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This month’s newsletter was written by Kenneth Bond, a member and leader at Ascension Lutheran Church, a partner congregation with Grace and Main Fellowship and Third Chance Ministries. 
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There’s an old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I never planned on joining a church, I was just looking for a place to hang out at one Christmas and I never planned on spending one Thursday a month cooking dinner for 60 to 100 people. But God had other plans.

Like today, I was asked to read Bishop James Mauney’s sermon today as pastor is away, but after reading it over I asked if I could speak a little about my experience with the Grace and Main dinners, as in reading his sermon a couple of things touched my heart. The Bishop starts with asking us to look at today’s Prayer for the day, which I’ll ask everyone to do right now:
“All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory. Increase our faith and trust in him, that we may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.”

He then talks briefly about “the weariness of the land” and that watching the tv news can make you weary in two minutes! But then he says, “My Jesus is a rock in a weary land!” And that spoke to me, because in many ways that is what we have become and by the Grace of God will become more to the folks at Grace and Main. Part of the rock for a weary land.

You see in the 2 and a half years we’ve been doing this, I’ve seen the dinners grow from a—forgive me for saying it this way—but “let’s be good Christians and feed the homeless” to a community of people who love and care for each other and a church that has opened its heart in love and hospitality to some folks who do live in a weary land.

We were asked in the beginning to be part of what Grace and Main called [their weekly feasts] with [other congregational partners]. That’s now down to just one, us and—at the risk of sounding negative towards some my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but I have to say with some pride—it was our attitude of hospitality and service from the beginning that made Grace and Main ask if we would keep doing the dinners when they [changed to their new way of doing meals]. That is because I’ve seen time and time again, members of Ascension come forward and give of their time, talents and money to help with love of Christ in their hearts.

And maybe it’s not so silly that God chose me to be the head cook, while I’m not “trained and professional” chef, I do come from a line of some pretty good cooks. I remember when I was younger never having to worry about inviting someone over at the last minute to our house for dinner as there was always enough food. Students of the college my folks taught at, their colleagues, friends or family. If you were in our house near dinner time you were asked if you wanted stay and eat.

And then there’s a family story about my grandmother, my father’s mother Sadie. It was during the 30’s, my grandparents were moving from Frostburg MD, to Riverdale MD for a job my grandfather had with the railroad. On the day they were to leave the Chief of Police came by the house and asked to speak with my grandmother. Now as they say, my grandmother was a “God fearing” woman and got very upset and wondered why in the world the Chief of Police would want to speak to her. The Chief said he was sorry to hear that grandparents were moving and they are going to have to do something that they had not done in a long time, repaint all the jail cells after grandparents left. When asked why, Sadie was told that in every cell was her address and under that for a good meal.

I didn’t hear this story until I was in my 20’s, but I can remember when I was younger and would go spend a week with my grandmother during the summer that every now and then a man would come to the back porch and knock on the screen door and ask if there was any work he could do for a meal. Sometimes there was and sometimes there wasn’t, but there was always a meal and a cooked meal at that, not leftovers. Sometimes it was fried chicken and if I was lucky enough I’d get a drumstick. She would cook the meal, put it on a china plate, roll the silverware in a cloth napkin and hand it to me to take to him as he was sitting on the bottom step and remind me to be polite and not bother the “gentleman” while he ate.

They were what they used to call hobos, though I didn’t know that at the time. But I never once felt from my grandmother that there was anything “wrong” with them. They were just people maybe a bit down on their luck looking for some hospitality and a good meal. A place to rest for a moment, a rock for a weary land.

And that’s what I see every 4th Thursday of the month, because as I said, I’m not a “trained and professional” chef and cooking for 100 is not the same as cooking for 10 and I wish I could carry the faith I’m learning doing the dinners into the rest of my life. Cause no matter how hectic it gets or what goes wrong (and if you been in the kitchen right before serving time you’ll know what I mean) or how much I worry and plan. God has a plan and the Spirit moves and for some crazy, graceful reason everything always works out.

