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“This can never happen again,” Josie intoned with an insistence bordering on an ultimatum. Turning to the other lay members of the leadership council of Ascension Lutheran Church, Josie reiterated her point with the words “never again.” There are a number of grave situations that a phrase like this could precede or follow in a church leadership meeting and none are the kinds of things most of us want to consider. We hear this phrase uttered when something previously unconsidered becomes a recent and regrettable experience.  “This can never happen again,” we insist when our worldview is shaken by what has just passed.

But on this particular day, Josie and the other leaders at Ascension were saying, “this can never happen again” because one of our formerly homeless brothers had been locked out of the service when he had shown up late and ushers had failed to notice him. Waiting patiently at the door, he was admitted with a dollar in his hand for the offering as the congregation was returning to the waiting world and the leadership council began their monthly meeting. Though once they had uttered the phrase for fear of people intruding during worship and theft, they now uttered it at the thought of one left standing outside—one whom they had learned to love.


The leaders insisted to their pastor, Meredith, that she needed to find the man and get him to forgive the congregation for their oversight—Meredith agreed with them wholeheartedly. Of course, Meredith knew the gentleman very well because Ascension has been hosting a meal for us every month for well over a year now. Each month, we fill their fellowship hall with folks from all over town who are eager to eat a delicious meal and spend time with each other. In that blessed space, we gather our little beloved band of folks. Some are homeless and some have beautiful homes. Some are hungry and eager for the meal to begin, while others are better fed and okay to hang back and join the line more slowly. Most struggle with some kind of addiction, whether it is to alcohol, money, crack, or control.Margaret Adams Parker Reconciliation

But, the fine folks in this lovely congregation have learned and are learning not just to provide a meal, but to provide their hearts in welcome hospitality to whoever may show up to God’s feast in their building. So when they unintentionally excluded their brother, many of them already had a relationship with him built over many dinners and conversations. So, at the insistent urging of her leaders, Meredith sought our brother out, apologized, and asked for his forgiveness. He was quick and eager to say that it wasn’t a problem and that he’d see them all again very soon.

You see, what was built over many meals cannot be shattered by one mistake. When God puts folks together, humility and forgiveness will keep them there by the Spirit.

Meredith likes to say that the meals they host and the partnership between Grace and Main, Ascension Lutheran, and Third Chance Ministries is something of a “little Pentecost” for her folks. “We’re learning how to speak and think about poverty,” she explained, “and it’s changing our people.” They, like we, are learning a new language full of “we” and “us” and not so much “them” and “other.” They, like we, are learning to say, “This can never happen again.” When we eat with a brother who has nowhere to lay his head, never again can we look the other way. When we break bread with a sister who has sold her body for a place to sleep or a bite to eat, never again can we say we’re not our sister’s keeper. When we share the cup with a child who has too little food at home, never again can we say that it’s somebody else’s problem.

Together, we’re all learning how to breathe a silent prayer to God—“May this never happen again”—and then join God in making it so.



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We’ve told you about our brother Roland before in these newsletters (click here to read one). Perhaps you know how he escaped homelessness for the first time in over a dozen years a few years back and how we helped him find a clean and fairly rented apartment in one of our beloved neighborhoods. Perhaps you know how overjoyed he was when a friend of Grace and Main (and member of First Baptist Church) donated a bed and some furniture for Roland’s new apartment. You might know about how Roland began providing hospitality in his apartment for homeless folks his second night there on some of that donated furniture—he reminded us, “Folks need a place to stay.” You might know that we commissioned Roland as our minister of prayer early on in our community’s life and he has guided us spiritually time and again and taught many of how better to pray, as well as how he prays over and blesses many of the groups that retreat with us. You might even know that Roland was eventually able to find another apartment by himself, in spite of some his particular challenges, and how he budgets and saves to continue to offer hospitality in his new home and to welcome us there to study scripture and share meals.

