matters affecting the church will again have the final word.