I don’t see people with mental illness, addiction issues or other problems. Nor do I see “good Christians and feeding the homeless.” I see a group of people maybe a bit down on their luck looking for some hospitality and a good meal meeting a church congregation that have opened their hearts to do just that. So every 4th Thursday of the month at the end of the night I go home and post on my Facebook page: “God was praised and people were fed.”

Which brings us to Ascension House, I am in awe and am very proud of this church of how much support that idea has already gotten. I don’t know God’s plan, I know some of ours, finding ways to mentor people in the neighborhood. And that’s what touched my heart when I read the Bishop’s “a rock in a weary land.” I can see Ascension House being that and this congregation opening their hearts to do just that.

So in closing I would like to end with the last two paragraphs from Bishop’s sermon: “Our Synod Assembly theme this year is ‘Ambassador for Christ: Knowing your Congregational Neighborhood to do God’s Will.’ You see, from that font, it is extending the grace to more and more people, so that the thanksgiving that Jesus is a rock in a weary land may be felt by the ones who are so lonely near your church, that the ones who despair within one block, one pasture, one mile, one stone’s throw, may too know a rock in their weary land through your kind spirit that searches them out and invites.

My Jesus is a rock in this weary land. He is not just My Jesus, he is their Jesus, their rock too. But by our single word of knowing them, they too may triumph over all evil in the strength of the same Jesus Christ, OUR Savior and Lord. Amen.

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This month’s newsletter was written by Bruce Hopson, Third Chance Ministries Missionary to the Northside and a leader with Grace and Main. Bruce has been a staff missionary for almost two and a half years, now. You may have read about Bruce in this newsletter before when we talked about his road to recovery and his introduction to Grace and Main a little over four years ago. If you want to send him an email, you can send it to thirdministries@gmail.com and we’ll send it on to him.

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I would say there is much more growing in Iredell County, North Carolina, than just vegetables. On somebody else’s much loved soil, I got to see strangers form into a community over five weekends. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. I will always remember what was shared over those weekends: a lot of love. I won’t forget how I ended up there, either.

A few months back, Habitat for Humanity donated some land in my neighborhood to Grace and Main Fellowship. All of us were very excited about this very generous gift and the possibilities that it presented. We had a lot of meeting about how best to use this land, hopefully to do something with it that would benefit the community surrounding it and involve them in it. So when the idea of a different kind of community garden sprang up, everyone was on board. We formed an Urban Farm Planning Team and started figuring out how best to proceed.

While working on the future Urban Farm one day—cutting down trees and clearing land—Matt got to talking to me about permaculture. I had no idea what permaculture was. Matt explained to me what he knew about it and I thought it was really interesting. The idea was brought up at one of the meetings and we decided to send a handful of our leaders to a permaculture class at “We Are All Farmers” in Iredell County, North Carolina, to learn how to make the most out of the space given to us. We wanted to learn more about how to grow good, healthy food naturally and in harmony with nature. So Jessica, Rachael, Matt, and I signed up for the class and Third Chance Ministries paid for us to attend as missionary leaders from Grace and Main. Without your support, it would have been much harder for all or any of us to go.

Not knowing what to expect, we set out for the first weekend excited about learning things that would help us in our mission to grow something good on the Northside. I am not usually comfortable meeting a lot of new people—especially in larger groups—and spending a whole weekend around them. But, what we found when we got there was a whole group of nice folks that were genuinely concerned about God’s creation and one another. The first weekend passed quickly and we learned a lot—even if it was a little overwhelming! During the following weeks, the class lost some people for one reason or another, but as the weekends passed and the group got smaller, something else unexpected happened. Over the course of several weekends worth of classes we shared a lot of lunches and dinners. But most importantly—and my favorite part—we shared a bonfire every Saturday night. With each meal and fire, we started getting a little closer, becoming more of a community instead of a bunch of strangers. We had made the trip to Iredell County to learn how to plant, grow, and cultivate and we found that, sure enough, something was growing in and among us.