What you might not know is that Roland had surgery this past December on his heart. He joined another one of our homes for a little over a month as he recovered from surgery in one of our hospitality rooms. After a while, Roland learned to like the fair-trade coffee and began to experiment with a few different ways of preparing his morning oatmeal. He shared Christmas morning with his new (temporary) housemates and was more excited about the meal than any of the small gifts we passed around. He was insistent that some of us keep an eye on his house so that folks could still find a place to stay and would have the sheets, towels, and food they needed even if he couldn’t be there while he recovered—we were glad to do so. He led the house in prayer upon occasion and taught his housemates better how to greet each morning with joy. We learned much from Roland over those several weeks—about how to live faithfully and dependently upon God—but eventually he returned to his own home with a mixture of sadness and gladness.

Because of the surgery and recovery, Roland is doing much better now. He’s back to walking nearly everywhere he wants to go. He gets up early, has his breakfast, and off he goes into our neighborhoods on whatever mission God has placed on his plate for the day. Each Sunday evening he comes to one of the Grace and Main houses to pray and worship together. Sometimes, he contributes a song or a prayer, but always he brings himself and his prayer list. He offers special prayers in the meantime over our book of prayer and for all the people and causes written inside of it. Each Wednesday, our community gathers together to study scripture and Roland is a part of that, as well. When our leaders gather to make decisions as a body, Roland joins us. He has joined us at nearly every meal we’ve hosted as a community for nearly four years and contributes food to the feast when he can.

Lots of folks see Roland and think only of the ways he has been blessed by participation in our community and by the actions of other local congregations and individuals. It seems often that our congregations and communities have learned to see the world of mission and ministry in stark terms of caregivers and care recipients. Yet, Roland does not fit into just one of these categories. He is neither or he is both, but nobody should insist that he is one or the other. This isn’t only the case for Roland, but also for the countless folks still out there on the streets, taking shelter in stairwells or abandoned buildings, begging for daily bread or pocket change, or fighting desperately against their own demons. We have the grand privilege of walking arm in arm with Roland and many others toward our Lord and our God and living and serving alongside a wide variety of beloved and blessed brothers and sisters, and we cannot get there without them. The sooner we can learn to believe that this is true, the sooner we all can be set free to do God’s work in good and powerful ways in our homes, congregations, and neighborhoods. Those folks we’ve learned to look away from are not problems waiting to be solved, but they are the very keys to our freedom in Christ through love.

You see, the world is changing around Roland. God is using him to teach us even more about grace, hospitality, prayer, and joy. Through Roland we are learning more and more about the power of community, the discipline of hospitality, and the deep, deep love of Jesus. We’re thrilled to call him part of our little community and a leader in our midst because God has given us to him and him to us.

The most recent edition of Third Chances, a newsletter about ministry in Danville, Virginia, is available at:

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One Sunday night, Emily approached me as people were making their way out of our home after worshiping with us and sharing a piece of cake with a sister in celebration of one month of sobriety. As people trickled out to their cars with hugs and a few more jokes and encouraging words to our recently clean sister, Emily hung back with a look of frustration on her face. As I placed our community’s Christ candle back on its shelf, I noticed that Emily was waiting for me.

“Hey Em,” I said, “it’s been nice having you to eat and pray with us these last couple of weeks.” She had only been showing up for a couple of weeks, but she seemed to be interested in what we were doing and our own particular way of living in God’s Kingdom. I continued, “What’s on your mind? Something you wanna talk about?” I figured it had something to do with Alan, who she had connected with strongly at one of her first meals with us—after a great conversation with Emily, Alan approached us about being ready to seek treatment and find better shelter, but he had recently relapsed after about 9 days clean. We were all disappointed, but this was the first time Emily had dealt with something like this and most of our leaders had seen something like it at least a few times, and while that doesn’t make it hurt any less, it does prepare you for it.

Abruptly, as if she had stored the question away for a few days to ferment before letting it pop in our living-room-turned-chapel, she asked, “It’s not as easy as I thought it was. Is it?”