This past weekend after dinner, I went up to prepare the fire after dark. People gathered around the fire, including a couple of people that had not previously been able to stay for our fires. After people started drifting away from the fire to bed, I decided to stay until the fire was out and safe to leave. But as it ended up, I did not have to stay alone. Wendy, one of those who had not been able to stay at the fire before, stayed and talked with me until early in the morning. I shared a whole big chunk of my life with her, starting with my addictions, my failures, and being homeless for a while, but also about how another group of strangers had become community for me, when they came into my life four years ago and so graciously took me into their lives. I shared about how they showed me so much love and kindness that it had a profound effect on my life and changed my mind about how life and love should be. In short, I told her about how God had planted something in me through Grace and Main and how that changed everything.

Wendy also shared a lot of her life’s story with me—her struggles, her fears, and her hopes and dreams for her life and for the life she wanted for her sons. That night was for sharing, and I found myself telling her things that I hardly ever tell anyone I don’t know well. Over shared stories, we continued to become community. After all, everyone at the class came for different reasons and looking for different things. I believe that everyone there found something special. Some found a friend or a confidant, and others found peace of mind or a feeling of accomplishment. Some of us found that God is a gardener and growing community in unexpected places. There is definitely more growing in Iredell County, North Carolina, than just vegetables, but there is also more than vegetables growing in Danville, Virginia, and in our hearts, as well.

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The good news of what God is doing in our world rings out most clearly and resonantly in the places of lack, loss, failure, and weakness. After all, God has always had a way with the wilderness and seems committed not just to forgiving sins, but also to cultivating life in desert places. Yet, I must confess that most months I’d rather tell you stories about the flowers than the sand or the heat. I’m tempted to tell you only the “good” stories or stories of “success.” But some of you remind me that you want to hear the “hard” stories, too. You want to visit the wilderness and I suspect that it’s because you know that God is hiding there, too, and is less obscured where confidence cannot venture. So, this month I’m taking a chance and writing this story long held close to my heart for fear of sharing.

One night over a year ago, shortly before evening prayer, Mason became a part of our household and moved into our hospitality room. It had been a long time since he had had shelter and we were enthusiastic (and scared) about sharing life with him in the way of hospitality and community. Our household, both families, had committed ourselves to the practice of hospitality in whatever way God was leading, but this was our first time welcoming a brother or sister into our hospitality room for a long-term stay. Mason had finally had enough and was eagerly pursuing his sobriety after a three day stay in rehab. He was also working on getting his identification and important documents gathered up in order to better support himself. For several months, Mason made us glad to be practicing hospitality, even if occasional messes, cigarette butts, and a faucet left on overnight tried our patience.

But one night broke that relationship in ways that we couldn’t immediately figure out how to repair. It was a night filled with a relapse, broken promises and broken glass, frantic phone calls, a few threats and hurtful lies, and a set of stitches. A couple of us took Mason to a hotel while the community broke its schedule to begin praying earnestly for wisdom and grace. There in the parking lot of a hotel two miles away and across a river from our home, we argued. I vented my disappointment into the April cool night and asked Mason if he was sorry. He wouldn’t—maybe couldn’t—say it and I still don’t know precisely why I wanted to hear it or what I thought it would accomplish. Mason didn’t have much new to say, but he was eager to walk back some of the kind things he had said over the previous months. Like a boxer dropping his guard to court a punch, he baited me with hurtful words.

I’ve thought about that moment numerous times since then and how I shivered not from the cold, but with a strange mixture of disappointment, guilt, and anger. Maybe Mason baited me with those words because he felt guilty and thought he would feel better if I hurt him back, or maybe Mason wanted to know if I’d meant it when I’d told him time and again that we loved him. Maybe he wondered in that moment if our relationship could be stitched back together, too.

But, I took the bait and harangued him for his relapse, all the while harboring the feeling that we had disappointed God with our hospitality gone sour.