I won’t dare say that I knew what she was feeling or thinking in that moment, because it’s beyond presumptuous to assume I could wrap my head around her own experience. But, in that moment as that honest and heartbroken question sprang forth, my mind flashed back to the first time something like that had happened to me at Grace and Main. With a slow shake of my head, I sighed and answered her, “No. It hardly ever is.”
You see, so many new folks are so very confident when they first show up to our meals, prayers, studies, worship, or get-togethers. They’ve learned from a combination of articles, books, pundits, sermons, Facebook posts, television shows, and teachers that poverty, homelessness, addiction, and hunger are simple things with simple solutions. These folks come with confidence and good intentions, believing that they have something to offer to brothers and sisters in desperate places and situations. Inevitably, they come to the same conclusion that all of us arrive at eventually, when our heart is broken and our confidence is shaken by the complicated nature of the work we do in our neighborhoods—the same place Emily arrived with her hands on the other end of our altar cloth as we folded it together.

“It’s different—” Emily began before cutting off in a thoughtful pause, “it’s different when you know somebody—when it’s not just something to talk about.” With frustration showing at the edges of her eyes, she added, “I wish it was easier. I wish I knew exactly what to do and when to do it to really help.”

Every time I get to have this important conversation with someone (which is about once a month on average), I find that this is the hardest moment. I know in that moment that they’ve come to me because they want me to replace their scratched and busted confidence with a promise that it gets easier—a promise that they can do the work we do and retain the confidence that they brought with them. I know that most of them want me to say something like, “Well, the secret to working among the marginalized is…” or “When you’ve prayed for somebody to get clean and to leave behind the substances that makes them a slave, all you have to do to make it happen is…” But, all I can say in that moment when they’ve placed their ailing confidence on the table and said they wished it was easier or that they always knew what to do is, “We all do, sister. We all do.”

In Emily’s case, and in nearly all of the versions of this conversation that I get to have, we talked about just how complicated it is. We talked about how homelessness and poverty are, at their most essential, not problems of material resources, but instead are relationship problems. We talked about why we say that relationships and consistent presence are foundational in what we do. We talked about the blistering chains of addiction and brothers and sisters still in bondage even after many attempts at liberation. I made Emily a promise that I try to make to all folks who make it to that hard moment of withering confidence: “I promise you that if you keep serving alongside us, your heart is going to be broken time and again, because a relationship isn’t real until you hurt when they hurt and celebrate when they celebrate. But, I promise you that in each of those moments of frustration and heartbreak, we’ll stand next to you and hold you up—because our relationship with you isn’t real until we hurt when you hurt, and celebrate when you celebrate. I promise that our Lord will stand next to you as well, once again proclaiming like he did with the cross that a relationship isn’t real until you hurt when they hurt and celebrate when they celebrate.”

You see, nearly all of us come to that hard place with confidence—knowing exactly how to fix poverty, homelessness, addiction, hunger, and other injustices and evils—but we find that we have to lay our confidence at the foot of the cross and commit ourselves to loving first and understanding only later. The answers aren’t easy, but our calling is simple: to love our neighbor and to love God. The beautiful thing is that when God sends us back to our community, God sends us with something to replace the confidence laying shattered at the cross. God replaces our confidence with hope, and we know that “hope does not disappoint us.

The end of year tax-deductible donation letters went out in the mail last week. If you donated to Third Chance Ministries in 2013 and you’ve not yet received you letter, then be on the lookout for it soon. We could not have done all that we did in 2013 without your support–your support of us with your prayers, your support of us with your generous donations, and your support of us with your voice when you shared our newsletter with others and invited us to come and speak to congregations and groups with which you are affiliated. The past year was an amazing success and an incredible adventure to take with you and we not only give thanks for what has passed, but also we wait with eager anticipation for what is yet to come in 2014.

In 2013, the staff of Third Chance Ministries expanded to include three new staff members. In January of 2013, we added Bruce Hopson to our staff as a Missionary to the Northside of Danville. In July of 2013, we added Ben Wright at our Missionary to Downtown Danville. In August of 2013, we added Tracy Gwynn as our Administrative Assistant. These new staff members are changing the neighborhoods in which they live and serve by developing new, indigenous leaders, advocating for justice in their midst, providing pastoral care and active listening, feeding and clothing those most in need, and providing hospitality out of their own homes and spaces. With your support, we are having strong, positive impacts and seeing results from our deep engagement and investment in these areas of profound need. Around our missionaries, we’re seeing communities spring up and neighborhoods that are contributing from their own limited supplies in order to be a part of the ministry that is going on in their midst.

In short, because of the movement of God’s Spirit, because of your support and generosity, because of the willingness of missionaries (both paid and unpaid), and because of the support of Grace and Main Fellowship and its ministry, the Kingdom of God is moving in unexpected and lovely places.

Slightly over 85% of donations made to Third Chance Ministries were made by individuals and families–many of whom are committed to being “sustaining partners.” It is because of our sustaining partners, that we were able to bring on additional staff this year to focus in the areas where have focused. Becoming a sustaining partner is simple: call, email, or write Joshua (3CM’s Executive Director) and give him an estimate of what you’d like to donate over the next year and how often you plan on writing a check (or having your bank automatically write one). By doing this, you allow us to budget based on your generosity and to make some predictions about the next few years. Most of our supporters do this already with some writing monthly checks and others writing one check a year.

A little over 14% of donations made to Third Chance Ministries in 2013 were made by congregations, organizations, and businesses who have seen the work we’re doing and want to be a part of it. Some of the congregations connected with us have seen growth among their leaders by being involved in our hands-on and deeply personal way of doing things. By being involved with Grace and Main Fellowship and Third Chance Ministries, these organizations are entertaining brave discussions of what it means to be a missional organization in the 21st century and we are glad to have them as partners with us. We’re also glad to partner with your congregation or organization. Just call, email, or write us and let us know that you’d like for one of us to come and speak to your organization or to sit down and discuss ways we can partner together.

Here’s a few of the things that we did in 2013 that you were able to join us in doing by your generosity:

  • Organized and developed a “tool library” to provide lawnmowers, weed whackers, hand tools, personal protective equipment, and a workshop to those who would use the tools to find work and to earn a living. It’s used nearly every day of the year.
  • Grace and Main’s Roving Feast, with the assistance of Third Chance Ministries staff members, provided over 6,000 meals downtown and on the Northside on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons
  • Grace and Main’s Wednesday morning Northside breakfast provided over 2,200 meals on Wednesday mornings under the direct leadership of Third Chance Ministries staff. We’re hoping to start a downtown Wednesday morning breakfast in 2014.
  • Our Northside community coffee pot provided over 750 gallons of coffee in the cold times of 2013, while we passed out even more water, kool-aid, and lemonade on the hot days. We’re hoping to start a downtown community coffee pot in 2014.
  • Our Community Artisan Fair organized local artisans and craftpersons to provide local, alternative gifts for those who were buying Christmas presents.
  • Develop dozens of new relationships, while maintaining the ones we already had, with the homeless, near-homeless, poor, addicted, and hungry
Thank  you so much for all of your support. Next month, you can expect to see another story from our work.

As Kyle and Shaun made their way down the street back toward the ramshackle house they called home after that day’s Roving Feast, one of Grace and Main’s leaders (Ed) caught up with them to ask after Jonathan who was missing from the meal. Ed fell into step with Kyle and Shaun as they told him how he was sick and had stayed home. A medical professional by profession and a missionary by calling, Ed asked if they minded if he checked in on Jonathan. The guys looked at each other for a moment before Kyle responded, “Ed, we’re going to do the devil’s work right now. You don’t wanna come.”

With a puzzled look, Ed asked, “The devil’s work?”

“We’re going to pay the devil his due,” Shaun explained with a hand gesture indicating the particular addiction they were going to satisfy. “It’s not the kind of thing you want to be around, Ed,” Shaun continued, “we appreciated the lunch and hanging out, but this isn’t your kind of thing.”

Ed considered, but replied soon after, “It’s okay. I’m a sinner too, brother.” After a short walk, they arrived at the barely-there-front-door of their home and Ed paused, asking, “Is it okay with yall for me to come in to check on Jonathan?”