Mason stayed in the hotel for three or four nights and tried to decide if he was ready to recommit to life in community and his pursuit of sobriety. Meanwhile, the community prayed about what to do if he said yes. At the end of the hotel stay, the community had decided to offer him a room in a different house if Mason thought he was ready. But, Mason decided that he wasn’t. To be honest, I was relieved because I wasn’t sure I had it in me to walk with Mason again if he said he was. Mason didn’t think he was ready to return to life in community, and I wasn’t sure I was ready, either. I wondered if I ever had been in the first place.

Mason found a couch to crash on whose rent could be paid in full bottles and cans, while we tried to dig out from under what felt like failure. We’ve learned over the last several years that doing our kind of work means hearing a repeated chorus of promised failure from a wide variety of people. Opening our homes and extra beds to people without shelter has also meant opening ourselves to criticism that what we’re doing isn’t practical. Inviting hungry people to our tables for meals has also meant inviting the scrutiny of well-meaning folks who want us to be more efficient at the cost of intimacy. Living in community and practicing hospitality has meant that there are many who love what we’re doing, but also many who are waiting for us to fail. “See,” I imagined them saying, “we told you it was a bad idea.”

But, to call our time with Mason a failure is once again to be baited by a lie.

Mason was with us for several months before that one terrible night and to call our hospitality failed is to profane that sacred time when we learned that Mason was our family and Mason found peace in the midst of chaos. To give into the temptation to render Mason into one night of glass and stitches—to call it all a failure—is to mangle the image of God still imprinted on Mason’s gentle heart and forget the laughter, love, and resurrection celebrated on our front porch and over countless episodes of Frasier and the Munsters. As one dear friend reminds me, “The story’s not about the results. It never is.”

Mason doesn’t live with us anymore, but for a little while he did and we are better for it. Over a dozen months later, we can see that we’re even better because of that hard night when we learned that hospitality isn’t a good deed, but a way of life where everybody’s health and sickness is wrapped up together under one roof to be healed by God’s love. If you want to call that a failure, think again about what you mean when you say you believe in the resurrection.

Mason stays in one of the other Grace and Main homes these days, having started coming back to meals and occasional prayers some time ago. He’s not “better”—this isn’t that kind of story—but he’s welcome. We still argue occasionally and there are days when one of us avoids the other, but a few months ago, Mason opened up the road to healing for all of us.

“You know, living with yall was good,” he began as I was dropping him off somewhere, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry for what happened, but I’m sorry I wasn’t there when the baby was born.”

“Me too,” I offered.

“But, you know I love you guys, right?” he asked with the hope of healing in his questioning tone.

“Yes,” I responded, though sometimes I wondered. I continued, “You know we love you too, right?”

“Yeah. I know you do,” he replied, though I’m sure sometimes he wonders, before continuing, “It was a good time.”

He’s right about that. It was a good time.

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We disabled our doorbell when our daughter was born, because with her birth we instantly became conservators of a precious resource: baby sleep. Since we live in a hospitality house where many gather, rest, and take shelter, not having a doorbell was a challenge at first, but we have all become fluent in the language of knocks. There are the loud, hard, pounding knocks that describe numb hands or agitation. There are the soft knocks on the storm door that whisper anxiety and timidity—perhaps a sister who’s not sure if what she’s heard about this place is true. There are the insistent, rapid knocks that seem to scream loss or desperation. There are the rhythmic knocks—“shave and a haircut” being the favorite by far—that promise a friendly conversation and maybe a cup of coffee on the porch.

Our household—both families and those staying in the hospitality room—fall easily into a game of guessing who might be at the door by the knock we hear. Some of our brothers and sisters have knocks as distinct as their personalities. I’ve learned another important thing by learning the language of knocks—something important about myself:

I don’t always want to answer the door.