Kyle shook his head and said, “We’re gonna do the devil’s work, Ed. But if you want to come in, Jonathan’s in there.” With those words, Kyle and Shaun made their way to the back of the house. In another room off to the side, Ed found Jonathan half-sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor, surrounded by trash and dirty clothes. But before he even spoke with Jonathan, Ed knew he was sick. The smell of pus and infection was an overbearing presence in the drafty room. The mattress upon which Jonathan slept fitfully was soaked with urine. You see, it was apparent that Jonathan has an abscessed tooth due in part to his own consuming addictions and in part to his lack of medical care. Jonathan’s mouth had become so infected, in fact, that his infection had eaten a hole through his cheek.

After some very basic first aid and wound care, kneeling on that urine soaked mattress, Ed told Jonathan that he really needed to go to the emergency room and offered to call an ambulance. But, as Ed was leaving he felt the Spirit speaking to his heart, reminding him of a line he had prayed that morning at morning prayer, “Stop. Don’t leave. It is Christ.” So, Ed turned around and knelt back down beside Jonathan and asked what he wanted him to do. In the midst of filth and infection, a place where “the devil’s work” was done on the regular, Jonathan asked Ed to read to him from the book of the prophet Isaiah. So, sitting on the floor with the smell of pus blanketing the air, Ed read the particular passage Jonathan wanted to hear: Isaiah 6.

Consider how it must have sounded in that room as Ed read aloud, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Even in this place, Lord? Even this place is full of your glory? Consider how it must have felt to hear, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Where God? Where can we find you in the midst of this suffering? After quite a while spent reading about Isaiah’s calling in that dark place, Jonathan asked Ed to pray with him. Jonathan led them and he prayed, “Lord, you know how much we suffer…” before being unable to continue. Ed repeated the line and Jonathan repeated it back to him again. Ed closed with an amen.

Ed promised to check in on Jonathan that evening when he came by to get Shaun and Kyle for our Thursday night dinner and to take him to the hospital if Jonathan didn’t call an ambulance in the meantime like he should. Ed said goodbye to Kyle, Shaun, and Jonathan and headed back up the street to what was left of the Roving Feast, still considering the odd arrangement of Isaiah’s words with Jonathan’s present suffering. He’d gone down into the place where he was told they were going to do “the devil’s work.” Yet, it was in this place of darkness and suffering that he had once again found the Spirit speaking not only to his heart but to the heart of our enslaved and suffering brother, Jonathan. It seems that even in the midst of the place where the “devil’s work” was overwhelming, the Spirit was still calling, leading them to join with Isaiah in saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

After visiting the emergency room, Jonathan got the antibiotics he needed and recovered from the abscess. He is still struggling with a particularly crippling combination of challenges and addictions. But, change and recovery doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve learned the power of consistent and determined love. We see him regularly on the Roving Feast, at our meals, and in our homes. After a recent Thursday night meal, he was one of the last folks we dropped off at the same home where Ed found him on the mattress. As we pulled down the road, he was singing along loudly with the radio. He’s got a nice voice under the ravages of addiction and it didn’t escape our notice that the lyric he was belting through closed eyes was, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” As he stepped out of the van, the chorus came back around and he called out to the van, the houses, and the streetlights, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” As he climbed the steps to his home, we pulled away to take the borrowed van back to First Baptist, but his song echoed again through our minds. Jesus told us that the gates of hell itself would not withstand the Kingdom of God. It seems that even in the places where “the devil’s work” is done, the Kingdom of God is still taking root. God is still calling people–people who will say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me”–to find those places where the Kingdom is secretly flourishing and to stand alongside those who keep saying, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go.”


We at Third Chance Ministries want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

This is our prayer for you in this season and in the new year:

May the Father prepare a feast for you in an unexpected place that somebody else calls home.

May our Lord unite you to unexpected people and bind your life to theirs so that their good is your good and their suffering is your suffering.

May the Spirit lead you to open your own life and heart to a world in desperate need of love and hospitality.

May the Father guide you into all righteousness and show you the power of justice rightly administered.

May our Lord teach you the value of listening silence in the face of brokenness and the power of mercy wildly distributed.

May the Spirit give you not only words to say, but also silences to keep and may you know the difference between justice and mercy.

May the Father continually call you one step further than you’re comfortable and continually surprise you with the depths of God’s love.