As covenanted members of Grace and Main, we have committed ourselves—both individually and as an intentional community—to opening our homes to the folks God introduced into our lives. But, after a while, hospitality ends up meaning much more than spare bedrooms and open chairs at dinner tables. As we made our home and life in a place with the commitment to be open to who and what God brings us, we’ve found that hospitality also means opening our lives to others and their stories. We’ve had so many great stories that begin with a knock on a door—stories of lives changed and overflowing redemption and resurrection. We’ve also had our fair share of heartbreaking stories that begin with a knock. After a long day or right after the baby has gone down to bed, the stories of heartbreak are what feed my imagination when a knock announces a visitor.

In the practice of hospitality, we’ve learned that it can feel like a holy opportunity to prepare a hospitality room for another guest to join the house and, simultaneously, a frustrating imposition to have to answer the door yet again for another brother or sister while you’re trying to dust, make the bed, and clean up the baby’s toys. In the space of a breath, our quiet confidence and faith can turn to anxious doubt and “what ifs” when we hear a distinctive knock that promises one of our brothers or sisters who has relapsed or threatened someone we love.

Yes, we’ve learned to speak the language of knocks and found that we don’t always like what it has to say about us.

We’ve also discovered that it’s not just our sisters and brothers who wait for us on the porch with hopeful expectation in their hearts, but the Gospel waits for us there, as well. With each knock comes a summons to hear the good news that God is at work in this messy world and that sin is being undone by love—sometimes gloriously fast, and sometimes agonizingly slow. Each knock is an invitation to place our faith and trust in God and be born again. Each knock is a call to prayer, inviting us to pray to the God of the widow, orphan, stranger, and outcast. Each knock is an occasion once again to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. Each knock is a chance to welcome Jesus into our lives once again. With some knocks, we welcome Jesus into our home in the guise of a friend. With other knocks, we find Jesus waiting on our porch, looking like a stranger.

The folks waiting at our door certainly want us to answer their knock, especially when it’s frigid. We don’t always want to open the door, but we do it—not because we are “good people,” but because salvation is on the other side of our storm door, knocking and waiting.

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Key Victories from 2014

This month, we’re not sharing a new story from our work, but are instead sharing a report on some of Grace and Main’s and Third Chance Ministries’ most important victories from the year 2014. In a way, these short descriptions of success tell a story of their own and we’d love to hear what story you think they tell about the work to which we’re committed and which your donations make possible. Thanks.

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Grace and Main Fellowship’s 5th Anniversary
This November, Grace and Main Fellowship (the intentional, Christian community of which Third Chance Ministries is a ministry and which is the foundation of all of our work so far) celebrated its 5th Anniversary!

Hospitality and Housing Security
Over 30 people increased their housing security through the work of Grace and Main Fellowship and Third Chance Ministries in 2014. In many cases, this increase in housing security is most accurately described as moving from homelessness to having shelter. In other cases, this increase is more accurately described as moving from an unstable living situation (e.g., slumlord owned property, living in an abusive situation, living in unaffordable or unsustainable shelter, etc.) to a stable living situation. The largest and most critical steps in this work were taken by the seven Grace and Main homes that provided shelter in their extra bedrooms and living rooms as part of their commitment to hospitality and a shared life.

52 Feasts
Grace and Main Fellowship hosted 52 dinners at various locations in 2014, including our homes, church fellowship halls, in the courtyard of apartment buildings, on a farm, and in a few different parks. Some of these meals were large affairs, like our Thanksgiving meal at Ascension Lutheran with turkey and all the sides for 126 or Christmas dinner at First Baptist with ham, veggies, and dessert for 136. Others were small meals where we gave thanks for all the places where the Kingdom of God was popping up and ate in the homes of formerly homeless people while conspiring together about where next God was going to work a wonder in our midst.

Breakfast and the Coffee Pot
In 2014, we served nearly 4,000 meals through our weekly breakfast on the Northside. This breakfast—started by two formerly homeless Grace and Main members—is sustained by the work of Bruce Hopson and the surrounding neighborhood’s desire to offer hospitality and grace in the midst of hunger, poverty, addiction, and homelessness. Furthermore, through our community coffee pot and water cooler—set out each morning—we provided over 800 gallons of coffee, water, lemonade, sweet tea, and Kool-Aid to any and all who were thirsty or in need of something warm. In an unexpected turn, the coffee pot and water cooler has become a community gathering point, as well.

The Tool Library
Due to the generosity of a number of supporters, we’ve been expanding the capacity of our “tool library” on North Main St. This year, we added new trimmers, new lawnmowers, new power tools, and new hand tools, along with personal protective equipment. In the spring, summer, and fall, the tool library was utilized by neighborhood residents nearly every day of the week. In the winter months, it was still put to excellent use multiple times each week.

Jefferson Apartment Building
After four years of developing relationships, building trust and community, and lots of lunches and parties, we were able to help the tenants of an apartment building on Jefferson Ave—a building called “unfit for humans” by the media in the aftermath of its condemnation—organize together to obtain their rights.

This year, some of our leaders mediated more directly between the tenants and the landlord: helping the tenants to send letters, organizing and facilitating meetings with the landlords, and working with Legal Aid to get the legal support the tenants needed to attain their rights. We worked with the tenants and other community organizations, including Virginia Organizing, Legal Aid, STEP, and DPCS. Eventually, the building was condemned.

Through the hard work of the tenants, Grace and Main leaders (both among the tenants and not), and our summer “missionary in residence” from Student.Go, all of the former residents of the building now have a secure place to stay that is healthier and far, far better. Two of the former residents are now “developing leaders” within Grace and Main following their success on Jefferson.

3rd Annual Jubilee
Our 3rd Annual Jubilee in Doyle Thomas park (on Green St) was a success again this year. We partnered with five different congregations to make this event possible and over 220 people joined us for a cookout, celebration, and community building day of games and sharing.

ELCA Hunger Grant We applied for and received a grant in collaboration with one of our congregational partners (Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, VA) to address hunger and food insecurity in the neighborhoods where we live and serve. This included a number of individual projects directed at not only providing urgent and crisis hunger relief, but also long term systemic changes to the way food is acquired in the neighborhoods through gardening, education, and resource provision.

House of Hope Lunches
As part of our ongoing commitment to our local homeless shelter, the House of Hope, we once again packed a lunch for every resident of the shelter every day of the year. This year, that means we packed and delivered almost 4,000 lunches through a combination of partners, mission groups, and personal work. This brings our total to over 17,000 lunches pack since the beginning of the Grace and Main.

Outsider/Insider Art Show
We were able to host our first ever “Outsider/Insider Art Show,” highlighting the art of folks who are struggling or have struggled with homelessness, poverty, addiction, and/or hunger.

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It always happens after we’ve already described the bounty on the table in all of its delicious variety. It happens while the welcome knowledge of a soon-to-be-full stomach mingles with the smell of macaroni and cheese over the promise of second, eighth, and seventeenth chances at a loving family meal. It happens with an assurance that nobody will look at you funny if you’re not ready to participate yet. It happens when we take a few pieces of bread from the banquet laid before us and break them for everybody to see and pour a little grape juice into a cup as a reminder of what has been shed to unite us as family. In that moment—when we proclaim again what Jesus did and is doing for us—something changes and the meal becomes a sacred thing, set aside for God’s use and God’s people.

As each member of the crowd makes his or her way forward, plate in hand, they join the feast. For some it happens because they are sharing a meal. But others join the feast first by taking a piece of bread, dipping it in the cup, and partaking in the Lord’s meal. It is my privilege (a privilege I’ve written about before) to speak a promise into that holy moment of communion, a promise that I give as it was given to me: “The body of Christ broken for you, sister” and “the blood of Christ shed for you, brother.” That last word, that familial “brother” or “sister,” is as much a promise as the more theologically laden language that precedes it, and it is all too often the harder promise to make. Jesus demonstrates time and time again in our scripture that his body was broken, his blood was shed, and his life was given for sinners like you and me. But my own ego and pride often stand between me and that final promise; between me and the promise that taking up the cross of Christ means laying down all illusions of division and separation.