May our Lord simplify your life and frustrate your best laid plans if they don’t bring you closer to him.

May the Spirit mend the broken parts of you and soothe you when you’re worn and sore from God’s holy formation.

Merry Christmas from the staff of Third Chance Ministries (Josh, Bruce, Ben, and Tracy) and thank you for your continued support of Third Chance Ministries and its effort to develop and support missionaries and leaders among the homeless, near-homeless, poor, addicted, and hungry.

It seems that something changed when we finally got our first good cold snap here in Danville. All of our own peculiar markers of the season changing have become unmistakable. As the temperatures dipped to frosty, even our last hanger-on (Bruce) began to admit that it might be too cold for a milkshake. Our weekly meals began to see more chili, cornbread, and hot, buttery potatoes. Grace and Main’s budget began to show a little more stress to accommodate the dozens of folks who had not yet found warm shelter. The hospitality rooms in our home finished filling up for those who would be taking shelter in our homes through the winter. Some of our faithful congregational partners began refilling our coffers with “Urban Survival Bags” for those for whom we cannot find sufficient shelter. Finally, I began to receive one of the seasonal questions I’ve come to expect: “So, any plans for Thanksgiving?”

It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard of a question to answer. After all, it’s an innocuous question at best; but it gives me pause and an opportunity to consider what we’re doing in Danville as our intentional, Christian community of hospitality, service, and discipleship struggles to live in the Kingdom of God and by the Sermon on the Mount. Usually, I give a short description of the big Thanksgiving meal that Grace and Main hosts every November and say that I’ll be having Thanksgiving with a hundred or so folks.

It’s one of the quiet traditions we have in our little community—having an outlandish meal as we near the anniversary of our start and as our budget grows thinner under the stress of need and cold weather. Since 2009, the plan has always started with the commitment that we’ll be having a big meal even though we’re not entirely sure how we’ll pull it off. Invariably, our congregational and organizational partners step forward and offer us space, food, and more. In 2011, we ate the meal in our home and didn’t have a turkey (or somebody who had experience cooking turkeys!) until the day before. That year, it was the biggest meal we’d ever hosted not in a park, but we were breaking that record every week only two months later. In 2012, we ate at God’s Storehouse (our lovely, local food pantry) and were overwhelmed by the number of partners who were eager to participate.

This year, we were hosted by our beloved partners at Ascension Lutheran Church, who have cooked a big meal for us every month for a while and stepped it up even further for Thanksgiving. I could spend many paragraphs just telling you how much of a blessing they have been to us this year and at this most recent meal, but there’s so much else to tell! Seven turkeys and twenty-five pies and cakes were just part of the feast we held with a mixture of folks from regional congregations, our neighborhoods, local recovery groups, and all of our many regulars with whom we have, and continue to develop, mutually beneficial relationships. There were a few faces missing from our meal this year—Miss Betty, Linda, Mr. Oliver—and they were recalled with fond thoughts and grateful hearts. There were many new faces at our meal this year, as well. It seems that God continues to call folks to join us in building new families in unfamiliar places—we’re thankful to have them. Members of one our partners, Clarksville Baptist in Clarksville, Virginia, even made the hour drive to eat with all of us—with a blessed youth bringing us bags of coats and blankets she had collected for cold folks in Danville. For these (both people and also coats and blankets) we give thanks, as well.

We start this big meal off like we start all of our meals: with the Body and Blood of Jesus. As we pass the loaf and the cup, we proclaim to the world and to ourselves that what binds us and connects us is so much bigger and more powerful than all those things that try to separate us. When we gather around all those tables, we’re one big family getting to know each other better.

When I answer the question of Thanksgiving by talking about this dinner that I’ve grown to love so dearly, usually folks will respond kindly and ask, “Yes, but will you be travelling home?”

Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, we’re going to be headed for a quick trip home.” Other times the answer is, “No, not this year. We’re not going to get a chance.” But the answer always ends with the truest words I can utter around such a question: “But we’re having at least one really big, really wonderful family meal this year. Do you want to come and meet all your brothers and sisters?”


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