So, while it is with great joy that I call Tomas as my brother, it is with an ego-stained sense of obligation that I say the same for William. When Tomas pinches a piece of bread between his fingers, I can so easily recall the sacrificial gifts he has made and the meal he hosted in his home even though he has only recently gained secure housing. When he dips it in the cup, I give thanks for the vigor with which he maintains his sobriety and the people he has led from bondage to freedom. But, when William does the same, it is far too easy to remember the broken trust, the suddenly empty hospitality room in our home, and the night filled with bloody faces, screamed epithets, and shaky voiced ultimatums. But, somehow we profess to believe that God is knitting all of us together anyway.

It is easy to give thanks for young Katie, not quite three years old and new to the community. Katy, who is eager to serve pretend coffee, juice, and grits to a table full of our people—some homeless, some housed, some addicted, and some recovering. When she and her family come through the line, it is easy to offer a blessing for her and call her “little sister.” But, it’s not yet as easy to give thanks for Mary, who sometimes forgets to make room for other folks around our shared tables and is quick to fill up her own plate even if it means that others might get less food. Having already carried away enough food for multiple meals of leftovers before everybody has been through the line, it’s hard to call her “sister” when she comes to partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But, somehow we profess to believe that there’s room for both Katie and Mary in Jesus’ Kingdom.

The truth is that most often we find a strange mixture of blessed and broken in any of us. When Brent shuffles up to the plate and cup, we have a wealth of stories to draw on in those too short moments. Maybe it will not be the Brent who  opened his life, home, and table to those in dire need that will gather a piece of bread from the plate, but the Brent who relapsed in secret and had to be restrained from violence who will dip that bread into the cup. But somehow, Brent is our brother regardless. When Heather prayerfully contemplates the cup, she is not just the woman whose anxiety sometimes drives her to say things she doesn’t mean. She is also the Heather that volunteered to sell a treasured possession to provide shelter for a homeless brother last winter. But somehow, Heather is our sister, regardless.

At the end of the story of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother describes his brother—the one we’ve learned to call prodigal—to his father as “this son of yours.” But, the Father is very careful to correct his eldest son and describes his younger son to the elder as “your brother.” God, our Father, will not permit us to disown any of God’s children and still call ourselves part of the family. God is teaching us to call each other brother and sister, not because God is going to make it so, but because that’s what we already are if we dare to claim the cross of Christ: brothers and sisters made so by God’s broken and bloodied body. The words may stick in our throats at times since we are still being remade, but somehow we must learn to profess that ours is a God who loves the doubter and the self-assured, the addict and the advocate, the ragamuffin and the righteous, the misfit and the hypocrite. Even more, our God teaches us to call them all family.

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The following story was written by Matt Bailey, a leader at Grace and Main, who has been a part of the community from its beginning around five years ago. 


I’ve always been struck by the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and how beautiful it was that Jesus was filled with compassion for the empty stomachs of ragamuffin sinners. But I was taught that Jesus’ concern was not for the bellies of those hungry people. My well-meaning teachers insisted that the food was just a way to get an audience. But, my friend Jessie taught me better. When Jesus fed 5,000 folks on a hill somewhere in Judea, he was showing us that he cares not just about souls and sin, but also about hunger and our physical needs.

I first met Jessie at a run-down apartment building with trash for a lawn and boarded up windows for insulation. Jessie was really quiet and somewhat hostile when I first met him. He would talk to me rarely and only if I had food. When I would knock on his door, he would demand angrily, “Who is it?!” After I announced myself again, he would crack the door a few inches and peek out to see whether I had food or not. If I didn’t, the door was quickly slammed. If I did, Jessie would reach out through the crack in the door, take the bag of food wordlessly, and slam the door a little more politely.

After several months of knocking, getting yelled at, and him taking the food and closing the door, Jessie began venturing out on his porch to talk while we ate near each other—not quite together, but closer. Typically, I would talk ad he would listen. When I had talked too much for his taste, he’d go back inside without a word. Eventually, I learned the hard way to leave silence for Jessie to speak if he wanted to. From the silence blossomed togetherness and often wordlessly Jessie opened up a little more each time I visited him.

Over those lunches, he told me stories of growing up in the projects with his single mom who worked several jobs to take care of him and his siblings. He told me all about the kind of mischief he got into while his mom worked, and eventually he even told me about his struggles with mental illness and homelessness. Over countless turkey sandwiches, Jessie shared with me the pain and frustration of his schizophrenia. He told me how he hallucinated and grew anxious around people he didn’t know, so he trusted no one.

On one occasion, Jessie recounted through hot tears how he regularly didn’t have food for the last week or two of each month because his food stamps only stretched for three weeks—a woefully honest refrain we’ve heard time and time again from so many of our sisters and brothers. Jessie told me and helped me understand what that kind of hunger feels like for days on end, his isolating hallucinations and anxiety intensifying with hunger. The wall between Jessie and me was beginning to crumble, because he could see that I wasn’t trying to manipulate or take advantage of him. I just wanted to be his friend and eat lunch with him—together.

After becoming friends with Jessie, I and other Grace and Main leaders began talking with Jessie about ways we could make sure Jessie didn’t go hungry at the end of the month. Though Jessie was still hesitant, he did allow some assistance from friends during the direst parts of the month. Jessie would go with several of us to the grocery store and would educate us on how to make money stretch a little father. We’d all go shopping for bulk items together and split them between us. And sometimes, on special occasions, we’d go get some good, greasy fast food. After all, we can’t forget that justice is our goal, but stomachs are growling now. Relationships are what create real change—not great programs or just education—and relationships are built together, slowly and often over meals. Jesus never forgot that either.

One particularly long month Jessie was without food for longer than usual. He didn’t want to call and ask for help, but after he couldn’t handle the shakiness, the weakness, and the hallucinations any longer, he took a leap of faith and called me. “I don’t want to ask for help, but I’m out of food and I really need to eat something,” Jessie lamented over the phone. So we went to one of Jessie’s favorite fried chicken joints to get some food into him fast. He ordered a small portion, but I ordered a larger portion for him, knowing he needed more than the one piece of chicken he thought it was okay to order. Sitting in the car in the parking lot, Jessie couldn’t wait any longer. He ripped open the box of chicken and began eating ravenously. He ate one piece, then the next, taking few breaks for breaths. He licked his fingers between pieces of chicken. After his third piece, he lay his head back against the head rest, and with eyes closed, face up to the ceiling, he started mouthing, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!” Tears began running down his cheeks and mingling with the grease on his chin. His soft cries of praise became racking sobs of thankfulness and appreciation to the God who cares about empty stomachs and feeds not only 5,000 with loaves and fishes but also the one with fried chicken.

Seeing the effect that simple meal had on Jessie helped me realize how interconnected our physical bodies are with our souls. Jesus told us that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take in the homeless, we do so for him. Jesus also tells us that when we deny food, shelter, and clothing to our sisters and brothers we are denying Him those things.

After years of food insecurity and hunger, the image of God in Jessie was being stripped away. It’s no stretch to say that with each missed meal, the image of God in Jessie was slowly being starved and tortured—crucified even—reducing Jessie to something less than human. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:9 that we have the power to destroy life, but we also have the power and the obligation to restore life. In sharing food and our lives with Jessie, the image of God we find in Jessie was gradually being revived and healed—resurrected even.

Behold the good news: God’s compassion and abiding love for humanity is so profound and limitless that Almighty God, the Ancient of Days, the Holy One of Israel feels and hears even the growls of empty stomachs, and we eat—together at last—in celebration of the Kingdom that has no end.

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